Take a leisurely walk through New York City and it won’t be long before you suddenly stumble across a green oasis. From plots between buildings, community gardens spring up, creating a congregation spot for neighborhood residents and providing a patch of healthy soil to plant fruit, vegetables, flowers, and sculptures.
The concept of community gardens began in the 1970s with a forgotten and debris-covered lot and a woman named Liz Christy, who rolled up her sleeves to do a job the city would not: clean the place up. Other people joined Christy, donning the name the Green Guerillas (greenguerillas.org), and collectively they created the first community garden. Located on Houston Street2nd Avenue, the Liz Christy Garden (lizchristygarden.org) still grows to this day. between Bowery and
The trend began soon after, and now gardens can be found in all five boroughs.
Community Gardens are open year-round and are an easily accessible, but generally forgotten, New York City winter getaway. They are not only a place to practice the horticulturalist hobby or watch fish swim in a pond, but are also a means to build community (hence the name). Many gardens are host to cultural events: from yoga to musical performances, a list of events in Green Thumb-member gardens can be found at greenthumbnyc.org/events.html.
Below are some our favorites.
6th and B Garden (6th St & Ave B, 6bgarden.org)
6th and B in the East Village might be the most famous garden for its interesting sculpture. Standing at 37 feet, the sculpture (or more appropriately, the piece of impromptu architecture) is a haphazard looking wooden tower filled with stuffed animals found around the city. 6th and B is also an attraction for its various plants, herbs and flowers. M.M. Serra, a teacher at the New School, comes here in the winter to find peace. She says community gardens provide an opportunity to sit in a green, serene place, and bond with area residents (and also create some much-needed oxygen).
La Plaza Cultural (632-650 E 9th St, btwn Ave A & B)
This is a magical pocket in the heart of the East Village. With more of a focus on art than gardening plots, this large urban oasis is filled with statues and secret enclaves (no doubt a fun hiding place for romantics). The most astonishing aspect of La Plaza Cultural is its enormous trees. One needs to stand across the block, next to the 9th Street Community Garden and Park (which also has many foliage-covered hiding spots) to catch a full glimpse of the trees’ canopy.
Clinton Community Park (W 48th St btwn 9th & 10th Aves, clintoncommunitygarden.org)
What sets Clinton apart from other gardens is its Native American medicinal plant bed—not your typical NYC attraction. Members of this Far West Side garden have also reported the park a great spot for bird watching. With a public lawn that’s open seven days a week, there’s plenty of time to check out the birds and the bees.
Garden of Union/Annie’s Garden (634-636, 640 Union St, Brooklyn)
Behind car shops and gritty urbanism west of Park Slope lies the Garden of Union, a community garden for the Brooklynite with a green thumb. Beatrice Harmon, a member for over a decade, says it’s amazing how many fruits and vegetables can grow here, even in the cold weather and hostile city environment. Unlike most gardens, the Garden of Union is completely communal, so you don’t have to be a member to plant. Best of all, Cattyshack is just a couple short blocks away—the perfect spot to warm up after your shivery outing.
Riverside-Inwood Neighborhood Garden (RING) (At the intersection of Riverside Dr, Broadway, Dyckman St and Seaman Aves)
Located in Upper Manhattan, RING is a great spot to enjoy a little nature and a little shopping all at once—the garden, founded in 1984, has flea markets several times a year, as well as holiday lightings and festivals. Although small, it has plenty of benches and is adjacent to the Anne Loftus playground. High hills overlook the garden from the East and Northeast, the mountainous views prompting visitors to imagine for just a moment that they’ve left the city life behind.
To find a community garden in your neighborhood, go to oasisnyc.net/gardens/cenycmapsearch.asp. For more info, visit greenthumbnyc.org and nyrp.org.