The Conservatory Garden is the only formal garden in Central Park, New York City. Comprising 6 acres (24,000 m2), it takes its name from a conservatory that stood on the site from 1898 to 1934.[note 1] The park's head gardener used the glasshouses to harden hardwood cuttings for the park's plantings. After the conservatory was torn down, the garden was designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, landscape architect for Robert Moses, with planting plans by M. Betty Sprout; constructed and planted by WPA workers, it was opened to the public in 1937.
The Garden is composed of three distinct parts, skillfully restored since the 1980s, and is accessible through the Vanderbilt Gate at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, a quarter mile (400 m) south of the park's northeast corner. The Vanderbilt Gate (illustrated right) once gave access to the forecourt of Cornelius Vanderbilt II's chateau designed by George Browne Post, the grandest of the Fifth Avenue mansions of the Gilded Age, at 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, sharing the Plaza with the Plaza Hotel. The wrought iron gates with cast iron and repoussé details, were designed by Post and executed in an iron foundry in Paris.
Below the steps flanked by Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), the central section of the Conservatory Garden is a symmetrical lawn outlined in clipped yew,[note 2] with a single central fountain jet at the rear. It is flanked by twin allées of crabapples and backed by a curved wisteria pergola against the steep natural slope, that is dominated at its skyline by a giant American Sycamore. Otherwise there is no flower color: instead, on any fine Saturday afternoon in June, it is the scene of photography sessions for colorful wedding parties, for which limousines pull up in rows on Fifth Avenue.
To the left on the south side, is the garden of mixed herbaceous borders in wide concentric bands around The Secret Garden water lily pool, dedicated in 1936 to the memory of Frances Hodgson Burnett, with sculpture by Bessie Potter Vonnoh. Some large shrubs, like tree lilac, magnolias, buddleias and Cornus alba 'elegantissima' provide vertical structure and offer light shade to offset the sunny locations, planted by Lynden Miller with a wide range of hardy perennials and decorative grasses, intermixed with annuals planted to seem naturalized. This garden has seasonal features to draw visitors from April through October.
To the right of the central formal plat is a garden also in concentric circles, round the Untermyer Fountain, which was donated by the family of Samuel Untermyer in 1947. The bronze figures, Three Dancing Maidens by Walter Schott (1861-1938), were executed in Germany about 1910  and formed a fountain at Untermyer's estate "Greystone" in Yonkers, New York.
This section of the Conservatory Garden has two dramatic seasons of massed display, of tulips in the spring and Korean chrysanthemums in the fall. Beds of santolina clipped in knotted designs with contrasting bronze-leaved bedding begonias surround the fountain, and four rose arbor gates are planted with reblooming 'Silver Moon' and 'Betty Prior' roses.
After the Second World War the garden had become neglected, and by the 1970s a wasteland. It was restored and partially replanted under the direction of horticulturist and urban landscape designer Lynden Miller, to reopen in June 1987. The overgrown, top-heavy crabapples were freed of watershoots and pruned up to a higher scaffold for better form. The high-style mixed planting was the first to bring estate garden style to urban parks, part of the general renewal of Central Park under Elizabeth Barlow Rogers of the Central Park Conservancy.
- Many specific facts in this article are drawn from Rosenzweig, Roy, and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992, and from the Central Park Conservancy website.
- Designated "French" or "Italian" equally by journalists; in autumn 2006 the yews were replanted with more naturally spreading Taxus media ‘Hatfieldii' cultivars that will make low formal shaping easier to maintain.
- M. Betty Sprout, ASLA, (1906-1962), an accomplished landscape architect in her own right, was also Mrs Gilmore D. Clarke (National Register of Historic Places registration for Parkfairfax, Alexandria, Virginia), a Colonial Revival low-density housing development of 1941-43, by Leonard Schultze and Associates, architects, with a site plan developed by Gilmore Clarke, with planting plans by M. Betty Sprout.
- CentralPark.com Conservatory Garden
- New York Insider
- The Untermyer Fountain
- CentralPark.com's complete guide to all 28 flowers of the Central Park Conservatory Garden
- Conservatory Garden, at the official site of Central Park
- New York Times "The Renaissance of Conservatory Garden" 11 June 1987