Wave Hill gardener Gelene Scarborough started gardening as a child in North Carolina. When she moved to New York City, she began by gardening for private rooftop gardens. Her career got its start at Wave Hill back in 1997 when she was one of the two Nally Interns that year. In 1999, she became a full-time gardener here. Like many of our gardeners, Gelene came to horticulture with a background outside the field: Her combined degree in art history and painting from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, led to a summer painting in Samos, Greece and a semester in Paris through the Parsons School of Design program there. We stopped by the Wild Garden recently to learn about a project she’s undertaken up near the Gazebo.
This little section of path cuts across the Wild Garden in front of the Gazebo. As do many of the paths in this part of the garden, it is narrow and dips a little, too. The Wild Garden is hilly, and its narrow paths, winding up and down, make it feel bigger, as well as forcing visitors to slow down as they walk—and get a good look at what surrounds them. Here’s how it looked in late April.
Last summer, Gelene noticed that thanks to the natural movement of soil by wind and rain, this little piece of path had been covered by many inches of earth, and she knew she wanted to restore some of the original dip to the path. Thanks to the mild winter we experienced this year, Assistant Gardener Coralie Thomas has been clearing it out since mid-April, later assisted by Nally Interns Sarah Crichton and Alex Geuron. This next shot, kindness of volunteer Eileen Sanna, shows Gelene (in the background) and Coralie pausing to take stock.
They’ve gotten down to the original pavers, and then moved on to planting ground cover along the edge of the path—little alpines that like to grow in gravel, like Acinos alpinus and Gypsophila, but primarily Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’—chosen for visually interesting contrast. Coralie is on the far left in this shot, Alex in the middle and Gelene in the foreground.
Actually, for Gelene, this little project has felt very much like a restoration. The path has always been there, she tells us: Both Marco Polo Stufano, Wave Hill Director of Horticulture Emeritus Marco Polo Stufano] and Charles Day, our Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter, have spoken of the layout of the Wild Garden, and all its pathways, as being unchanged from the design created by Albert Millard, the Viennese-trained landscape architect George Walbridge Perkins hired more than a century ago to help unify what had been three separate properties into one—later to be known as Wave Hill.
And when they dug down to the original paving stones this spring, they found cinders buried there as well. Gelene was aware that cinders used to be added to garden soil, but that practice died out before Wave Hill became a public garden in the 1960s. She was quite happy, she told us, to come across this evidence of the original hands who worked and shaped this charming, distinctive corner of the gardens.