New York City is known for many things, yet enjoying clean air, soaking in the sun and stopping to smell the flowers akin to Ferdinand the Bull aren’t usually on the list. But maybe they should be. If you’re tired of looking at skyscrapers, inhaling fumes from taxis and scurrying like a rat from one subway station to the next, check out this list of gardens in the city where you can decompress, relax with your kids and even stop to smell the roses.
Best for Getting Your Zen On
The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden is one of the only two authentic Chinese gardens in the United States, and it’s located right in our own backyard. Well, you do have to venture over the bridge or across the river to Staten Island, but any stress from the journey will melt away in the tradition-inspired Zen. While it is probably not the place for kids to run around and get the fidgets out, we think they will enjoy looking at the traditional Chinese pavilions, as well as the lakes, waterfalls and rock formations. They might even learn how to meditate, which will give you a quiet activity to do at home.
Good To Know: To get to the gardens sans car, take the ferry to Staten Island and then catch the S40 bus to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden is located inside.
New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden
914 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island, Ny
Cost: $5/adults, free for kids under age 12
Hours: Tues.-Sun., November 1 – March 31, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm; April 1 – October 31, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Best for Combatting Picky Eaters
The granddaddy of all gardens in New York, The New York Botanical Garden is located on 250 acres in the Bronx. Within its gates are 14 smaller gardens, and two of them are perfect for families. In the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden (shown above), kids are encouraged to dig in the dirt and get messy. They can learn about growing vegetables in a garden, and plant some of their own, which may get your little picky eater interested in eating those veggies. If your kids are still pushing their broccoli around the plate, sign up for one of the Edible Garden events with Mario Batali where kid (and you) get to try different foods made with fresh vegetables like the ones grown in the Family Garden. The Children’s Garden, the other garden for younger visitors, is perfect for your little adventurer. There are plants to touch, mazes to explore, rocks to climb and an indoor lab where kids can do experiments and look at plant life under a microscope.
Good To Know: Sound too big for perusing with little ones in tow? You don’t have to walk all 250 acres on foot (whew!). There’s a tram that will take you around the gardens.
New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard
Cost: $25/adults, $10/children ages 2-12
Hours: Tues.–Sun., January 15 – February 28, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; January 1-14 and March 1 – December 31, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Best for Action Seekers
Are your kids fascinated with bees and honey or do they need something more than flowers to float their boat? Take them to visit the Bee Garden at the Queens Botanical Garden. Here you’ll find beehives sprinkled throughout the garden and a collection of plants and trees that attract bees, as well as flowers that can give honey distinctive flavors. Even if you kids are more frightened than fascinated by these buzzing insects, touring the garden may ease their bee anxiety as they learn how cool and important they are to our environment.
Good To Know: In the winter months, there’s no charge to enter to Queens Botanical Garden. Wednesdays from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm and Sundays from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm are also free admission year-round.
Bee Garden at the Queens Botanical Gardens
43-50 Main Street
Cost: $4/adult, $3/seniors, $2/students with ID and children over age 3
Hours: Tues.-Sun., April 1 to October 31, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm; November 1 to March 31, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Best for a True Escape from the City
Escape from the monochrome color scheme of the city and check out the picture perfect palettes of Wave Hill. Kids will be in awe of the variety of colors and flowers on display as they explore different paths through the gardens and see blooms up close. There’s even an aquatic garden with frogs; just warn them not to try to give them a kiss frogs only turn into princes in Disney movies. Every weekend Wave Hill offers the Family Art Project program; kids explore the gardens and create an art project inspired by nature. Upcoming themes include Daffy for Daffodils, Drawn to Nature and Button Bouquets.
Good to Know: Wave Hill is free from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm on Saturdays year-round. To get to Wave Hill without a car, take the Metro North Hudson Line to Riverdale Station and then catch a free shuttle to Wave Hill.
West 249th Street and Independence Avenue
Cost: $8/adults, $4/students and seniors 65+, $2 children 6 and older
Hours: Tues.-Sun., March 15 – October 31, 9:00 am – 5:30 pm; November 1 – March 14, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm;select summer Wednesdays open until 8:30 pm
Best for Bonsais and Blossoms
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is a Japanese inspired garden located at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Kids will love the bridges, waterfalls, and rock formations and you will love the peacefulness and serenity of the gardens, broken only by the sounds of the birds chirping and your kids exclaiming in wonder. After wandering the garden, take the kids over to the Bonsai Museum, also located in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where they can see one of the largest collections of Bonsai trees in the world.
Good To Know: The Garden has over two dozen beautiful pink cherry blossom trees, visit in April and May to see them in bloom. But if you don’t like crowds, forgo the cherry blossoms and see the garden another time of year.
Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
150 Eastern Parkway
Cost: $10/adults, $5/students and seniors 65+, free/children under age 12
Hours: Tues.-Fri., 8:00 am to 6:00 pm; Sat. & Sun., 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
What is your favorite garden getaway?
— Mikaela Walker
Images courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden by Joseph DeSciose and Kay Wheeler, Queens Botanical Garden, Wave Hill by Joshua Bright , and Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Kelly Wu