Heat scorched the sidewalks, so intense I was tempted to splash through one of two open fire hydrants spraying beams of water on 207th Street in Manhattan. It was the kind of day you spend on the beach, if you have time and sea and sand are close to home. It was also the Fourth of July and many people would go to the nearest beach.
If there's one thing I’ve learned from my travels, it's to question convention. Resisting the urge to follow the flow of what everyone else does can lead to unexpected delights. People crowd the beaches in summertime, especially on a holiday. What about going somewhere less trampled and more spacious? My answer was Wave Hill.
Wave Hill is a public garden in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. From my home in Inwood, it's a 35-minute ride on the Bx7 bus and then a five-minute walk on tree-lined streets from the stop at 252nd Street and Henry Hudson Parkway. The 28-acre garden perches above the Hudson River and Palisades. The view comes into sight from a pergola overlook near the entrance. High-backed wood chairs dot the lawn by the pergola. This is a place you come solo to read an epic book (I brought East of Eden by John Steinbeck), to relax with your significant other, or to have fun outdoors with your children.
There is something for everyone, including small gardens grouped by theme. A flower garden teems with trumpet lilies, purple honeysuckle hydrangeas, and yellow chamomile. Greenhouses are lined with cacti and succulents. An herb garden has the scents of basil, mint, and "Dittany of Crete," a pungent oregano from the mountains of its namesake Greek island. Trails loop through woodlands for your hiking pleasure. Arbors, gazebos, and benches invite you to rest in the gardens.
Wave Hill has art exhibits, too. At the Glyndor Gallery, I saw “Ecological Consciousness: Artist as Instigator,” which shows the way NYC artists, such as Jean Shin, are addressing climate change. Shin's project suggests making a levee out of recycled denim sandbags for Louis Valentino Park on the shoreline of Red Hook, Brooklyn. Shin lives and works in Red Hook and her studio flooded with 46 inches of saltwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, prompting her proposal.
At Wave Hill House, built as a country home in the 19th century, there is a café with an outdoor terrace treating you to yet another view. The menu features food served with ingredients from Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, N.Y. I enjoyed a bowl of poke, a Hawaiian raw seafood salad. The poke came with ahi tuna, zucchini noodles, white rice, edamame, cucumbers, radishes, jalapeño, pickled onion, and wakame—all drizzled with a creamy orange dressing of spicy mayonnaise and ponzu soy.
Beyond the food, art, and scenery, the garden's story goes back more than a century. It starts with William Lewis Morris, who built Wave Hill House as his country home in 1843. Over the years, the house changed hands. Theodore Roosevelt’s family rented it in the summers of 1870-71 and Mark Twain leased it at the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, George W. Perkins, a partner at J.P. Morgan, bought Wave Hill House as part of a buying spree of land near the Hudson River, including the villa that is now the Glyndor Gallery. In 1960, his family deeded Wave Hill to New York City.
In case you’re wondering, Wave Hill turned out to be a wise escape from the summer beach crowds. People were out and about in the garden, but the place was far from packed. If you plan a visit this summer, consider timing it with one of many events hosted by the garden. Here are a few in July and August: