Wave Hill — a public garden and cultural center

Flower gardens at Wave Hill Bench in flower garden at Wave Hill bee in flower garden at Wave Hill path in flower garden at Wave Hill entrance to Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory at Wave Hill Cactus table in conservatory at Wave Hill Conservatory at Wave Hill herb garden at Wave Hill stairs along the gardens at Wave Hill Aquatic garden at Wave Hill goldfish in the aquatic garden at Wave Hill Pergola at Wave Hill Pergola overlook at Wave Hill chair on the Lower Lawn at Wave Hill hosts along the shade border at Wave Hill Wild Garden at Wave Hill Elliptical Garden at Wave Hill running on the Lower Lawn at Wave Hill

We’re lucky in New York to have a number of lovely botanical gardens to visit. We often stop by one of our favorites, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as it’s closest to our home, but this past weekend we decided to do something a bit different and traveled to the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx to visit Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center. My husband and I had been once before, years ago, and fondly remembered it as a beautiful place to spend time on a summer day. The gardens are still lovely – lush and just a little bit wild – but what we hadn’t noticed last time, and what surprised us most on this visit, is what a perfect place the gardens are for children.

Perched high above the Hudson River with commanding views of the Palisades on the opposite bank, Wave Hill was built as a country home in 1843. Over the years a number of notable figures stayed at the mansion and surrounding gardens, including Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and, for six years (1950-1956), chief members of the British delegation to the United Nations. Deeded to the city in 1960, Wave Hill is one of 33 City-owned cultural institutions, and through a variety of programming aims to foster the connection between people and nature.

We spent most of our visit wandering the grounds and exploring various sections of the gardens. Wave Hill has a different feel than New York’s other botanical gardens – less manicured and manufactured and more down to earth. Beds and pots overflow with flowers and plants, but outside of the conservatory, very few species are labeled (though tours are available if you’re inclined to want to learn more about what your’e looking at). Everywhere you look there is something new to discover, with layers of plantings and collections of planted vessels displayed at seemingly every turn, and a myriad of paths leading to all corners of the property. A visit here seems as much about looking, absorbing, and appreciating your surroundings as anything else, and the vast open river vistas make this an easy place to pause and take it all in. My daughter loved scrutinizing the map and choosing which section to venture to next, and we followed her lead, wandering through the Conservatory, crossing the gardens at her pace from end to end, and watching her run carefree across the expansive Lower Lawn.

The Aquatic Garden proved to be one of our favorite sections, and my daughter would have happily looked for and watched the goldfish all afternoon in the small pool. Nearby is the Wave Hill House, where we found the Sally and Gilbert Kerlin Learning Center, site of the garden’s free Family Art Project, held from 10am-1pm each Saturday and Sunday. The theme during our visit was “Fishy Fun” and we walked into a large classroom packed with busy families working to create 3-D fish from the array of provided materials. Once finished and attached to sticks with a length of yarn, we saw the colorful fish throughout the gardens, dancing and fluttering as children raced and played. Family garden walks, nature walks, and gallery tours are also available, and you can see what’s on offer during your visit by checking the Events Calendar and filtering by “Family.”

A few additional details:

  • We drove to the gardens, where onsite parking is available for $8. Free off-site parking can be found a short distance away, and you can either walk or take a shuttle from there to the gardens. Public transit options include taking Metro North to the Riverdale Station or taking the #1 subway train to its terminus at W. 242nd Street. Full descriptions of all options can be found under Directions on Wave Hill’s site.
  • We ate lunch at the onsite café, which had a children’s menu along with plenty of high chairs and booster seats. A picnic area is also available if you wish to bring your own lunch.
  • We arrived around 11am on a Saturday and learned that admission is free on Tuesdays and on Saturdays from 9am-12pm. Such a nice surprise!


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