Sure, Central Park is a stunner, but New York City is home to a plethora of smaller gardens tucked between high rises and dotting unexpected avenues. These “secret” gardens and greenspaces are often tended by volunteers and offer prized oases in a city more often marked by concrete than chrysanthemums.
Liz Christy Community Garden
New York City’s first community garden lies tucked away in Manhattan’s storied Lower East Side neighborhood. Founded in 1973 on the corner of Bowery and Houston Streets, the nook was in a state of sorry disrepair when local resident Liz Christy and a group of gardening activists known as the Green Guerillas determined it would make for an ideal garden. The idea came to fruition with 60 plots.
Today, the garden houses a small pond occupied by fish and even a turtle. Stroll through the wildflower habitat, and curl up with a book on one of the wooden benches that dot the area. You’ll admire weeping birch trees, a grape arbor, lush vegetable gardens and a seemingly endless variety of perennials.
West Side Community Garden
Manhattan’s Upper West Side is more often associated with wide, tree-lined streets and well-heeled residents. But in 1987, West 89th Street was a shabbier picture. At the corner near Columbus Avenue lay a trash strewn, 89,000 square-foot vacant lot. The New York City Planning Commission ultimately approved a permanent garden plan that morphed into the urban oasis it is today, the West Side Community Garden.
The land’s central focus is a sunken garden, surrounded by a volunteer-tended flower park and shady benches. But what makes the garden so beloved are the cultivable plots which can be tended by locals. Of course, obtaining a plot to garden is no small feat. Still visitors can enjoy all manner of plants and vegetables, including sunflowers, lettuces and even corn.
In the thick of the Upper East Side’s corporate high rises, visitors with a nose for nature can seek out tiny Greenacre Park. Measuring only 60 feet by 120 feet and shaded by walls of surrounding buildings, this unexpected oasis is marked by a rushing waterfall. Terraces provide seating at low tables, and a garden offers touches of green in the midst of the city.
Bring a book and your lunch or afternoon coffee and join the scores of office workers who flock to the park for a mid-day break. A small snack bar in the park’s interior sells drinks and treats.
Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace
The energy that emanates from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is palpable; the site is home to the Metropolitan Opera, The New York City Ballet and The New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The centerpiece of the Lincoln Center campus is its fountain, which attracts scores of visitors posing for snapshots. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll unearth the secluded Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace, home to a reflecting pool and sloping terraced lawn.
The soft grass is an unexpected welcome in the concrete jungle and perfect for lounging on a warm, sunny day. Plus, art lovers can appreciate the sculpture rising from the pool, Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure.”
La Plaza Cultural Community Garden
When you want your green space to serve a greater purpose than a spot to quietly sit, head to La Plaza Cultural Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village. To call it a garden is an understatement; La Plaza is well-known as an open-air theater and performance venue.
Local neighborhood organizations, after-school programs, and even daycare centers use the garden as a venue for playtime, theater, dance, music, art and social gatherings. Plus, educational opportunities spring up at workshops geared toward everything from alternative food production to outdoor cooking.