Spanning the nation, his 500-plus lifetime
commissions and other engagements include
the scenic preservation of giant sequoias in
California’s Yosemite Valley; design of the U.S.
Capitol grounds and terraces in Washington,
D.C.; and his swan song, the 120,000-acre
Biltmore Estate near Asheville, N.C.
Then there’s New York, the seat of Con-necticut-born Olmsted’s outdoor empire.
In 1858, Olmsted and London-born architect Calvert Vaux won a state-appointed
competition to transform 750-plus acres in
Manhattan into America’s first major landscaped public park. Expanded to 843 acres
and completed in 1873, Central Park today
is America’s most-frequented urban park,
attracting some 42 million visitors annually.
Influential in his own right, Vaux parted
ways with Olmsted in 1872 (they briefly
reunited later), while Olmsted contin-
ued shaping the American landscape
from coast to coast. With 6,000-plus total
projects in his name via successor firms
lasting until 1979, his total impact is hard to
calculate, but easy to comprehend.
Many other talented artists, as well as nature itself, have contributed to New York’s
diverse collection of designed and curated
outdoor spaces. From botanical gardens
and sculpture parks to glacier-carved
cascades, here are some pleasing paths to a
happy New York state of mind.
Created in ancient times for studying me-
dicinal plants and herbs, and later, for pure
pleasure, botanical gardens offer effortless
inspiration and rewards for tours, events and
educational programs. New York has at least
30 statewide, including several group-capa-
ble gems in the New York City area.
Inspired by London’s UNESCO-listed
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the national
landmark New York Botanical Garden,
opened in 1891, is a global leader in plant
research, conservation and education.
Laid out by Vaux with later development
by Olmsted’s firm, this 250-acre Bronx
treasure includes 50 acres of old-growth
forest. Versatile spaces include the rustic,
newly refurbished Stone Mill and 1,000-ca-
pacity Victorian-style Enid A. Haupt Con-
Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. (1822- 1903), the father of American landscape
architecture, enjoys a
singular artistic legacy–
each day, more people
surely experience his works
than those of any other
American artist in any
medium in any time.
CRANFORD ROSE GARDEN, BROOKLYN BOTANIC GARDEN
NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, THE BRONX
New York state sprawls with acres of verdant parks and gardens
BY JEFF HEILMAN