The Alpine Garden
Save the Alpine Garden
The Alpine Garden is being restored with the help of gardener Kean Eng. In 2011 the funding for his important work expired. But thanks to community support for the Alpine Gardener, this position is being preserved by NYC Parks.
One of the original Olmsted Brothers design features of Fort Tryon Park, the Alpine Garden, on the park’s eastern expanse, was barely a memory as time and neglect had obscured its staircases and grotto, and the garden was long–buried beneath dense layers of overgrowth. Over the past five years, Parks Department gardeners have uncovered the secrets of the garden and restoration plans are being finalized as part of the effort to revitalize the Broadway side of the park.
When the Alpine Garden was constructed, it was the first of its kind. Until then, alpine gardens appeared on private estates in Europe and North America, but not in public parks.
Alpine gardens are generally characterized by extensive use of rocks or stones and plants native to rocky or alpine environments. Often they are designed to mimic natural rock outcrops. Because of harsh growing conditions, alpine plants are usually small, low growing, or creeping. Their diminutive form makes them desirable to the landscape designer because they do not obscure the rocks and other elements of the alpine garden.
The genius in the Olmsted Brothers’ design for the Fort Tryon Park Alpine Garden is their sublime realization of the potential for a rough, almost impenetrable rocky slope. They transformed the coarse terrain into a series of intriguing pathways and plantings that wander up and down the 150–foot rock–faced slope between Broadway and The Cloisters. Views from the Alpine Garden starkly contrast with those of the Hudson River and Palisades to the west.
The Alpine Garden’s decorative rocks – walls, boulders, and stone borders — part of a complex human design, compliment the outcroppings of metamorphic Manhattan schist, containing easily seen minerals such as quartz, feldspar, and mica, while garnet is found at scattered places. Some of the decorative stone used in the construction of the Alpine Garden came from rock excavated in the construction of Fort Tryon Park and the nearby subway tunnel.
Over the last few years, the Fort Tryon Park Trust has been raising money to renovate the Broadway side of the park, its Alpine Garden and its water grotto feature. Historic photos from the Olmsted Archives and 1933 drawings of the Alpine Garden area by the Olmsted Brothers are guiding the restoration approach as are the original water service drawings executed by the City in consultation with the Olmsted Brothers firm. The renovated Alpine Garden snf the park's Broadway expanse will have water service, enabling horticulture and drinking fountains where there had been none since the 1950s.
Critical funding for this project has been provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation and the Cleveland Dodge Foundation. The effort to reactivate the grotto has been led by Quennell Rothschild & Partners, working with Walter B. Melvin Architects.
New York City Parks & Recreation and Quennell Rothschild submitted a project approach to the City's Landmark Preservation Commission for their review. The Landmarks Preservation Commission and the City's Public Design Commission have granted preliminary approvals for the project. As details for the grotto and the stairs are finalized, drawings will be submitted for review and approval again by the City agencies.
The Parks Department and the Fort Tryon Park Trust, with the help of Alpine Garden Gardener Kean Eng, have worked with volunteers to restore the Broadway landscape on the park perimeter and adjacent slopes. Over 9,600 volunteer hours have resulted in the planting of more than 35,000 plants, trees and shrubs along the six block eastern expanse of Fort Tryon, making a more welcoming environment for those coming to view the Alpine Garden.