If you are not familiar with Staten Island, then you may never have heard of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. But that would be a shame, because you are missing out on one of New York City’s most beautiful gardens. I am a huge fan of Staten Island – New York’s most unloved borough. So in today’s blog post, I will be sharing with you Michelle and Robert’s Snug Harbor engagement photos in the hopes of getting the word out about these underappreciated gardens.
Meet Michelle and Robert
As with all of my engagement posts, let’s start by meeting the couple. Michelle and Robert met online in 2011 while Michelle was living in Brooklyn and Robert was living in Florida. Here is their long-distance love story straight from Michelle: ‘After meeting online, we started Skype-ing together every night. January 2012 was the first time Robert came up to visit, and our first date was at the Owl’s Head Pier in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. We became an ‘official’ item soon thereafter, and Robert started to look for a job in New York. He found a job faster than anticipated, and he moved in with me in April 2012 on a temporary basis. We have lived together ever since.’
So who proposed, and when? Again, from Michelle: ‘Robert proposed to me in April 2019, by recreating our first date. We walked through Narrows Botanical Garden, walked along the Owl’s Head Pier, and he proposed on the pedestrian/biking pathway along the shore right next to the pier. The full story may or may not include bird poop .’
Snug Harbor Engagement Photos –
Our Path Through the Garden
So that brings us to Michelle and Robert’s engagement session. We started the day on the steps of the Newhouse Center of Contemporary Art. Our path through the garden led us from the front of the museum complex, to the back of the garden along Cottage Row, and ended in front of the Carl Grillo Glass House.
Most couples will want to take photos in Snug Harbor’s famous Chinese Scholar Garden, but Michelle and Robert elected not to include this area in their session. Note that there is an extra fee to visit the special garden (details below), and during the pandemic the interior buildings were all closed. There are certainly more than enough beautiful areas to cover in a Snug Harbor photo shoot without including the Chinese Scholar Garden, however.
Snug Harbor Engagement Photos – The Highlights
Snug Harbor has a number of unique features and gardens that you should make sure are on your shot list. Highlights include the allée, an avenue created by curved hornbeam tree branches. This is Snug Harbor’s self-described most popular selfie spot.
We also spent a good deal of time in the Tuscan Garden, with its narrow pathways and reflective pools. The Lion’s Sensory Garden had big, bushy lilac trees in bloom, the Healing Garden was a calm, forested oasis, and the White Garden was a tucked away corner of complete privacy. Finally, don’t forget to check out what is in bloom near the parking lot. There was a huge azalea bush at the edge of the P4 parking lot that was covered in pink blossoms.
Michelle and Robert’s Snug Harbor engagement photos were taken in May of 2021. There was plenty in bloom at the time. Unfortunately, we had just missed the blooming of Snug Harbor’s cherry trees. In case you are chasing the cherry blossoms in early spring, make sure you consider a trip to Snug Harbor. The garden has beautiful fruit trees all along the front of the museum complex.
Snug Harbor Engagement Photos – The Lowlights
While the gardens are indeed beautiful, some of the structures have quite frankly seen better days. Case in point, the Governor’s House, Pond Garden, and the buildings along Shinbone Alley. Now with the pandemic being less of a concern, I am sure that maintenance at Snug Harbor will return to normal. At the time of our visit, however, the garden seemed to be in a bit of a dilapidated state. (Personally, this only added to Snug Harbor’s charm.)
If you can look past this, Snug Harbor is definitely worth a visit. We visited the garden on a Friday and were the only visitors. It is worth the commute, if for no other reason than the privacy these gorgeous gardens offer.
Snug Harbor Engagement Photos – Photo Tips
Michelle and Robert’s engagement session lasted two hours, and we used every bit of that time. The photo shoot began at 5:30 p.m., and I timed the session to coincide with ‘golden hour.’
The Snug Harbor complex covers 83 acres, so plan to do lots of walking during your session. Wear comfortable shoes and plan for some uneven pavement along the way.
Snug Harbor really comes alive on the weekend, so make sure you check the online events calendar. I recommend booking your session during the week so that you can have the gardens all to yourself as Michelle and Robert did. The gardens can close for private events, inclement weather, or for major holidays, though the Snug Harbor website has these days listed.
Snug Harbor Engagement Photos – Hours and Admission
The main outdoor grounds and gardens of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden are open seven days a week, from dawn to dusk. Admission is completely free of charge. There is no advance ticketing or registration needed.
The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, however, does have separate hours and admission prices. As of summer 2022, the hours for the Chinese Scholar’s Garden are:
- April 13 – October 2, 2022
- Wednesday – Friday, 12:00 PM – 7:00 PM
- Saturday – Sunday, 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM
- First Fridays Free for Staten Island residents upon proof of residency
- Bonus Open Days: July 4, September 5
The price of admission to the Chinese Scholar’s Garden is as follows:
- $5 for adults
- $4 for seniors (65+) and students
- Free for children 5 and under, active military (Blue Star program), and Snug Harbor Member
- Staten Island residents admitted free on the first Friday of each month with proof of residency
Note that the Chinese Scholar’s Garden closes much earlier than the rest of Snug Harbor. So if you are including the Chinese Scholar’s Garden in your photo shoot, then I recommend starting here and then tackling the rest of Snug Harbor.
Snug Harbor Engagement Photos –
Photo Permit Process & Rules
Any special occasion photography sessions at Snug Harbor require a pre-approved photo permit. Snug Harbor defines ‘special occasion’ photography as ‘any wedding, engagement, anniversary, Sweet 16, or child portrait sessions (with or without props).’
The rules of the house for all photo permits are as follows:
- Approved permits grant access to specified areas for two hours only. Shoots may take place seven days a week, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
- Some garden areas may not be available based upon seasonality or previously scheduled events
- Rain dates will be issued based on availability.
- Snug Harbor is a public space. Photo permits do not grant exclusive access to any areas.
Rules specific to the NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden:
- Do not open or force any doors that are closed.
- Do not move furniture.
General Grounds Rules and Regulations (including but not limited to the NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden):
- No smoking or alcohol.
- No decorations of any kind, including tables, chairs, tents, or canopies.
- No use of glitter or confetti.
- No use of drones.
- Do not float anything on the water in any ponds.
- Do not move potted plants or Snug Harbor horticultural supplies.
- Do not add artificial or real flowers to pots of existing plants.
- Do not step into or run cords through planting beds.
Photo Permit Fees and Regulations
- $150.00: two hours in gardens and grounds, excluding the NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden
- $350.00: two hours in all gardens and grounds, including the NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden (not available for Monday reservations).
- Snug Harbor closes at dusk. Photos must be completed by 5:00 p.m. in the NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden.
- Photo permits have a two-hour limit.
- Permits are subject to availability and cannot be processed until payment is received.
The photo permit application is an easy form, and can be found on the Snug Harbor website. I am a particular fan of the fact that Snug Harbor will work with you to issue a rain date in case of inclement weather.
I hope this post enlightened more people to the secrets of Staten Island. When I came to NYC over 20 years ago, I stayed on Staten Island in a bed and breakfast in the St. George area. I felt at home in Staten Island then, and my love for the quirkiness of the borough has never left me.
Snug Harbor is a picturesque spot for a photo shoot of any type, but an even better spot for a wedding. Snug Harbor is one of the more affordable venues in town, and you can check out my photos from Angela and Nguyen’s wedding. Trust me, it’s definitely worth the commute.
Enjoy the images and I’ll have more photo adventures for you next week!
Looking to create your own Snug Harbor engagement photos? Drop me a line and let’s talk about your photography needs.
If you would like to view more images from my engagement photography portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com