Gardens are not the first thing that come to mind when thinking of the concrete jungle that is New York – but there are a sprinkling of green spaces that strive to re-shape that narrative.
Communities across the southern end of Manhattan have fought for years (some are still fighting) to restore the natural beauty of their neighborhoods. Through the efforts of volunteers and impassioned environmentalists, these community gardens and public green spaces have become antidotes to the mass of glass, steel, and stone that make up the cityscape of this iconic metropolis. Selected based on their location, history, and overall charm, below is a curated list of some of the best gardens in lower Manhattan.
Elizabeth Street Garden
Sitting in the middle of two boutique-lined streets in Manhattan’s fashion epicenter of SoHo, the Elizabeth Street Garden is less of a secret and more of a cherished heirloom. Featuring a small patio area and brick walking paths, the garden winds through a variety of flora and fauna, as well as sculptures and art pieces. Scattered throughout are benches for visitors to sit and soak up this small urban oasis In the summer months, the garden hosts cultural events such as poetry screenings, live music, and movies, with all proceeds going towards helping save the garden from being developed into yet another Manhattan high rise.
The Elizabeth Street Garden has been in a long legal battle to preserve and protect the garden from developers. If you want to donate or learn more, visit their website at www.elizabethstreetgarden.com
211 Elizabeth Street
Liz Christy Community Garden
The existence of the Liz Christy Garden is something of a miracle and a blessing. In 1973, a group called The Green Guerillas were going around New York throwing flower seeds in sidewalk cracks and dirt patches with the aim of turning some of the city’s urban decay into something beautiful. In 1986, and in full bloom, the garden was named after the group’s leader, Liz Christy, and continues her dedication to building community green spaces to this day. Although small, the garden is a wildflower habitat and features a deep coy pond and numerous herbs, fruit, and vegetable plants, lending it the look and feel of stepping into a storybook. Though the garden has official protected status, its up-keep is largely dependent on volunteers and donations.
East Houston Street Between Second Avenue and Bowery
El Sol Brillante
What once was a rubble pile in the 1970s was later turned into a thriving 1,000 square foot community garden. El Sol Brillante is not only easy on the eye but an active urban farming centre. Members can maintain personal plots or volunteer to contribute to the maintenance of this cherished community space. In June and again in October each year, the garden hosts festivals as well as educational opportunities for kids of all ages. As part of their mission as a community space, they emphasize the importance of sustainability and have a bokashi composting education center that holds demonstrations for local schools. Whether you’re seeking to learn about city sustainability or just looking to be a little closer to nature, El Sol Brillante hits the spot.
522 East 12th Street
St. Luke’s in the Fields Garden
Once a private venue, St. Luke’s in the Fields has opened up its two blocks of gardens to the public. Located on the grounds of the landmarked St. Luke’s Church, built in 1821, it has rapidly become a true sanctuary and space for community respite. St. Luke’s is encompassed by heat-retaining brick walls that has the effect of creating a microclimate, allowing a wide variety of plants to take root and thrive, from berry bushes to an array of flowers. St. Luke’s also acts as an international way station for over 100 recorded species of birds in the fall as well as butterflies in the spring and summer. Visitors are encouraged to disconnect from their phones and instead connect with nature.
487 Hudson Street
6BC Botanical Gardens
Though the inhabitants of the blocks of the East Village have shifted to become home to young professionals and NYU students, it remains a community with strong ties – and nowhere reflects this better than 6BC Botanical Gardens. Named after its location (on 6th street between Avenues B & C) in the 1980s, it has stood the test of time in the face of assorted corporate developers and remains protected as a public space and a community centre. The volunteer-led garden is home to hundreds of plants both native to New York and from abroad, reflecting the heritage of the original founders of the neighborhood. It is now a go-to venue for birthday parties, weddings, and celebrations of all kinds. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can even get the garden all to yourself.
624 East 6th Street between Avenues B & C
Jane Street Garden
Lined with Victorian-style brick townhouses and brownstones in the historic West Village, Jane Street is an idyllic New York street. The Jane Street Garden sits on the corner of Jane Street and 8th Avenue and is completely volunteer-run and donation-based. Throughout spring and summer, the venue’s beds are full of vibrant tulips and lush trees that provide shade for the many benches that are dotted along the garden’s footpath. Jane Street Garden is open from mid-April to early-October and is entirely maintained by community members in an effort to preserve one of New York’s most loved green spaces.
36 Jane Street
11th Street Community Garden
On the eastern side of 11th Street is this community-run pocket garden. 11th Street Community Garden was recently refurbished and features adorable brick walkways along with a wooden trellis dripping with lush green vines that offer cover from the sun on hot days. Newly-renovated wooden benches sit harmoniously within the space and are surrounded by stunning flora and fauna. Like many of the green spaces in this neighborhood, the 11th Street Garden is sandwiched between two high-rise buildings, offering plenty of shade in the heat of summer.
422E 11th Street