Manhattan’s hidden gardens provide shady, leafy solace from the hot, hectic streets. Some are literally shielded from the sidewalk, while others are just hard to find unless you know what you’re looking for. All are secluded, open to the public, and really, really nice. By Jessica Allen.
Enclosed by a high brick wall and wrought-iron gates, the garden maintained by the Church of St. Luke in the Fields is like something out of a dream or fairytale. An afternoon there is roughly equivalent to seven consecutive back massages, at least. The trees, shrubs, and flowers, including lavender, magnolias, petunias, daffodils, and roses, host more than 100 species of birds. This West Village Wonder is free and open daily, but occasionally closes early for church events.
Two escalators above street level sits a huge landscaped garden, with tremendous views of the East River, 30 feet below. The site of fancy events year-round, the park’s concrete amphitheater and all-season lawn have become a favorite lunch (and napping) spot for those who work in the Financial District. Stop by, start chatting, and perhaps you’ll net some investment advice.
In the hopes of spreading greenery, activist Liz Christy would throw “seed bombs” into the city’s trash-strewn lots in the early 1970s. She and her fellow “Green Guerillas” wanted to show officials what might be possible in these abandoned spaces, namely beauty and nature. This East Village garden honors their vision with a pond that’s home to red-eared slider turtles and koi, birch trees, wildflowers, a grape arbor, and several vegetable plots and fruit trees.
Across the street from the not-at-all-hidden (but still pleasant) Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is a small, easy-to-overlook greenspace. The Church of the Holy Family’s courtyard is a few steps below the street, set off with a metal gate. Go ahead and walk in, if it’s open. Among its lushness is a bronze sculpture by Dean Ebben honoring both the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, as well as a small foot bridge arcing over a fish-filled pond and an unobtrusive statue of the Virgin Mary.
Inside this pocket park lives utter relaxation. Three tiers of seats surround a 25-foot waterfall, a stream, and, essentially, a moat. Honey locust trees wag overhead, peace lilies move in the breeze, the smart phone gets put away, all thoughts of work disappear. If there’s a more charming, more zen-inducing 60-by-120 feet in Midtown, we have yet to find it. And it’s not just us: Project for Public Space named it one of the best parks in the world.