The Six Best “Secret Gardens” Of NYC

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Garden at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island (Rebekah Burgess Abramovich / Gothamist)

That New Yorkers need to escape this maddening city full of machines is undeniable. But where? Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Central Park Conservatory Garden are often crowded; throngs of people seeking refuge create the very same convergence of humanity that we wish to escape. Here are six “secret gardens” in which you can find the quiet and natural beauty you’ve been seeking. 

All photos courtesy Rebekah Burgess Abramovich.

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MANHATTAN

Church of St. Luke in the Fields Gardens 

 

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Constructed in 1821, the Church of St. Luke in the Fields stands on a two-acre city block, much of which has been given over to a series of gardens. The Barrow Street Garden constitutes the more formal environment, a four-quadrant square design surrounded by warm brick walls. Paths radiate from a central Yellowwood tree and benches line each path. Birds and butterflies proliferate in the lush environment and although one can see tall city buildings beyond the walls from most angles, there is a sense of quiet and privacy that pervades the green space.

Closer to the church lies the Rectory Garden consisting of the oldest planted area on the property. Wrought iron chairs and tables are situated on a brick patio next to a substantive rose garden. Ruins of the former parish (burned in a fire in 1981) and the church itself frame the garden in a less traveled area of the property. Visitors can drink in the history and mission of the place by wandering quietly through the paths or meditating in private nooks amid the foliage. There is a sense of reverence that captures each visitor upon entering the garden gate.

Church of St. Luke in the Fields Gardens
487 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
Admission: Free
Hours: Barrow Street and North gardens open daily from 8am-dusk.
Hours: Rectory Garden open Mon.-Thurs., 10am-5pm
Rules: “Please no cell phone conversations, alcohol or smoking within the garden walls.”

Jefferson Market Garden

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Jefferson Market Garden stands as a peaceful oasis connected to the splendid Calvert Vaux and Frederick Clarke Withers designed courthouse building from 1873. The garden was created in the 1960s after the demolition of the old Women’s House of Detention that had stood in the same spot since 1931. Historical accounts detail a constant cacophony on the prison site, with inmates shouting back and forth with their friends and family below on the street. Perhaps to exorcise the din of the past, the garden offers a welcome sense of quiet within its iron gates.

The garden centers on a well-manicured grass lawn, with herbs, annuals, and perennials blooming along its borders. Benches line the borders of the garden, and special areas are put aside for a rose garden, a koi pond with waterfall, and a greenhouse. Birdhouses poke out from dense foliage, encouraging birds to gather.

Horns from the busy intersection on 6th Avenue that lies directly beyond the gates occasionally bleed in, and tall buildings infringe beyond the high gates. But the public green space is filled with air and light. Stop in and slow your pace—allow the birds to drown out the city noise for a brief moment.

Jefferson Market Garden
Greenwich Ave. between 6th Ave. and West 10th St.
Admission: Free
Hours: Open all afternoons except Monday, weather permitting, April 1 through October
Check their monthly bloom guide before visiting.

Walter De Maria, New York Earth Room

The New York Earth Room constitutes a garden in a loose definition of the term. However, it does serve the majority of the functions people seek from a garden environment: a space filled with soil set aside and designed for peace and contemplation. Even the aroma of soil catapults the visitor into an alternate sensory space.

In 1977, the Dia Art Foundation commissioned artist Walter De Maria to execute his third Earth Room in a second-floor walk-up apartment on Wooster Street. The piece opened to the public in 1980 and has been maintained by Dia ever since. (Maintenance includes weekly watering and raking of the soil as well as summer closings to allow the dirt to dry out, and to check the physical structure for ongoing wear and tear).

The interior earth sculpture consists of 250 cubic yards of earth filling 3,600 square feet of floor space. In total, the entire weight of the piece comes to 280,000 pounds of soil. As photography is not permitted, you will have to visit to witness the unique environment.

Walter De Maria, New York Earth Room
141 Wooster Street, btw. Prince and Houston Sts., 2nd Floor
Hours: Beginning September 10, Wed.-Sun., noon-6pm (closed 3-3:30)
Admission: Free

QUEENS

Curtis “50 Cent” Community Garden

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In 2007, Curtis Jackson’s G-Unity Foundation partnered with Bette Midler’s organization, New York Restoration Project (yep), in order to revitalize the defunct Baisley Park Community Garden in the Jamaica, Queens, neighborhood where 50 grew up. The result: the Curtis “50 Cent” Community Garden, a perfectly maintained Eden in Queens.

Although the size of the garden is small, landscape architect and designer Walter Hood utilized the space to its fullest. 10-foot-tall blue funnels gather rainwater for the garden’s plants and lend the design a cool industrial aesthetic amidst the copious flowering trellises. The children’s garden displays abundant tomatoes and squash weighing down vines in anticipation of the summer vegetable harvest. A trellised walkway flanks the outside of the park, providing a wall of green along the long side of the garden.
Flanked by the Baisley Houses and the Long Island Railroad, the garden also serves as a community center—movie nights are frequent in the summer, community meetings gather on the benches, and gardening workshops are offered for people of any age to attend.

Curtis “50 Cent” Community Garden
117-15 165th Street, Queens, New York
Hours: Open all days except Sunday
Admission: Free

THE BRONX

Bartow-Pell Historic Mansion and Garden

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Walking through the formal garden of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx is tantamount to clicking one’s heels together. It’s a magical escape in both space and time from the surrounding city.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion, built between 1836 and 1842, is the last of the great country estates situated on Pelham Bay. The formal Terrace Garden, designed in 1914 by Delano & Aldrich, reflects the principles of the neoclassical revival and the British landscape tradition. Grassy terraces lead from the mansion down to a central garden pool with fountain. Secondary walkways emanate in four directions; the symmetry imbues the garden with an overall sense of order and control that exhibits the spatial mastery of landscape explored at the turn of the 20th century.

Next to the formal garden, the Mary Ludington Herb Garden, a semi-circle containing a thoughtfully selected and tended array of herbs, has been maintained since 1939. Visit the gardens early in the day and you will feel that you are strolling on your own private grounds. Wild turkeys, rabbits, butterflies, and birds are the only inhabitants you will encounter.

Bartow-Pell Historic Mansion and Garden
895 Shore Road, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY 10464
Garden Hours: Daily, 8:30 am-dusk
Museum Hours: Wed., Sat., and Sun., noon-4pm
Garden Admission: Free
Museum Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students

STATEN ISLAND

Samadhi Garden, Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art

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Walking into the Staten Island-based Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art and its Samadhi Garden feels astoundingly like stepping into a Himalayan monastery. Jacques Marchais was an ardent collector and advocate for Tibetan studies, building the collection over years and then funding and designing the fieldstone museum buildings and grounds herself in 1945.

Marchais believed that Tibetan art should be viewed in a contextual setting for true understanding and created a retreat where one could not only study but practice meditation. It became the first museum in the world entirely devoted to Tibetan Art.

The Samadhi Garden sits along a terraced hillside, above a set of rustic meditation cells as well as a koi pond filled with blooming lotus flowers. Stone elephants and ceramic monkeys dot the plantings, and small winding paths allow the visitor a number of nooks to sit quietly. Many of Marchais’ original plantings from 1945 still thrive in the quiet garden.

Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art
338 Lighthouse Avenue, Staten Island
Hours: Wed.-Sun., 1-5pm
Admission: $6 adults, $4 students & seniors

 

 

 

 

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