BOOK REVIEW Garden Guide: New York City

M-Greenacre Park 2NEW YORK in 2011 is truly a great garden city. World-class, I’d venture to say. Yet, as Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry point out in the newly revised edition of Garden Guide: New York City (W.W. Norton, $22.95), as recently as 10 years ago, people were puzzled to hear they were writing such a guide. Gardens in New York City? Really? Are there enough to fill a whole book?

<-Greenacre Park, East 51st Street

Irish Hunger D8Now there can be no doubt. In the past decade, there’s been a great flowering, if you will, of gardens and landscape installations all over the five boroughs. There are the obvious, most impressive recent ones, like Chelsea’s High Line — the conversion of rusty elevated rail line into a well-used planted park — and landscaping efforts at the Battery in lower Manhattan, where Dutch designer Piet Oudolf has brought a naturalistic new aesthetic to the riverfront.

High Line D11The book calls attention to gardens that have been around a long time, but that I’ll bet a lot of newish arrivals to the city (and maybe some oldish ones) don’t quite realize are there, including the attractive, well-maintained botanic gardens in Queens and at Snug Harbor in Staten Island, where they are interspersed among picturesque Greek Revival houses.

Even I, a NYC resident of 40+ years, just ‘discovered’ what the book calls “the crown jewel” of New York City gardens — the Conservatory Garden at 105th street and Fifth Avenue, six acres of romantic magnificence in all seasons — within the last few.

Irish Hunger Memorial, Battery Park City ->

<-High Line


Conservatory Garden

Garden Guide: New York City covers more than 100 gardens open to the public, including the Lotus Garden on West 97th Stret, the only rooftop community garden in New York City; urban farms from the Bronx to Red Hook; and the small plots around such historic houses as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, and the Mount Vernon Hotel on East 61st Street (formerly known as the Abigail Adams house).Noguchi Q5

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum ->

Many of NYC’s gardens are concealed in some way — inside museums, hidden behind skyscrapers, up on rooftops. Probably none of us knows New York City’s gardens as well as we might. This chunky little guide feels good in the hand, fits neatly in the glove compartment, and insures that no weekend need pass without discovering some new-to-you refuge of green.

Park Slope A to Z


AT FIRST I THOUGHT this was going to be a hopelessly random post, a mash-up of recent photos I wanted to share but that had no particular organizing principle. Only when I looked at them all together I realized the bay windows, stained glass, and carriage houses do have something in common. They’re all in Park Slope!



Park Slope, Brooklyn’s biggest brownstone neighborhood — in fact, the largest concentration of 19th century housing stock in the entire country, I once read — is many things. Here are some of them, in alphabetical order:

annoying, beautiful, congested (in spots), Democratic, elegant, fucked, Gold Coast, historic, intense, jogger-laden, kid-happy, left-wing, mansion-infested, novelist-ridden, overpriced, parking nightmare, quiet at night, restaurant-challenged, self-satisfied, top-of-the-market, unfazed, Victorian, wifi-ful, xpanding, yoga-friendly, and zealous about its food coop rules.

(I can’t believe I managed to come up with 26 alphabetical adjectives — if you can do better on any of them, feel free. Click on “[#of] comments” in tiny type under the post headline above, and a form will open up for your comment. I know, WordPress doesn’t make it easy.)


I’ve never lived in Park Slope, though I’ve long admired its varied architecture, and envied its proximity to Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens. And, of course, I wish I had had the foresight to snatch up some of those brownstones when they were cheap (I’m wincing, recalling a 5-story house with a mansard roof on the corner of Sixth Avenue and a North Slope block — Lincoln Place, maybe — for $150,000…Would somebody please KICK ME NOW?!)


Anyway, now that I’m in neighboring Prospect Heights, I find myself in the Slope more often. I’m getting familiar with certain blocks I trod on my way home from the Fifth Avenue bus.


The list of places I want to try/hang out is growing…Cafe Regular, Juventino…and many of them are in the Slope. It’s like discovering a new continent, that’s how vast it seems to an outlander. And with such architectural riches, it could take a long time to get bored.