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. During the years 2011-2016, NYC Parks’ gardeners uncovered the secrets of the garden and as they restored and revitalized the Broadway side of the park.
When the Alpine Garden was constructed, it was the first of its kind to appear in a public park. Until then, alpine gardens appeared primarily 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 Met Cloisters. 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.
The Fort Tryon Park Trust raised money, for a period of several years, to renovate the Broadway side of the park, its Alpine Garden and its grotto water feature. Historic photos from the Olmsted Archives and 1933 drawings of the Alpine Garden area by the Olmsted Brothers guided the restoration approach and consulted the original water service drawings executed by the City in consultation with the Olmsted Brothers firm. The renovated Alpine Garden and the park’s Broadway expanse now has water service, enabling horticulture and drinking fountains where there had been none since the 1950s.
Critical funding for this project was provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation and the Cleveland Dodge Foundation. The effort to reactivate the grotto was led by Quennell Rothschild & Partners, working with Walter B. Melvin Architects.
NYC Parks and the Fort Tryon Park Trust has worked with volunteers to restore the Broadway landscape on the park perimeter and adjacent slopes. Over 30,000 volunteer hours have resulted in the planting of more than 45,000 plants, trees and shrubs along the six block eastern expanse of Fort Tryon Park, making a more welcoming environment for those coming to view the Alpine Garden.