Wave Hill – The Best Kept Secret in the Bronx

Wave Hill – The Best Kept Secret in the Bronx
The Grounds of Wave Hill. PHOTO CREDIT: WAVE HILL

Mention Wave Hill to someone, and you’ll often get a perplexed look, accompanied by a scratching of the head. Indeed, this botanical gem, nestled quietly behind towering buildings along Independence Avenue and 252nd Street in the Bronx, may be the borough’s best kept secret.

A public garden since 1965, Wave Hill has been described as an “urban oasis,” or “museum without walls,” offering 28 acres of gardens, grounds, woodlands and two historic homes with amazing views of the Hudson River and Palisades. Located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, the property offers a collection of more than 4,000 varieties of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

Originally a private estate, the property was purchased in 1836 by William Lewis Morris, a prominent New York attorney, for his wife and seven children. Thirty years later, it was sold to New York publisher, William Henry Appleton, who served as Charles Darwin’s American publisher. George Walbridge Perkins, a partner with J.P. Morgan and a conservation pioneer, bought the Appleton estate and other surrounding properties between 1893 and 1911.

“The Perkins family left a legacy here in the Hudson Valley,” explained Martha Gellens, associate director of marketing and communications at Wave Hill. “He was very active in preserving the Palisades, and his heirs eventually donated the land to New York City in 1960.”

Wave Hill’s two historic houses include the Wave Hill House at the north end of the property, and Glyndor House at the southern end. Some famous renters of the Wave Hill House include a young Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. “The story is that once Mark Twain saw one of the rooms with floor to ceiling windows and those incredible views, he decided to rent the home,” said Gellens. “He also had a large circle of friends and loved to entertain.” Clemens was also known to escape to a treehouse “parlor” set up in branches of a large chestnut tree that served as a writing retreat.

Like so many other venues, Wave Hill shut down last March due to COVID, but managed to create virtual content for all of its visitors. “We had nature walks, yoga, meditation, art workshops, cooking demonstrations and other programs all online,” said Gellens. “We thought this was so important because we wanted our audience who relies on Wave Hill to continue to be connected to us.”

The property opened again at the end of July, but now people who want to visit must first register online. There are no timed entries, but registering will help Wave Hill to control the number of visitors each day.


Perhaps one of the most sought-after scenes at Wave Hill is the Pergola. Framing the views of the Hudson River and the Palisades. The Pergola is surrounded by colorful plantings during the warmer months. “It’s one of those ‘A-Ha’ moments—it’s just breathtaking, no matter how many times you see it,” said Gellens. “We also wouldn’t have had that view without George Perkins and his commitment to conservation.”

The Pergola has often been the setting for couples taking their wedding vows, and Wave Hill was also one of the first places in New York City to offer “socially distanced” ceremonies on the Great Lawn. The venue also offers space for small meetings and conferences.

Many of Wave Hill’s visitors are local Bronx residents, while others tend to travel from throughout New York City, Long Island, the lower Hudson Valley and even from all parts of the world. Avid gardeners have been flocking there for years to experience all of the varieties of plant life up close. Gellens, who lives in Riverdale, was actually a member of Wave Hill long before she started working there. “I think what I appreciate most about this beautiful place is the quiet and the feeling of intimacy,” she said. “It’s so easy to feel that this is your own place.”

The Conservatory, built in 1906 and rebuilt in 1969, sits at the center of the property and offers a selection of exotic plants like McLoughlin’s Aloe, native to Ethiopia and Djbouti, the Harlequin Evening Flower, found in South Africa, as well as South African bulbs. The adjoining Palm House features a variety of colorful flowers in the summer and brilliant foliage in the cooler months. Rainforest conditions, along with green plantings and ferns, can be found in the Tropical House. The Southwest comes to life in the Cactus and Succulent House, with more than 1,100 plants.

An adjacent Wild Garden offers meandering paths through a myriad of vegetation, while the Herb Garden features both culinary and medicinal herbs, including Chinese indigo and ornamental plants from Mediterranean climates. The Aquatic Garden and water lily pool provide ample samplings of water-based vegetation.

In pre-COVID times, Wave Hill offered both indoor and outdoor concerts, but many are now recorded and available on their website. “Unfortunately, we can’t offer concerts to the public right now,” added Gellens. The former in-person weekend Family Art Project is also being offered virtually now.

Art exhibitions are on display at the Wave Hill House’s Glyndor Gallery and have featured paintings, sculptures and other artwork. For those seeking unique gifts, Wave Hills’ Shop includes educational toys, handcrafted bath and body products, ceramics by local artisans, glass, jewelry, seasonal plants and garden books.

The Café also offers a limited amount of indoor seating with soups, sandwiches, salads, seasonal snacks and beverages on the menu. Afternoon tea is also available on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with your choice of tea sandwiches, pastries, and a variety of teas.

During the warmer months, the terrace provides outdoor seating. Wave Hill is open from Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and tickets become available each Monday for that week’s reservations. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and $4 for children over the age of 6. Free admission is offered on Thursdays.

For those who have never visited—or even heard of—Wave Hill, Gellens is willing to share one of the city’s best kept secrets. “Once you visit us, I’m pretty confident you’ll be back again,” she said. “Wave Hill is definitely like your own little world.”

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