New York’s Best Secret Gardens

New York has plenty of serenity to offer beyond Central Park. Concealed between tall buildings and hole-in-the-wall eateries, Manhattan has lots of green spaces to combat its concrete-jungle reputation. Sometimes all it takes is a little wandering and a lot of curiosity to discover a hidden gem. Best of all, many of these beautiful gardens are free and open to the public. Take an Uber to explore a new neighborhood and all the surprises that come along with it. Here are four secret gardens well worth a trip across town.

The Garden at St. Luke in the Fields (West Village)

With award-winning restaurants and high-end boutiques, the West Village is a hub for foodies and shoppers alike. That’s only one side of this historic neighborhood, though; a few twists and turns down cobbled streets lead to hidden alleys and secret gardens. As its name suggests,The Garden at St. Luke in the Fields belongs to the church next door, but unlike many of New York’s private gardens, this one is open to the public daily. The church was built back in 1821, contributing to the neighborhood’s small-town, almost European feel. Swing by in the morning for a self-guided meditation before work or snag a bench at lunch to enjoy your meal among the trees. While the garden isn’t very large, there are six basic areas including the Rectory Garden, the North Garden and the Gene Morin Contemplation Corner. Keep an eye out for wildlife—over the years more than 100 species of birds and over 20 types of butterflies and moths have been spotted. Sorry pet owners; you’ll need to leave your pup at home for this visit.

The Elizabeth Street Garden (Nolita)

When you’ve exhausted your bank account shopping at Nolita’s trendy, independent designer boutiques, take a breather at the Elizabeth Street Garden. Spanning 20,000 square feet on Elizabeth and Mott streets between Prince and Spring streets, the garden is a much-needed green space in an otherwise dense series of downtown neighborhoods. Setting the Elizabeth Street Garden apart from the rest are an eclectic collection of sculptures, many of which are reproduction of antiques. There’s really no rhyme or reason to the space, with sculptures and benches scattered throughout. Of course, that’s what many find charming about it. Currently, the garden is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but its future is a bit tenuous. Until very recently, the city had plans to build affordable housing in its place, but thanks to community support, no such developments are underway for now.

The Creative Little Garden (East Village)

East Village might have a knack for attracting indie-music making hipsters and cafe-wifi squatters but in between the noise lies several secret gardens. Among these hidden patches of grass is the Creative Little Garden on 6th Street between Avenues A and B. Looking at the garden today, you’ll see no traces of a tumultuous history, but in fact, the garden dates back to a tenement building at 530 East 6th Street that burned and was eventually demolished. As a result, the space was marked as a community garden in 1982. Instead of allowing individual gardeners to take up private plots, garden members decide collectively on the park’s landscaping. Visitors are welcome seasonally between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. So, whether you are stopping in for a quick bite or sinking into a bench with a book in hand, this humble but beloved space will feed your creativity, one flower bud at a time.

The Lotus Garden (Upper West Side)

Don’t confine your secret garden search to downtown Manhattan. Hiding in plain sight is the Upper West Side’s Lotus Garden. The 7,000-square foot garden has a sleepy feel to it, almost as if it’s been frozen in time. However, it’s only a few decades old. Back in the 1960s, two movie theaters stood on the West side of Broadway, above 96th Street. When the buildings eventually fell into disrepair, they were demolished, leaving behind an empty lot—which the local community saw as a blank canvas, and took it over. Nowadays, 28 gardeners keep things in tip-top shape, with the help of dedicated volunteers. If you want a sneak peak into this lush oasis, you’ll have to act fast. The garden is only open to the public on Sunday afternoons, from mid-April through early November and only between 1 and 4 p.m. Can’t get enough of this slice of heaven? Sign up as a member to receive a key to the garden and it will only set you back $20 per year.