The Investment Genius Who Endowed A New Native Plant Garden in the Bronx

A stunning, 3.5-acre monument to the fiery azaleas, fluffy dogwood trees, and some 400 other native Northeast species is the latest addition to the New York City’s natural beauty — and the legacy of Leon Levy. 

The New York Botanical Garden's Native Plant Garden in the Bronx opened up in May to much adoration, as the culmination of a $15 million gift from the Leon Levy Foundation. The grant is just one of a number of multi-million dollar donations to botanical gardens, mostly in New York City, from the foundation in recent years. Levy was considered an investment genius and a prominent philanthropist all through his life, and his foundation continues to give to programs like neuroscience, archaeology, arts and humanities, in addition to its preservation of gardens, parks, and bird habitats. Since his death, Levy's wife Shelby White is instrumental in the foundation's giving and investment in gardens (see Leon Levy Foundation: Grants for Parks and Gardens).

The new garden features around 100,000 plantings, a 230-foot-long water feature composed of a string of artificial pools, and cutting-edge landscape architecture that will become more intertwined and elaborate as the features grow together.

The $15 million gift came in 2008, in combination with a $10 million gift to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which was the largest in the park's history. The foundation has given multi-million dollar grants annually to parks and gardens in recent years, including a $7.5 million gift to Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

But the foundation's giving isn't limited to New York necessarily, nor is it to large institutions and massive gifts.

For example, one of the largest projects of the foundation's Garden and Nature programs is the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve in the Bahamas, of all places. The 25-acre park is run by the Bahamas National Trust and was conceived by Shelby White. The preserve opened in 2011 on the island of Eleuthera.

And in addition to larger projects, Leon Levy Foundation gives out several very small grants that match the mission of cultivating gardens, parks, and wildlife habitats. Past recipients include the Garden Conservancy, the Horticulture Society of New York, Fort Tryon Park, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

The Native Plant Garden is open for business all summer. Pack some Benadryl.