Eleven Acres of Azaleas in New York

Places / June 2, 2011

After six years of planning and work, the 11-acre Azalea Garden has opened in the heart of the New York Botanical Garden in the northwest corner of the Bronx.

Based in large part on a master plan by landscape architect Laurie Olin, it’s sited across a broad hillside punctuated by rock outcroppings and shaded by 300-year-old oaks, beeches, sweet gums and tulip trees.  The area has been continually forested since glaciers receded more than 14,000 years ago.

“We initially planned it around a core of azalea plantings from the 1930s and ‘40s, beneath the trees that predate the Botanical Garden’s establishment in 1891,” said Todd Forest, vice president of horticulture and living collection.  “But that morphed into the creation of a new garden.”

Forest worked on the project also with landscape architect Sheila Brady of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, known for bold statements with herbaceous plants, where foliage and color are combined on a large scale to carry the eye through the landscape.

The 85-acre Botanical Garden has been preserved over the years, first by the Dutch, then the English and the early Americans, through the establishment of large estates.  “They appreciated its beauty and wanted to preserve it,” he said.  “It was one of the earliest forms of land conservation.”

More than 500 varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons (2,500 new shrubs total) are planted throughout the garden, with 30,000 new perennials, 40,000 bulbs, and 1,000 other trees and shrubs added as well.

“It creates a spectacle during late April and early May, with dramatic beauty the rest of the year,” he said.  “You can’t help but be enthralled with the color.”

 For more on the New York Botanical Garden, go to http://www.nybg.org/

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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