Nature in All Its Glory

Escape to an Oasis in the Middle of NYC

by Madison Cuthbertson
Mural Escape to the great outdoors without leaving Manhattan. All photos by Madison Cuthbertson.

When you spend your days rushing around the concrete jungle of a city, it's easy to forget how therapeutic a little fresh air and green grass can be. Fathom intern Madison Cuthbertson helps us remember to find inner peace with a guide to the best little-known urban parks and gardens in New York City.

MANHATTAN – In my first year of college, I learned more than I expected about balancing commitments, spending time wisely, and saying yes to relaxation. I traveled all across Europe while I studied abroad in Paris, honed my skills as a student and creative, and discovered the wonders of meditation in nature. 

In Paris, I made a friend who taught me the importance of reflection and introspection. Our friendship was sustained by daily home-cooked meals, long talks, and yoga sessions. I hold on to memories of journaling in Parc Monceau and laying out in Jardin du Luxembourg. When we went away together for spring break, we spent hours laying in the grass in Parque del Retiro in Madrid.

Roped into big city life at NYU, my day-to-day is quite different from that of an average college student. Instead of classes, frat parties, and club meetings, I have classes, internships, and organized social events for work. Most days, there's no hint of nature in sight. In an attempt to incorporate parks and nature into my daily routine. Central Park and Washington Square have become my regular hangout spots. 

Here's a look at the more intimate, local parks and green spaces — my new favorites — located on the island of Manhattan.

Hiding in plain sight.

Atrium at the Ford Foundation

From the outside, it nearly looks as if you aren't allowed in — the garden shut off behind tall, tinted windows of a towering office building. Push through the revolving glass door, where a verdant wonderland awaits. A small fountain gurgles in the center of a manmade jungle. Stairs lead to walkways shrouded in lush canopies. The perfect place to step in for a quick breather amidst the rush of midtown: It is quiet, serene, and open to the public all day.

Relax in Tudor City.

Tudor City Greens

On a small and secluded corner in Tudor City, this fenced-off park provides a drop of nature in the built environment. The cozy space, a stone's throw from Bryant Park, is slightly elevated, with well-shaded nooks. Like a fairytale forest where you could curl up on a bench with a good book.

Nature meets concrete.

Greenacre Park

Complete with a built-in fast-food booth, Food Bella, and a running waterfall, this park was a delightful surprise. Carved in between the residential buildings and offices on 51st Street, Greenacre Park is full of coworkers on their lunch break, nannies with strollers, and friends meeting for coffee. Endlessly soothing, I could have spent an afternoon resting on the patio, listening to the refreshing sound of splashing water and rustling leaves.

Grab a bench at Sutton Place Park.

Sutton Place Park

Here's a little something for Turtle Bay inhabitants. The space is not particularly green or natural, but there are benches lining the exterior of the small square. From my perch, I had an amazing view of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and it served as a nice place to break for lunch.

The neighborhood garden vibe.

La Plaza Cultural Community Garden

Out of all the green spaces on this list, La Plaza Cultural Community Garden takes the cake as the most unique and engaging. Taking up an entire corner lot in Alphabet City, it has everything you could possibly want from an urban park and more: trees, flowers, a small pond, shaded sitting areas, and even a lone hen strutting around in the shrubbery. Peaches, blueberries, grapes, pears, strawberries, and lettuce grow freely. Throughout the week, residents plant fruits, vegetables, and other produce; the space is open to the public on weekends. Perfect for a small gathering or individual alone time, the garden is an amazing example of community collaboration in the big city.

Every little bit counts.

Creative Little Garden

Hidden on the edge of Alphabet City, this park is the most inconspicuous of them all. I'm surprised anyone other than its creators know about it. Yet, there is something comforting and deeply relaxing about its shroud of intimacy. The garden is housed on a narrow plot of land covered in bird houses and wrought iron furniture. It feels somewhat like a backyard (it is attached to the back of the adjacent property). An unlimited amount of green in all directions, the ground is soft like in a forest. It was a cozy spot to sit down and meditate awhile, until a bunch of mosquitoes crashed my party!

Flora and fauna abound.

Fort Tryon Park

For those of you that don't go north on the island too often (myself included), you're missing out on the real urban oasis. A forest tucked away on the tip of the island (the exit is 190th Street), Fort Tryon Park is acres of rolling hills and beautiful gardens that make you forget you're in the city. Walking along the pathways deep in the park, it is easy to disconnect and lose yourself in nature.

Not your usual garden variety.

Gardens at the Frick Collection

While the art collection at the Frick is stunning, everyone knows the gardens are the main attraction. If you close your eyes and listen to the sound of the fountain gurgling and echo in the center of the room, you can almost imagine how serene and lavish it would be to live in the gorgeous home with your own private courtyard. Visitors can pause and reflect after observing works by the likes of Fragonard and Vermeer. On Sundays, admission is "pay-what-you-like" from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


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