September 21, 2015

Jefferson Market: The Gift of a City Garden

All sorts of gardens, large and small, are wonderful things to see, but a garden in the midst of the city, surrounded by tall buildings and heavy traffic, is especially magical.

Walking up Sixth Avenue from the West 4th Street subway station in the Village, you can soon see the Victorian Gothic spires of the elaborate Jefferson Market branch of the NY Public Library. The building was originally built as a courthouse in 1877; not in use since 1945, it was threatened with demolition, but a group of active citizens were successful in seeing that it was converted into a library, which opened in 1967. It was one of the first "adaptive reuse" projects in the US. The beautiful garden adjoining the library to the south also has a wonderful story.

A prison, The Women's House of Detention, was built on the site of the garden in 1931, replacing another earlier prison. When it was torn down in 1971, the land was transferred to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and became the Jefferson Market Garden. Here, plants in profusion spill out of the metal fences.

The contrasts of fence and leaves is a perfect metaphor for the life to be found within the boundaries of a small city garden.

Although the garden was closed when I was there, I was able to see a great deal through the fence. I noted how beautifully the garden is designed (it is maintained by volunteers!) with varied colors and textures throughout.

The cool greens of a spiky grass are alongside soft, fuzzy leaves.

Deep reds of small leaves form a base for an explosion of grandeur.

In this late summer/early fall season, there are flowers blooming: tiny violet composite flowers....

....and a singular flaming red.

A special treat were Passion flowers blooming outside the fence along Sixth Avenue. This exotic, complex flower was just opening, and a bee was deep inside. The blessings of nature, however confined, brighten city life; imagine what Manhattan would be without small gardens such as this, and without the grand Central Park.


  1. Great post!
    As a life-skills-instructor in our county prison, I can vouch for the accuracy of symbolism in the coleus-behind-iron-bars shot.

    1. Thanks, JBS. And how interesting about the prison work...I salute you.

  2. Lovely piece! I used to love right around the corner from the garden and it was great to have its peaceful beauty after a hectic day.

    1. That must have been a treat to live near this beautiful garden.