Despite Yonkers, NY being less than 20 miles from NYC, most New Yorkers probably don’t know much about the city other than the fact that it’s somewhere nearby. But I was unexpectedly delighted to learn about one of Yonkers’ hidden gems, and dear readers, I think you’re going to love this place. You see, just a short train ride from Manhattan you’ll find a magical little wonderland known as the Untermyer Park and Gardens. And it is spectacular!
History of Untermyer Park and Gardens
Untermyer Park and Gardens is situated atop a hill in Yonkers, NY at the site of the former Greystone estate, which included a 99-room mansion built in the 1860s. Though the mansion no longer exists (it was demolished in 1948), you can imagine how wonderfully situated it must have been on the hill beside the Hudson, with sweeping views of the Palisades across the river.
In 1879, former governor Samuel Tilden rented and then later bought Greystone from the original owner, and he added several greenhouses to the property before his death in 1886. Then, in 1899, Samuel Untermyer, a prominent NY lawyer, purchased Greystone. A decade or so later, he worked with architect William Welles Bosworth to create his lovely gardens.
Samuel Untermyer was quite knowledgable about horticulture, and he took a personal interest in the design and expansion of his incredible gardens. In the 41 years that Mr. Untermyer owned Greystone, he employed dozens of gardeners and added even more greenhouses to those originally installed by Samuel Tilden.
Untermyer’s gardens were well-known nationally, and Untermyer would even occasionally open up his estate to the public so that people could come and enjoy the fantastic botanical world he created.
Upon Untermyer’s death in 1940, a small part of Untermyer’s estate was passed on to the city of Yonkers. Though the Greystone estate once included around 150 acres, the current park only encompasses about 43 acres. And, sadly, after Untermyer’s death, the park went through several periods of neglect due to lack of funding. I’m sure dear Mr. Untermyer would have been aghast to see what had become of his cherished gardens.
Fortunately, though, the Untermyer Park and Gardens have been going through a bit of a revival recently, thanks in large part to the non-profit called the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, which was created in 2011. Though Untermyer Park and Gardens is a public city park, it is the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy (working in partnership with the city of Yonkers) that has been instrumental in the revitalization of the gardens.
The Conservancy has plans to continue to restore the gardens and expand and maintain the existing plants and flowers so that visitors may continue to enjoy this breathtaking place for many years to come.
Did I mention this place is free to visit???
Visiting the Gardens
My parents were in town for Memorial Day weekend, and since they’ve been to the city many times, I thought it might be fun to check out Untermyer for something fun and new to do. If you were in the city over the holiday weekend, you know how fabulous the weather was, and we’re still in that delightful part of spring where everything is blooming and the grass is still that impossible color of green because it hasn’t been torched to death yet.
In a word…the day we went to Untermyer Park and Gardens was…PERFECT.
We drove up from the city and snagged a spot in one of the park’s two small lots, and we couldn’t believe the place wasn’t packed considering how gorgeous the day was. From the lot, we went off to the right to the Walled Garden to begin our visit. And we were stunned by what we found inside!
You are immediately greeted by these massive, drooping trees called weeping beeches. They obstruct most of the view of the garden and form a little tunnel over a long fountain. Once you walk through that tunnel, though, the interior of the garden is opened up to you, and it is quite a sight.
So many plants and flowers in a tremendous variety of colors, shapes, and sizes line all the paths and walls inside the Walled Garden. This particular section of Untermyer was designed in the ancient Indo-Persian style, but to make things confusing, the interior also includes several nods to Greek design, including the Temple of Sky, a circular structure with Corinthian columns and a beautiful mosaic-tiled floor.
From the Temple of Sky, you can look over the railing into the remains of an old reflecting pool, which is also lined with mosaics. It was once restored back in the 70s, but it is no longer in use and now sits empty with its old tiles cracked and broken and fading away in the sun.
Its state of disrepair doesn’t detract from the beauty of the garden, though. In fact, there is something about its deterioration that makes its place in the otherwise beautifully-manicured garden all the more interesting.
Toward the back of the Walled Garden, there is a lovely little amphitheater and pergola which leads out to a section called “The Vista”. Here you’ll find a series of stairs that were modeled after another set of stairs found at the Villa D’Este in Lake Como, Italy.
These stairs at Untermyer Park and Garden, however, lead down to the Hudson River and to a set of marble columns situated at a picturesque overlook area. We did not walk down the stairs ourselves, but we were told the view from the bottom is even more spectacular than the view from the top (which is pretty hard to believe since it was quite stunning from where we were standing!)
After doing the circuit of the Walled Garden, we headed over to the Temple of Love. On the way, we noticed several people having picnics in a shady, tree-covered area off the parking lot. And what a lovely spot for a picnic, too! If you decide to visit, consider packing a picnic to make a whole afternoon out of your visit. It’s such a peaceful and relaxing setting.
When we reached the Temple of Love, we found a beautiful temple placed atop an outcropping. If you walk out to the edge of the rock and look down, you’ll see a lovely waterfall leading down the hill. The water below is also joined by the nearby Rock and Stream garden, which was recently rebuilt in 2018. You can walk down and through the rock that supports the Temple of Love and look back up the hill for an even more splendid view of the temple and waterfall.
And if you are in this lower level of the park, you can also pick up several other trails that wind their way down the hill, all the way to the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, where you can actually enter and exit the park.
Also off of these other trails, you’ll be able to catch a view of the Ruin Garden, which is at the gatehouse near the Aqueduct trail entrance, as well as the lion and unicorn statues standing sentry at the gate.
Restoration of this Ruin Garden was just completed earlier this year, though they kept much of the graffiti that had accumulated on the old structures during the parks earlier days of neglect. We didn’t personally make our way down the hill to visit or to wander the lower trails, but we fully intend to do so on a repeat visit.
And we do plan to make a repeat visit! Talk about a hidden gem. I’ve lived in NYC for nearly 16 years, and I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of this place sooner. New York City and the surrounding areas are full of beautiful and interesting places, but the design and feel of Untermyer are so unique. Really, I can’t think of any parks or gardens in or near NYC that can even compare to it.
So, if you like the idea of wandering through this gorgeous secret garden, hop on Metro-North or take a hike up the Old Croton Aqueduct trail and make a visit to the Untermyer Park and Gardens. I promise you’ll be just as delighted as we were when you discover this incredible place!
Have you already been to Untermyer Park and Gardens? Let me know what you thought of your first visit!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Untermyer Park and Gardens: 945 N Broadway, Yonkers, NY 10701
When to Go
- Untermyer Park and Gardens is open daily from 7 am until one hour before sunset.
- The Walled Garden, however, stays open up until sunset.
- Check their website for details on holiday closures, tours, and special events.
Tips for Visiting
- Give yourself a couple hours for your visit because there is a lot to take in and the park’s grounds are extensive and hilly.
- There were several adorable little spots with picnic tables, so pack up some lunch to enjoy on the day of your visit!
- Sadly, pups aren’t permitted, so your best bud will have to stay at home.
- If you drive to the park, there’s only enough room for about 30 cars, but there is plenty of street parking nearby.
- The park does have an entrance off of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, but bikes aren’t permitted inside the park. If you want to come in that way, you’ll need to do so on foot!