It's difficult to find wilderness in a metropolis such as New York City. But until its recent restoration, the Azalea Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, which opens this month, was just such a place: 11 overgrown acres with a canopy of centuries-old sweet gums, tulip trees, and elms; weed-tree saplings; and the untended vestiges of an azalea collection dating to the 1930s.
In overseeing the area's rehabilitation, Todd Forrest, vice president for horticulture and living collections at the world-renowned garden, wanted to showcase the shrub while preserving the beautiful wildness of its setting. "Simply put, this is the most dramatic natural landscape at the garden because of the native trees, exposed rocks, and expansive views," he says.
With the completion of the project, the garden becomes home to one of the country's most important azalea collections. The area retains its naturalistic woodland setting by revealing the existing stone outcrops that have been cleared of underbrush. Thickets of invasive saplings have been removed, and a subtle new path system, designed by landscape architect Shavaun Towers of Towers/Golde, leads visitors up the 55-foot knoll to a circular overlook (the site is one of the garden's highest points).
The garden makes its debut just in time for visitors to enjoy the nearly 3,000 azaleas and rhododendrons in full bloom. Flowering trees (magnolias, silverbells, redbuds) and shrubs (hydrangeas, bottlebrush buckeyes) help make it worth a visit throughout the year.