Harmony in the Garden Blog

Celebrating Community Gardens in NYC

One of the many things I love about New York is the surprising amount of community gardens tucked in here and there just waiting to be discovered.  Some are small, some large, some created for children, some for quiet contemplation.  They’re everywhere!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, as much as my daughter enjoys hanging out in my garden she’s not inclined to actually work in the garden.   Over the few months we were in NY, she was getting a little tired of me constantly stopping to take photos every time we’d stumble upon, yet another, little garden.

In turn, I was getting frustrated at her impatience and was desperately trying to get her to understand the importance of community gardens – why they exist, how they help young kids who wouldn’t otherwise know where a carrot came from, how they help the wildlife find a moment of refuge, etc.

But it seemed to fall on deaf, teenage ears, until one particularly hot and muggy day.

Wandering around block after block, we finally found the community garden I was looking for.

Bored, hot and exhausted she plopped down on a bench under the cooling shade of a giant pine tree.  As I was busy photographing something else, I noticed she spent the next 30 minutes peacefully watching a group of newly fledged sparrows learn how to finesse their way around a bird feeder that someone had hung from a tree.

She didn’t even pull out her phone once!   She had found peace and relaxation in the middle of this busy city, and was actually enjoying it.

After awhile I quietly walked over to join her on the bench.  And shortly after that, a man in some sort of custodial uniform walked into the garden seeking a quiet spot where he could spend his break eating his bagged lunch.

Then another man walked in with a bucket of tools in his hand to spend the afternoon tending the garden.  And I saw the lightbulb go off in Emily’s head as she got it.

She finally understood the importance of these humble spaces.  Here’s a few of my favorites, each one different from the next:

1.  The Lotus Garden

While walking the streets of New York, my advice to you is ‘don’t forget to look up!’  Because if you do, you’ll be amazed at the vast amounts of green peeking over the rooftops of the tallest buildings.  These private gardens taunt me as I walk by, with their hints of lush beauty that are off-limits to prying eyes like mine.

Thank heavens for the Lotus Garden – a densely planted 1/6 acre garden growing on the roof of a public garage.  For over 30 years this community garden has been lovingly tended to by a team of volunteers and open to the public every Sunday.GreenBar

GreenBarlotusGreenBarThis garden is a magnet for children, with small-sized watering cans, garden tools and a pond.  What else does a kid need?  And to help engage their imagination is plenty of art and sculptures tucked in here and there throughout the garden – truly a place to explore.GreenBar

GreenBarGreenBarBut it’s not just for children – the curving paths (with seating throughout) beckons to anyone who just wants a place to relax.  And perhaps wait for the peaches to ripen, from the 30-year old peach tree that bears bushels of fruit for all.GreenBarGreenBar

2.   6BC Botanical Garden

So much more than a botanical garden, 6BC is a large community garden open every day and available for the community’s various events (parties, small concerts, readings and weddings to name just a few).

But the day we were there it was peacefully quiet, except for a few hipsters tucked into a shady, hidden corner enjoying each other’s company while chatting and eating their lunch.GreenBar

This is a community garden that’s clearly been designed by those with a love of plants and design.  It’s gorgeous, with unusual plants, creative pathways and tasteful artwork resulting in a sense of excitement as you explore every curve and hidden corner.  With towering brick buildings hugging three sides of the garden, you feel as if you’re enclosed in a blanket of vine-covered walls with the open sky above.GreenBarGreenBarGreenBarGreenBarThis garden, like so many others, understands the importance of providing a resting place for wildlife.  Thanks to a pond, various bird baths and plenty of nectar-rich flowers (many of them native) this garden is literally buzzing with life. GreenBarGreenBarDutchman's PipeGreenBarGreenBar

3.  The Creative Little Garden

Don’t you just love the name?  Squeezed in tight between towering apartments, it’s hard to believe this little garden has survived all these years without being razed and turned into yet another apartment building.

Originally a tenement building in the 1940’s, the dilapidated structure was eventually razed and remained an unsightly, empty lot for decades.  Thanks to a tenacious group of volunteers, they began its transformation. And despite developers’ best efforts to seize the land, this little garden has stood its ground.  Click here if you’d like to read more about this garden.GreenBarGreenBarDespite its small and narrow dimensions, it still manages to pack a ton of creativity into it.  If I were to sum up this garden in two words, they would be Art and Birds.  There was artwork everywhere – on the walls, in the trees, tucked within the garden beds.GreenBar  GreenBarGreenBarAnd I counted no less than ten bird feeders in the garden (so you can imagine the appreciative wildlife that we saw at every feeder.)GreenBar  GreenBar

This was the garden, in fact, where my daughter finally understood the importance of having a place for people to step outside of their city for awhile.  A place where they can quietly sit, relax and let their thoughts run free.

I’d love to know of any special community gardens in your area and how you use them – please share!GreenBar

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  • I love the transformation–both for your dear daughter and these spaces! I so want to go to NY now and visit them myself. Until now, thank you for taking us on this valuable tour.

  • Rebecca—are any of these community gardens started by Bette Midler? I have seen so many articles about her efforts in reclaiming spaces. Also, do you follow 66 Square Feet”? Wonderful blog about a rooftop garden in the city and places she visits. (Blogspot also)

    • Hi Teri, Thanks for the information – 66 Square Feet is, indeed, a great blog! I don’t think Bette had anything to do with these particular gardens. It would’ve been fun to see which ones she did start, though. Oh well, next time I’m there, right?

  • I’m going to bookmark your post for my fall trip to NYC — thanks for the wonderful post! I especially want to see 6BC, and the Creative Little Garden too if I have time. The latter reminds me of that courtyard garden amid tall apartment buildings that we saw on the San Francisco Fling.

    • Hi Pam – if you’re able to get to the East Village you can easily see the 6BC and Creative Little Garden in one day. There was also another one in between them, believe it or not, but it was closed the day I was there.

  • Thank you for this wonderful post! Cities have so many interesting spots tucked away in sometimes surprising spaces.

  • I try to avoid big cities when I travel. I was amazed at all the beautiful gardens. hidden away. .

    • I’ll admit, Darlene, that I was surprised at the sheer number of beautiful green spaces as well. It was such a lovely thing to discover!

  • I love seeing NYC thru your eyes Rebecca. Your curiosity and wanderings have shown us that even in this fast paced city there are quiet havens of peace… for everyone to enjoy. Thank you!

  • Your posts are always wonderful, Rebecca. Thanks for this glimpse into gardens in the Big Apple. I had no idea New Yorkers did anything like this. How marvelous that people who NEED to garden CAN garden, and their neighbors can enjoy the results!

    • Debra – there were so many times when I thought of you. There were succulents everywhere – in window boxes, containers tucked along a front doorway, hardy ones planted in gardens. You would’ve loved it!

    • I’m so glad you posted that link, Diana – I’ve heard about this garden for years and it’s so nice to see it through your eyes (and lens). What an inspiring garden!


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