Manhattan's hidden gardens

In addition to its concrete canyons and mountains made of glass and steel, New York’s busiest borough boasts some of the prettiest, greenest spaces in the United States. Sure, there are the famous spots like Central Park and Riverside Park, but to really feel like a New Yorker, you need to take advantage of some of Manhattan’s off-the-beaten-track gardens. These secluded bowers provide a respite from the to-ing and fro-ing of the city and give you the thrill of discovering a secret few people other than savvy locals know about. So breath deeply and enjoy. Just don’t tell anyone who sent you.

The Garden at St. Luke in the Fields Behind a wrought-iron gate, and surrounded by a high brick wall, is an extraordinary garden maintained by the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, in the West Village. More than 100 species of birds have been spotted flitting through the roses, lavender, petunias, daffodils, magnolias, and other foliage. It’s free and open daily to the public, but occasionally closes early for church events. 487 Hudson Street, close to the Washington Square Hotel and Soho House.

Greenacre Park Opened in 1971, this Asian-inspired, pocket-sized oasis in Midtown still manages to surprise even long-time residents, who walk by without noticing the bursting peace lilies or related greenery. Three tiers of seats surround a 25-foot waterfall and stream, whose calming sounds will make the world-weariest forget their BlackBerries for a while. A small café sells coffee and treats. Open daily. 217 East 51st Street, across the street from the Pod Hotel, and close to the Radisson Lexington Hotel and the Kimberly Hotel.

Elevated Acre Only in Manhattan would a landscaped garden be located two escalators above street level. The site of outdoor movies in the summer and chi-chi 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 score some investment advice, in addition to great views of the East River, 30 feet below. Dog friendly and open daily, but occasionally closed for private parties. 55 Water Street, close to the Wall Street Inn, the Ritz Carlton Battery Park, and Eurostars Wall Street.

Liz Christy’s Bowery-Houston Garden In the early 1970s, activist Liz Christy and fellow Green Guerillas began throwing “seed bombs” around the city, hoping that the plants would take root and blossom amidst the trash and rubble. They wanted to show administrators how these abandoned spaces could be transformed into nature. Today, the East Village garden that bears her name features a grape arbor, a pond that’s home to red-eared slider turtles and koi, birch trees, wildflowers, and several vegetable plots and fruit trees maintained by community residents. Open Saturdays year-round, Tuesdays and Sundays from May–September. East Houston Street, between Second Avenue and the Bowery, close to the Bowery Hotel and Thompson LES.

--Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler of We Heart New York

[Photo credit: Flickr/gsz (Garrett Ziegler)]

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