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 Avene, 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, 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 to the memory of Frances Hodgson Burnett, with sculpture by Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1936. 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, a mass display of tulips in the spring and a massed display of 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.