New York is mostly cement with noise. However, there are some wonderful green places where visitors go to get a little respite from city streets. Here are some of NYC's best kept secret gardens.
For a visit with flowers where you least expect them, the West Side Community Garden, 123 West 89th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, provides them in abundance. Vegetable gardens are towards the back, available to view when the gate is open. This wonderful space, maintained by volunteers, hosts a free summer concert series; a children’s summer Shakespeare festival and an arts and crafts festival in September. westsidecommunitygarden.org.
The 15-acre Carl Schurz Park is way over east from 84th to 90th streets at East End Avenue to the Esplanade. It’s the site of Gracie Mansion, official residence of New York City’s Mayor, and hugely popular with folks in the ‘hood. The Peter Pan Garden on the East River is wooded with paths; many walk their dogs here or stroll.
There is an entrance fee to enter the Merchant’s House Museum (general $15; children under 12 free) in Noho at 29 East 4th Street. The house, built in 1832, is said to be haunted; the Treadwell family lived there—presumably peacefully-- for over one hundred years. There is a “secret” family garden that is often used for weddings or photo shoots.
A granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller’s gave the city Greenacre Park, a tiny spot on East 51 Street between Second and Third Avenues. Small as it is, it has a beautiful waterfall with places to sit where the noise withdraws. A kiosk sells coffee and many people in the area take some time mid-day to come in and hang out.
April to October, a visit to the Jefferson Market Garden is a treat. The garden, filled with shrubs, trees and blossoms, is next to the wonderful Jefferson Market Library and, from time to time hosts musical events like a jazz concert, harvest festival and winter tree lighting. The forty-two year old garden is sheer enchantment. Bounded by Greenwich Avenue, West 10th Street and Sixth Avenue, the garden has an interesting history as it went from being a parcel of land to a food market to a library and garden. jeffersonmarketgarden.org
Until 1989, the site of the Sheridan Square Viewing Garden was a traffic safety island usually filled with illegally parked cars and delivery trucks. After landscaping and planting it became part of the NYC Department of Parks in 1989. This garden is strictly for looking at, located in Sheridan Square -- the triangle bounded by West 4th Street, Washington Place and Barrow Street.
When you walk through the gate to enter the garden of St. Luke in the Fields, the city noises vanish and you are enveloped by nature—no pets and no cell phones allowed. The garden abuts the church, built in 1821, on Hudson Street between Barrow and Christopher in the West Village. The gardens have high brick walls to further shut out distractions. The six part garden has some benches; to get inside find the entrance on Barrow Street from which you can access the other parts.
The only green space on the campus, the Vera List Courtyard at The New School at 66 West 12 Street, is small and beautifully designed with a spiral ramp for wheelchair access; a sculpted landform featuring a thick grove of red maples and a ground cover of pygmy bamboo. There is a terrace for lectures, small concerts, and academic ceremonies.
Rapidly becoming a new Central Park favorite, visit The Hallett, a four-acre nature sanctuary just northwest of the Pond at 5th Avenue and Central Park South. Wander the artfully developed trails or sit at one of the benches made of trees that formerly graced the Park. You may spot a cardinal or even an egret plus the usual squirrels as well as fish, ducks, raccoons, rabbits, woodchucks and snapping turtles, all of whom call the sanctuary and nearby pond home. Look up and there is the NYC skyline. The entire place is a little bit of magic right in Central Park.