Parks and gardens might not be the first things you think of when you envision New York City, but these green spaces are vital to its vibrancy and health. They cool down temperatures, help reduce carbon pollution, capture stormwater, create habitats for wildlife, and make us happy. Luckily for both residents and visitors alike, the city is full of them: from tourist destinations like iconic Central Park and a world class botanical garden to neighborhood rooftop farms and pocket community parks.
Photographer and writer Ngoc Minh Ngo traveled throughout the city’s five boroughs to document some of these sustaining places for her new book New York Green. This heavily researched and beautifully photographed book is a must have for any garden lover or city dweller. Ngo delves into the rich history behind each of these gardens and captures the spirit of the place in her evocative photographs. As she writes in the book’s introduction: “They are places where New Yorkers gather, pause, play, chill, learn, and discover; offering not only Olmsted’s ‘enlarged sense of freedom’ but also an amplified sense of wonder and a deeper understanding of our place in the environment.” Below, she shares some of her favorites.
“Well, there’s Wave Hill overlooking the Hudson River, Brooklyn Bridge Park at Sunset, and Roosevelt Island when the cherry trees are blooming, but a place that many might not have visited is Hunter’s Point South Park in Queens. It has an amazing view unlike anywhere else. It’s expansive. You can see almost the entire Manhattan skyline.
I have so much respect and admiration for the landscape architects and engineers who created this garden. It was all funded by public money, which is to say very little money. The design and the transformation of the site is amazing. The way they made these wet meadows, using them both aesthetically and ecologically, it’s a model for waterfront resiliency. It’s an amazing project that New Yorkers should be really proud of.”
Best for Birdwatching
“Central Park and Prospect Park are the usual places for birdwatching. But I’ve also seen many warblers in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has been planted for a diverse ecology.” “Over 120 species of birds have been spotted in the park,” writes Ngo.
“The Naval Cemetery Landscape in Brooklyn is such a poetic space for me. The design and thought that went into it and knowing what that place had once been invites contemplation,” Ngo says. As she writes in New York Green, “You slacken your pace. You hear the birds. You see the insects. You pay attention to the green life that’s all around you, learning the names of the park’s flora and fauna, perhaps for the first time. The world reveals itself in a whole new language. Spend some time in this place and it might change your way of thinking.”
Best for Spring Flowers
“There are so many places. The Met Cloisters is spectacular when all the tulips and bulbs are in bloom. The incredible setting transports you in time and geography. It’s fantastic.
I also love to visit the tulip trees in Green-Wood Cemetery when they are in bloom. I’ve never seen such a density of tulip trees, and these gigantic ones are beyond anything I’ve seen. It’s transporting to think of what was here before. There were giants in the forest before we cut everything down.”
Shady Summer Go-to
“The Battery is one of my favorite places in summer. When the plantings are dense and knitted together, you see the genius of designer Piet Oudolf. It’s also the shadiest spot downtown in the summer. It is more a garden than a park, with Oudolf’s planting as the star.
Also, I love to visit the Liz Christy Community Garden, the city’s first official community garden, when the metasequoia tree is in full leaf. It was the first tree planted there, as a tiny seedling decades ago. It’s now huge. It’s lovely to see that embodiment of the garden’s history. It’s a beautiful metaphor: this tiny thing that has grown and has had such a huge impact.”
Favorite Fall Spot
“I love to go to Central Park to see the Chrysanthemums in the Conservatory Garden. I normally don’t like that almost eye-candy-like kind of gardening, but it’s done so well. The colors are eye-catching without being garish. The Korean chrysanthemums are so graceful. And it’s just a beautiful sentiment.”
Dreamiest Winter Wonderland
“I love Prospect Park after a snowstorm when the trees are beautifully crystalized. You feel like you’re in a winter wonderland.
Then the Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park in late winter when the heath are in bloom. It’s unique; you can’t see that anywhere else in the city.
It’s also always a treat to visit the New York Botanical Garden to see all the colors in their annual Orchid Show.”
Best-Kept Secret Garden
“The New York Chinese Scholars Garden on Staten Island is such a gem. You go there and suddenly you’re in China. You’re completely transported in both place and time.
I also love all of the community gardens I visited, like Gil Hodges Community Garden in Brooklyn. It’s a tiny place but I gave it six pages because I wanted to talk about how every little place can actually play a part in green infrastructure and water management. It’s amazing what they’ve done.”
- Design Wild: Turning the Streets of New York into a Garden
- A Museum of Plants: Centuries of Dried Flora and Fungi at the New York Botanical Garden’s Herbarium
- New York’s Battery Conservancy Gardens by Piet Oudolf
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