Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanic Garden is located on the northeastern corner of Staten Island. According to their website: this is “One of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America, Snug Harbor consists of 28 buildings, fourteen distinctive botanical gardens, a two acre urban farm, wetlands and park land on a unique, free, open campus.” It certainly is a model for how other urban places can work with their aging infrastructure to create an important and vibrant space.
This is a great place to visit because it has something for everyone – plants and gardens, historic architecture and visual and performing arts.
I visited on a spontaneous trip to Staten Island to visit my sister for breakfast and decided since I was in the area I would stop in and explore the gardens. I enjoy visiting gardens in ‘off-seasons’ to see what I can find of interest, admire the bold little blossoms blooming in the cold, and to admire the bones of the gardens. Thrillingly, this spring is coming slowly, allowing a gentle wave of flowers throughout the early months of the year rather than one glorious tsunami of everything blooming at one time.
The first and only other time I was here was near the time of the grand opening of the New York Chinese Scholars Garden in 1999, which coincided with a Cherry Blossom Festival complete with one of my very favorite things – Taiko Drumming. I have to admit I did not go around and see much of the rest of the gardens on that day. And in the 20 (!!) years that have elapsed since my first visit, there have been new gardens added and the Chinese Scholar’s Garden has matured.
Chinese Scholars Garden
The NY Chinese Scholars Garden is the only garden area on the 83-acre campus that charges a fee to explore. At $5 it is a reasonable charge and you are admitted through the gates and into the gardens. According to their website: “The Garden is a compilation of different gardens in China. It is based on Ming Dynasty Gardens (1368-1644). The New York Chinese Scholar’s garden is the one of two authentic scholar’s gardens in the United States. A team of 40 Chinese artists and craftsmen spent a year in China creating the Garden’s components and another six months in Staten Island as craftsmen-in-residence at Snug Harbor to complete the construction.”
This is one of those great gardens that is small but has so much to see. You must explore the gardens in one direction and then walk through the gardens the opposite way. With all of the small doorways and windows you can pass through, the water features and bridges, each angle is different and special offering a unique view you may have missed.
The interpretation in the scholars garden is exceptional as well. Large “take-along & replace” brochures describe the meaning and intent of various plants, architectural features and calligraphy. In addition the garden does offer guided tours and school field trips – there was a trip going on while I was meandering, they explored the scholars garden as well as some of the 20 acres of wetlands behind the scholars garden.
Enthralled by a large tower in the distance I walked over to see what it was all about. Here you find the Connie Gretz Secret Garden. This garden is a maze of Yews leading to a tiny brick-walled garden in the middle. Disappointingly the stairs to the top of the tower where you could look out and see the maze from above were chained and locked, but the ramble through the yews was pleasant enough. What I liked best about this garden was the meaning behind it. From the sign in the tower at the beginning of the garden “The hedge maze, which conceals this secret garden, is meant to teach children and remind grownups that although life’s path is never straight, we should look for the magic and joy in each step of the journey. For it is only through life’s journey that we each find the peace and beauty of our own secret garden.” Amen
Created for and dedicated to the 267 Staten Islanders who perished on September 11, 2001 the healing garden is a winding gravel path with a water feature, many benches for relaxation and reflection and fountains. Using the trees to signify healing and renewal, this garden works with the topography of the site, and sitting int he benches I could hear the red-winged blackbirds in the wetlands below.
Formal with straight lines, clipped hedges, statuary, a conservatory and fountains even in the cool of early spring and on a gray day the Tuscan Garden feels warm.
There is also a Sensory Garden featuring fragrant flowers, trickling waterfalls and plants with a variety of textures to explore.
Around the grounds:
I spent much more time here than I thought I would and there is so much to see. I am anxious to come back for a visit in the height of the season.