Not-So-Secret Garden: Four Seasons Inside The Central Park Conservancy

A very visual look at goings-on both natural and by-design in New York's most iconic stretch of green.


Diane Schaub, Central Park Conservancy’s curator of gardens, has been designing the Conservatory Garden landscape for more than 26 years, working side-by-side with staff gardeners and volunteers to continuously create a peaceful sanctuary in the city. “A good garden is a work of art that is never finished,” she notes. “It involves color, shape, texture, light, shadow, water. It’s a living artwork.” Here, Schaub shares thoughts on the garden’s striking seasonal displays.

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“[In summer], the South Garden is my favorite. There are more flowers, more butterflies; it’s just amazing. Most gardens go a little blah in the heat of summer, but not this one. I use over 250 varieties of bloom in beds with different color themes. Sitting by the pool, under that big crabapple, watching the sparrows splashing away in the Burnett fountain—it’s delightful. Kids love it there.” Photographs by George Ross.

Located in the Northeast quadrant of Central Park, the Conservatory Garden (named for a glass conservatory removed in the 1930s) boasts six acres of seasonal displays in three areas: the Italianate Center Garden, the French-style North Garden and the English-style South Garden. 

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“In late October to mid-November, in the North Garden, 2,000 Korean chrysanthemums bloom in every color imaginable. It’s like walking through a Monet. A Monet with fragrance! The spiraea turns peachy, late roses bloom, the Three Dancing Maidens celebrate it all with a last hurrah.” Photographs by George Ross.

At the main entrance, an ornate gate (that once adorned the Vanderbilt mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street) greets visitors to the Center Garden. Every spring, allées of crabapple trees bloom pink and white. This garden’s symmetrical design features a central lawn bordered with yew hedges, while a semicircular wisteria-covered, wrought-iron pergola flanks a single jet fountain. 

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“The Italianate Center Garden is always that space in between—that place that is calming, cooling and restful. In the winter, with snow on the twisted limbs of the crabs, tracing the ironwork of the pergola and the Vanderbilt gate—it’s a black-and-white, magical landscape.” Photographs by George Ross.

In the North Garden, some 20,000 tulips and daffodils put on a show each spring, while in autumn, 2,000 Korean chrysanthemums fill the area with color. The Untermyer fountain—featuring the Three Dancing Maidens by German sculptor Walter Schott—anchors the space at its center and is surrounded by an intricate French parterre garden. 

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“In the spring, the North Garden—the French-style garden—has 20,000 bulbs in bloom backed by blooming crabapples and lilacs. Another 25,000 bulbs light up the South Garden. The wisteria on the pergola, the allées blanketed with pink petals, tender shades of green everywhere, and another cycle begins.” Photographs by George Ross.

The South Garden is arranged in concentric planting beds and contains a diverse array of plantings, including bulbs, annuals, perennials and flowering trees. At the end of a waterlily pool is the Burnett fountain, a memorial to Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden).