Diggin' It: Downtown Garden Escapes
Lunch date, garden party, solo respite—these 5 outdoor spots have your alfresco needs covered this spring.
There is an undeniable sense of exuberance on the streets of New York City in the springtime. Maybe that’s because most New Yorkers spend their winters holed up in apartments hiding from the frigid air. When those days get longer and the temperature gets warmer, it’s no wonder everyone wants to be outside. And if you’re going to maximize on the burgeoning of the season, you’re going to want to get yourself near some flora. Luckily, NYC has an abundance of public gardens to visit in the spring. We’ve outlined a few of our favorites alongside some nearby spaces to check out if you’re looking for some excuses to stay outside all day and enjoy the arrival of warmer, kinder weather.
Sixth Street and Avenue B Community Garden
Vegetables, herbs and craft programs: community at its finest.
Taking up an entire corner of a city block, the 6 & B Community Garden is lush, green and bustling with activity. Once a grimy part of the city frequented mostly by artists and musicians who were attracted by the promise of low rent, the East Village began to take a different shape in the early ’80s. Originally a vacant lot on the verge of becoming a parking lot, residents of Sixth Street went to their community board to voice their support for creating a garden. Once the garden was approved, residents went to work planting shrubs and trees and turned their garden into an anchor for NYC’s network of community gardens that began to spring up during this time period. Over time, the garden became a center for film screenings, performances, craft programs and various events that reflect the neighborhood feel of this big city garden. Community members work together to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers in raised soil beds. If you’re looking for some genuine community, this garden is a must.
Before you go, you may want to stop by the nearby Ninth Street Espresso; their coffee is some of the best in the neighborhood. And while the location itself is sunlit and cozy, a to-go cup would be a perfect way to enjoy a few quiet hours at 6 & B.
Another world in the center of NYC’s downtown shopping mecca.
With pear trees and statues among the greenery, Elizabeth Street Garden is a welcome respite in the middle of SoHo—one of the busiest parts of the city. In the early ’1900s, the garden was an “outside kindergarten” where young students would play and enjoy class in the fresh air. Well into the ’70s, this area was still used for school children and, in fact, you can still see painted lines on the walls from handball games. Once the school was demolished, the lot was left empty and in the ’80s, half of this lot was developed into an apartment building. In 1991, the remaining half was leased to Elizabeth Street Gallery owner Allan Reiver.
Once Reiver entered the picture, things changed. Reiver took it upon himself to clean the lot and began planting grass, trees and shrubbery. He then adorned his burgeoning garden with sculptures from his private collection. The effective atmosphere is magical and well worth protecting and preserving for generations to come. There is even a limited-run of merch dedicated to the cause with 100 percent of proceeds going towards saving the garden.
Catch some culture while walking your dog.
No other outdoor space in downtown New York contains so much history. The Washington Square Arch is one of the more iconic NYC images. Created in 1889, the arch celebrated the centennial anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington and continued its political association by becoming a frequented spot for protests and marches occurring in the park. Notably, the women’s suffragette movement marched the park in the 1910s and Barack Obama famously delivered a crucial speech in the park during his historic 2007 campaign. Of course, the park is also known for its musical associations having been a hub for beat poets and folk singers of the ’60s. Both Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan lived near the park and were known to perform there frequently. Today, you’ll still find musicians performing—as well as a lot of people watching. And if you have a dog, make sure to stop by the dog park; it’s one of the city’s best.
If walking Dylan’s early turf gets you feeling inspired, you can always go by Mercer St Books and Records and take home some tunes of the period. If you’re feeling a little more literary, some Ginsberg might be an apt choice.
Artisan ice cream in a picture-perfect garden? Post-worthy.
Blossoming flowers abound in one of the prettiest gardens in the city. Open from April, Jefferson Market Garden is an astonishing display of greenery. Surprisingly, the area where this garden stands today used to be a women’s prison. After the prison was demolished in 1975, residents came together to build the community space and its opulent landscape. Their efforts were so well executed that today the garden is sought after for weddings. Rightly so, Jefferson Market Garden is so picturesque, you’ll want to stay until nightfall. And if the weather is warm enough, stop by Van Leeuwen West Village first. The first ice cream of the season is always best enjoyed in a beautiful setting.
Today, this idyllic green space is maintained by the generosity of the donors and the work of its volunteers. Anyone can show their support by becoming a Friend of the Garden and donating what they can to keep this lush garden blooming.
A lunch date with history.
With its tall trees and polished shrubbery, it’s hard to believe that Gramercy Park was once in the middle of a swamp. In the 1850s, the swamp was drained and the area was developed into a farm. Eventually, the area was redeveloped into a park and in its early stages was opened up to the Union soldiers involved in putting down the Draft Riots of New York. Some of NYC’s oldest townhouses surround the area and in the ’60s, the Gramercy area was deemed a historic district.
Beyond all the history, the park itself is beautiful. Tall trees and brilliant green grass make for a welcoming setting you’ll want to spend all day in. And if you can’t spend all day, at least try it for lunch. Stop by Daily Provisions first and grab something from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. The most casual restaurant in the Union Square Hospitality Group, Daily Provisions focuses on elevated, quality to-go options perfect for a day in the park.
WORDS Hillary Sproul