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Urban Oases: New York's Great Pocket Parks & Secret Gardens

Don't worry; you're not suffering from heat stroke. That little, leafy green patch isn't a mirage -- it's one of New York City's many pocket parks and community gardens.

Don't worry; you're not suffering from heat stroke. That little, leafy-green patch is not a mirage -- it's one of New York City's many pocket parks and community gardens.

What: Paley Park
Where: 53rd Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues

You'll do a double take as you walk down 53rd Street and see a waterfall in the middle of Manhattan. There's just something special about finding a little slice of nature in the midst of high-rise, office buildings. The waterfall (or wall of water) drowns out the street noise and the lovely, honey locust trees provide welcome shade during the sweltering summer months. There's also a food kiosk for snacks & sodas.

What: GreenAcre Park
Where: 51st Street, between Second & Third Avenues

Not far from Paley Park, you'll find this charming asphalt alternative that some regulars consider their outdoor living room. It too has a bubbling waterfall, shade trees, pretty plantings and an outdoor café. Each park has its devoted fans, but both are perfect shady arbors in which to enjoy a sandwich, give the feet a rest or totally space out and commune with what passes for nature in New York City.

What: Tudor City Greens
Where: "above" 42nd Street, between First & Second Avenues

This you really will not believe. Nestled among the Tudor City apartment buildings, on a bluff above the East River, are two little parks with fountains, winding paths, flower gardens, tall trees, chirping birds and park benches. You have not died and gone to heaven, it just feels like it. So, take out your brown-bag lunch and enjoy! The architecture of the surrounding buildings (on the National Register of Historic Places) is Tudor/Elizabethan revival style, adding to the impression that you're on a university campus in merry old England. On some evenings, they even have concerts!

Enter Tudor City Greens directly at street level from 2nd Ave. at either 41st St. or 43rd St. Or, access by stairways: one, on 42nd St., between 1st & 2nd Aves. (next to the Ford Foundation); the other, on 1st Ave., between 42nd & 43rd Sts.

What: Community Gardens
Where: Alphabet City/East Village

Community gardens provide sanctuary and soil in the concert kingdom of New York. Many of these plots began life as neglected, vacant lots renovated by neighborhood volunteers. They are now leafy-green havens, still tended on a volunteer basis by local residents. These gardens are located in all New York's boroughs, mostly in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods, and many are funded by NYC's Green Thumb program (

Past First Avenue in the East Village, the avenues are lettered (Avenue A, B, C, D). "Alphabet City" is where many immigrants first come to live. The community gardens are generally open only on weekends or when someone's tending the flowerbeds. If you like to garden, why not lend a hand? They're always looking for volunteers. Even if you don't have a green thumb, stop by. It's a unique way to meet the locals and discover areas of New York often left out of the guidebooks.

The East Village Parks Conservancy ( has an interactive neighborhood map on its website, to help locate the gardens. Here are a few of my favorites:

What: Community Parks & Gardens
Where: All Boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx & Staten Island)

Celebrated entertainer Bette Midler has a passion for parks. Lucky for us, she lives in New York and spreads this passion through her New York Restoration Project, which cleans up community parks and gardens, making them safe havens for locals residents and out-of-town visitors alike. It's worth stopping by a few of these horticulture success stories for rest-and-relaxation and to be inspired to do some hoeing & weeding in your own community. You'll find information on how to get to the community parks and gardens, supported by the project, in all five boroughs on NYRP's website.

Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our New York City Forum today.