The 1970’s were a difficult time for public parks. Like many cities, New York was forced to make budget cuts that resulted in parks becoming derelict and dangerous. Even Central Park fell on hard times
Since public funds were not sufficient, park loving citizens realized that private money would have to be raised. Betsy Barlow Rogers conceived the idea of a public/private partnership and the Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980.
Betsy looked to friends for help. Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, filled with trash and overgrown, needed a gardener with an artist’s touch. Betsy asked for help from Lynden B. Miller, a successful landscape painter and gardener. She requested three things from Lynden: make the Conservatory Garden beautiful, bring people back, and raise all the money herself.
Lynden thought the request was crazy. She had no experience with public landscaping and none with fundraising. However, while looking at the decayed garden, she saw what it could become and decided to restore the garden. This decision changed her life.
Fundraising had to come first. Lynden approached friends and neighbors for help. Over and over, she heard that a restored garden would just be trashed and vandalized. When $25,000 was raised, Lynden and a small crew of volunteers started work on the Conservatory Garden. The garden was slowly returned to its former splendor. Out of curiosity, neighbors observed the renovation and asked the crew what was going on. Then they returned, with family and friends, to enjoy the garden. To the surprise of nay-sayers, it was greeted with appreciation and respect. The predicted vandalism did not occur and the garden became a source of pride for the community.
Lynden has designed other public gardens in New York. However, the Conservatory Garden has retained a special place in her heart. It was there she came to understand two important facts. First, beautiful public gardens “instill new pride in communities and change the personal and public experience of urban life” Secondly, because of their positive effect on urban life, gardens are worth the money and effort needed to maintain them. Urban parks and gardens had become her mission in life.
Lynden continued her work in public garden design in new York. Bryant Park, The Central Park Zoo, The New York Botanical Garden, Wagner Park in Battery Park City, and Hudson River Park are just some of her designs. The city witnessed the subsequent revitalization of the neighborhoods near the parks.
On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was destroyed by. Like many others, Lynden struggled for a way to deal with the tragedy. In memory of the victims, Dutch bulb grower Hans van Waardenburg offered a gift of a million daffodil bulbs to the city of New York. Lynden sprang into action, arranging shipping and lining up over 10,000 volunteers to plant the bulbs across the city. The plantings were huge success. The Daffodil Project was founded. In one of the largest volunteers efforts in the city’s history, over 6.5 million bulbs have been planted in New York. Today, it is in partnership with NY4P and NYC Parks.
To learn more about Lynden and daffodils: