How can you savor the Slow Life in the city that never sleeps? One way is to make a daily visit to a green patch near your work and home.
One of my favorite green patches in Manhattan is the Barrow Street Garden – a private garden of the Church of St. Luke in the Fields that is open to the public. The garden gate is located on Hudson Street near the intersection of Barrow Street.
The Barrow Street Garden is a small, verdant garden separated into four quadrants. You can stroll along its short paths or sit on a bench in a quiet corner. For years, it served as my secret garden retreat from a hectic workday.
As a child I loved to read (and re-read) Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. One of my favorite passages is when the sulky contrarian Mary Lennox enters the garden for the first time:
She held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly — slowly. Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight. She was standing inside the secret garden.
Here is the story of my own garden discovery:
I worked for a digital agency located nearby. I often passed the Barrow Street Garden and could see it through gaps in the wrought iron gate. But the gate was always closed and, I assumed, locked.
The garden was so beautiful and tantalizing!
One day I finally tried to push on the gate and, to my surprise, it opened. I was in.
An Afternoon Retreat
The Barrow Street Garden became my refuge during the work day. I worked with many smokers at the agency. When the smokers would slip out for their afternoon smoke, I would take their cue to also head outside.
I enlisted a good friend to join me in afternoon garden breaks. We tried not to talk about our shared work and paid close attention to our surroundings instead.
We focused on the plantings, the birds, and the butterflies. We saw migrating monarch butterflies in the fall, white-throated sparrows whistling in the undergrowth in winter, and migrating warblers in the spring.
This small green space is not only important for city office workers like my friend and I. It’s also an important rest-stop for migrating birds and butterflies. According to St. Luke’s site, over 100 species of birds and 24 types of moths and butterflies have been sighted in their gardens.
A Quiet Sanctuary in the West Village
The Gardens at St. Luke have a long history. The Church of St. Luke in the Fields was built in 1821. According to St. Luke’s site, the first planting was “a tiny slip of England’s famous Glastonbury thorn planted in 1842. It survived until 1990, when it was blown over in a windstorm.” Its thorny progeny still grow in the gardens today.
The Barrow Street Garden is one of six basic areas in the two-acre block. The Gardens also include: the Gene Morin Contemplation Corner, the South Lawn, the Allée of cherry trees, and, closer to the church, the Rectory Garden and North Garden. The Gardens are currently undergoing a renovation and redesign by Susan Sipos, St. Luke’s garden designer and horticulturist.
If you live, work, or are just visiting the West Village, I encourage you to step in Barrow Street Garden. It’s the perfect place to slow down and notice nature. Visit St. Luke’s site to learn more about the location and hours.
If you are feeling nature-deprived, here are more ideas of how you can transform your lunchtime.