A magical garden nobody knows in Central Park

Like many features of the 1858 “Greensward” plan for Central Park, the flower garden that was supposed to be built at 74th Street and Fifth Avenue never made it off the blueprint.

But in the 1930s, when the glass conservatory and greenhouses (below, in 1900) that were erected at Fifth Avenue and 105th proved too costly to maintain, parks director Robert Moses had them torn down—and plans for a European-style garden were drawn.

The result was the Conservatory Garden, which opened in 1937, a six-acre expanse of fountains, walkways, and lush and enchanting gardens in every direction.

Stepping into it feels like walking into a secret, a hidden oasis where the only sounds are the chorus of singing birds and the occasional human gasp at the sight of a curious raccoon.

To get in, you pass through a cast-iron gate designed in France for the Vanderbilt mansion down Fifth Avenue on 58th Street; when the mansion was torn down, the Victorian-era gate ended up here.

Past the gate is a rectangular landscaped lawn, and the garden splits into three distinct styles: one English, one French, and one Italian. Flowers in a kaleidoscope of colors greet you on the walking paths.

“Thousands of hardy perennials, leafy shrubs, clinging vines and countless varieties of red, yellow, blue, and purple flowers are planted in symmetrical designs,” wrote the New York Times on the garden’s dedication day.

Two fountains in the park will trick you into thinking you’re in a time warp. “Three Dancing Maidens” was designed in 1910 and presented to the Conservatory Garden in the 1940s.

The Burnett Fountain of a bronze boy and girl surrounded by real water lilies under which koi goldfish swim is based on the characters in “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Why it’s so sparsely visited is a mystery. Maybe it’s too far uptown, or the Lexington train is too long a walk; perhaps the Fifth Avenue entrance makes it difficult for people already in the park to stumble upon it and fall in love with its beauty.

But for serenity, shade, and the scent of magnolias, or just to get lost in another world for a while, this is the loveliest spot in the city.

[Third photo: MCNY; X2010.7.1.79]

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17 Responses to “A magical garden nobody knows in Central Park”

  1. Bill Jackson Says:

    A lovely spot indeed. Have not been there in a few years. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Ty Says:

    When I was young I thought it was some rich person’s private garden, big forbidding gate and all.

  3. Zoe Says:

    Thanks for telling us about all these *magical* places Ephemeral!

    I’m glad that at least this gate was *recycled* from the manse.

    I don’t think I have ever been there. Has anyone ever lived long enough to see all the beautiful & interesting & out of the way places in NY? ❤

  4. Dottie Cartwright Says:

    Yes! Thank you for reminding me!!!

  5. yorkvilleresident Says:

    This magnificent space is just across 5th avenue from the Museum of the City of New York. That museum is yet another treasure of New York. If you can do both in the same day.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, the Museum of the City of New York is wonderful—and after seeing an exhibit there, come to this garden! You will be transported.

  7. Deborah Drumm Says:

    LOVE IT THERE! When I was in grad school and did clinical at Mt. Sinai, I would go there to regain my sanity!

  8. Jill Says:

    I walk through the garden regularly. I wouldn’t call it sparsely visited. It seems about the same as surrounding areas of Central Park which is, overall, less crowded than downtown. Also, in October, they let people come in and take as many chrysanthemum plants as they can carry when they change them out.

  9. Tom B Says:

    We walked through the Conservatory Garden several years ago because Cooper-Hewitt was closed for remodeling. It was raining but still had numerous visitors. Also there was a wedding that we got to see. A nice surprise for us and one of our favorite places now. We walked past the Museum of the City of New York. Back then it didn’t look that good on the outside, so we skipped it. But this year we visited it and Cooper-Hewitt. Both museums are very well maintained now. Another great day in NYC.

  10. Untapped Staff Reads: A Secret Garden in Central Park and NYPL to Geotag Historical Photos | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] A magical garden nobody knows in Central Park: [Ephemeral New York]: Like many features of the 1858 “Greensward” plan for Central Park, the flower garden that was supposed to be built at 74th Street and Fifth Avenue never made it off the blueprint. […]

  11. Andrea Raskin Says:

    Andrea Raskin

    This exquisit New York City landmark has remained relatively unknown to tourists and New Yorkers alike. This is a positive thing because this stunning garden remains relatively quite. One day, as a volunteer at the Meer, it was necessary for me to help out at the Conservatory Garden. That started my 15 year weekly volunteer dedication to the Garden. As so much of NYC becomes gentrified, people no longer hesitate visiting the North end of the park where the Conservatory Garden is located at 105th Street and 5th Avenue. Extra bonus: Museum of the City of NY and El Museo Del Barrio are located directly across 5th Avenue. The beautiful Meer and the Dana Center are a short walk North from the Conservatory Garden

  12. A magical garden nobody knows in Central Park — Ephemeral New York – efeufuoma Says:

    […] via A magical garden nobody knows in Central Park — Ephemeral New York […]

  13. krishnakumarsinghblog Says:


  14. Compost Happens Says:

    The flower beds in front of the place where you rent sailboats are infested with bold rats. Maybe I will try this uptown place to draw plants.

  15. Where is this rough rock wall in Central Park? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] rock wall, apparently a retaining wall from one of the original buildings, still stands behind the Conservatory Garden not far from a stone that marks the former site of the college (above […]

  16. How Central Park got its Shakespeare Garden | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] But this lovely green space of quiet and peace near Belvedere Castle isn’t just any garden in the park. […]

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