The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Education of a Public Gardener: 9/24/97

Lynden B. Miller (standing with red sweater) leading volunteers at the Conservatory Garden

Lynden's collage

The Conservatory Garden in Central Park

Bryant Park

Shady Border in Bryant Park

Cool beds in Wagner Park in Battery Park City

Wagner Park

Hot Beds in Wagner Park

My life as a gardener changed course on September 24, 1997. I had met public garden designer, Lynden B. Miller, in her Sharon, CT garden (under a foot of snow) for a winter garden tour in 1996. I returned to Sharon the following summer to see her garden and she was kind enough to extend an invitation to visit her in New York City and see her public gardens.

Lynden originally studied art at Smith College and was trained in horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and Wave Hill in the 1970's. About 30 years ago, she spearheaded the restoration of the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. She went on to design public gardens at the New York Botanical Garden, Bryant Park and the New York Public Library Gardens, Wagner Park in Battery Park City and Columbia University to name a few.

When I visited Lynden and her husband, Leigh in New York, I got the chance to see some her artwork before visiting the gardens. Her collages were an early indicator of her eye for color, form and texture. Early the next morning, we walked to the Conservatory Garden on 105th Street for a volunteer gardening session. Lynden instructed the volunteers in a fall planting of pansies. The volunteers excitedly went about their given tasks for a couple of hours until the project was completed and Lynden gave me a private tour of this six acre oasis in the city. Her plantings looked magnificent and were having an end of the season grand finale.

Lynden then whisked me to the subway and we traveled from uptown to midtown for our next stop at Bryant Park on 42nd Street, behind the Public Library. Lynden buzzed like a bumblebee from one end of the park to the other with the head gardener discussing the changes that would take place during the next growing season. We hopped back on the subway for our final destination, Wagner Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan in Battery Park City. From the park, you can see Lady Liberty in the Upper Bay at the mouth of the Hudson River. The garden had been recently opened and had two sections. One section had flowers in hot, bright colors and the other area was comprised of cool shades of blue, mauve and pink with complimentary gray foliage.

That day was an exhilarating day for me. I knew I wanted to create something like this in my own town. Lynden taught me how to get volunteers to work together and how to procure the public and private funding that would be necessary to get the job done. I learned about designing a mixed border and she introduced me to dozens of plants, many that I use regularly now, for the first time. Her message, that became my mantra in the public gardens I helped create in Peterborough, was to "take on only what you can maintain at the highest level and to make it gorgeous and keep it that way."

Lynden specializes in urban parks and public places. She has repeatedly transformed neglected, derelict and dangerous public spaces into serene and beautiful parks that provide a moment of respite for the city dweller. But these principles can apply to any public space in the country or the city. I have used Lynden's formula in the parks in Peterborough, NH. Lynden has written a new book called Parks, Plants and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape. In it she "describes the elements of successful public space and explains how to design, improve and maintain year-round plantings." If you are interested in improving the public spaces and parks in your town , this book should be your bible.


  1. Dear Michael, It is clear that Lynden is a very imaginative and talented garden designer and a creative artist as well. Very obviously, from what you say, she has transformed any number of public spaces into attractive gardens to the benefit of the whole community.

    Her mantra is one I agree with totally and, I believe, one which can be applied to all gardens, public or private. Sadly, in my experience, it is too seldom followed.

  2. Lynden Miller is giving a lecture at the Toronto Botanical Gardens in April. I cannot wait to hear her speak, I have been a fan of hers for ages.

  3. Edith,
    I couldn't agree with you more regarding maintenance.

    Lynden is a wonderful and inspiring speaker. I am certain you will love her as much as I do!



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