Community gardens might not be the first image to emerge when we think of what to check out in New York City, but a moment or two to breathe in a quiet, out-of-the-way sanctuary can be key to truly enjoying all the city has to offer!
Between rooting in Brooklyn and commuting to Manhattan, I’ve found respite over the last year-plus living in New York City with a number of green spaces in both boroughs, and I certainly have my favorites in each! Two horticultural havens hold their own space as unique and organic neighborhood chill-spots that also support local community-building and micro-business.
Q Gardens Community Farm
50 E 18th St
If you’re visiting the Brooklyn Museum, checking out the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, or catching a game or concert at the Barclays Center, consider a wandering walk through the many paths and meadows of spacious Prospect Park (designed by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, after they completed Central Park in Manhattan). While you’re checking out Flatbush, visit the Q Gardens Community Farm, just off the Church Avenue subway stop, where you’ll find a local garden that serves the bustling areas around Church and Flatbush Avenues with frequent garden work parties, classes in natural dye techniques, and a hands-on residential composting program. They recently began to offer finished compost in bulk to local businesses and community members for a suggested donation.
Visitors can perch on the benches that surround raised vegetable beds, admire the ever-expanding mosaic wall, or join in the teamwork with a warm welcome from the intimate, volunteer-led group that regularly organizes on-site fund-raising events such as bake sales, harvests, potluck dinners, and clothing swaps.
Winner of a 2016 Neighborhood Grant from the Citizens Committee for New York City, Q Gardens recently launched a rooftop beekeeping project, investing its $1,200 award into building and sustaining two hives in collaboration with local beekeepers. Q Garden welcomes volunteers and visitors on weekend afternoons to help around the garden (try chopping up food scraps to start the compost process!) or rest on the handmade benches by the healing herb garden while you take in the eclectic mosaic mural work at this quaint Brooklyn enclave.
Elizabeth Street Garden
Between Elizabeth St & Mott St
Manhattan (Little Italy)
Elizabeth Street Garden’s sprawling lawn was initially home to three lots on Mott Street, purchased in 1822 by the Free School Society to offer free night classes to people of color, among other educational initiatives. For nearly 200 years, the garden has been a historic recreational and green space open to the public.
The space was vacant after an affordable housing project fell through in the early 1980s, until Elizabeth Street Gallery owner Allan Reiver began a $4,000/mo. lease on the plot, with the promise to clean up the area. Populating the garden with a cast of statues from his gallery, Reiver expanded the lawn, planted pear trees, routed a gravel path between the garden’s two entrances, and constructed a small shelter for public meetings. Elizabeth Street Garden is less than a five-minute walk from the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, a Gothic Revival historical landmark on Mott Street, where you can take a walking tour of the catacombs underground.
Today, Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden continues to stand up for its home and history, rallying to save the garden from a proposal announced in September 2016 to develop a housing unit and retail venues where currently a number of quaint, well-shaded sitting areas provide respite for locals on their lunch breaks and passersby.