Experiencing Community in the LaGuardia Corner Gardens

The past couple of months have been busy ones, taking me away from my blog for a time as my students have required much of my time. (I’m an assistant dean at a law school, and my classes began the last week of July.) But I’ve still been exploring this wonderful city I call home, and I’ve got a stockpile of treasures I’ve discovered to share with you in the coming weeks. It was such a nice summer I’ve spent much of it outside – walking up and down streets of intriguing neighborhoods, looking for art, architecture, and other delights; hunting down the ever-renewing street art throughout the city; finding moments of quiet contemplation in public parks and community gardens; and even wandering a historic cemetery (or two).

For my first post in quite some time, I thought I’d take you to the LaGuardia Corner Gardens, located in Greenwich Village. I was walking past when the open gate drew me in, and I was glad I stopped. The garden isn’t huge, but there are several shaded spots to sit and enjoy the views.

The garden felt a little wild, and as I’ve read about it more I discovered it is intentionally so. Many plants are volunteers, growing where last year’s seeds dropped. That means a little more work to make your way through the garden, but it’s no reason to deter a visitor seeking a quiet space among the greenery and flowers. It also gave the community garden its own personality, making it a special little gem in the neighborhood that reflects the volunteers’ commitment to maintaining its character.

There were dozens of different flowers and plants throughout the garden. Here are some of my favorites.

If you look up instead of down, however, you’ll be reminded you’re in the middle of the city. These sunflowers made a fun contrast with neighboring buildings.

And then I came upon this little surprise – an heirloom tomato!

Finally, I was excited to capture this photo of a bee. So often, my bee photos turn out blurred, but this one was a success!

Want to visit the LaGuardia Corner Gardens yourself? It is located at 511 LaGuardia Place, between Bleecker and Houston Streets. The gardens are only open limited time periods – I recommend checking the Gardens’ official website, found here, for seasonal hours.

A Hidden Treasure: The First Street Garden

Tucked in between two buildings on First Street on the Lower East Side is a hidden treasure: the First Street Garden. A community garden supported by the Lower East Side Girls Club, the garden is only open limited hours – but it is still worth walking by, even if you have to peep between the metal fence rails. One sign explains that the Garden was created and maintained by volunteers working with GreenThumb, an almost 40 year old NYC Parks initiative that “helps local residents transform vacant properties into attractive green spaces.”

One of the reasons why the First Street Garden is so special is that a series of murals of “women who have changed the world” have been painted on the walls on either side of the space. There’s this mural of the late journalist and social justice advocate Dorothy Day. The banner above her head reads, “All of our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system,” a quote often attributed to Day but likely not something she actually said.

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Next to her is a portrait of Sojourner Truth, a 19th-century abolitionist and woman’s rights advocate.

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The gate was locked on the day that I visited, but I still spied these murals of Rosa Parks, known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956, and Shirley Chisolm, a New Yorker who became the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. (Further down the wall was Susan B. Anthony as well.)

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I also noticed this small mural of Ella Baker, a civil rights activist and human rights activist. There are numerous other small murals as well, certainly worth exploring further when the gate is unlocked.

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As one sign on the wall indicated, the Garden’s participants are also engaged in an experiment in sustainable design, and bamboo and recycled materials have been used to build some interesting structures. In warmer weather, the Garden would be a wonderful place to relax and read a book for a while.

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Want to visit the First Street Garden yourself? It is located on First Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway station is the Second Street station, which is accessible from the F train. (Additionally, an access point for the First Street Green Cultural Park is located just down the street from the First Street Garden. You’ll always find original, fresh street art there.) According to the sign on the gate, the garden is open on Friday afternoons, 4:00-6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.