A must-see on any budding traveller’s bucket list, New York City is one of, if not the most, sought after cities in the world to visit. While The Big Apple has no shortage of sights to see, garden lovers will be salivating at the chance to visit some of the city’s rooftop gardens.
In fact, rooftop gardens have been a fixture of NYC since the late 19th century, even pre-dating the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
The idea for rooftop gardens is commonly attributed to producer and composer Rudolph Aronson, who wanted to replicate the gardens in Europe but in a way that was practical for space-deprived Manhattan. Drawing inspiration from Paris, he installed a rooftop garden on the Casino Theater which opened in 1883.
Throughout history rooftop gardens proved to be popular attractions in the sprawling metropolis, offering people the chance to experience a laid back atmosphere without having to journey beyond the city.
As engineering capabilities have improved over time rooftop gardens have become more ambitious and breathtaking.
While you may not be able to replicate some of these terraces on your own rooftop, these are some of the most noteworthy New York City rooftop gardens to draw inspiration from.
Garden of Stones
Located in lower Manhattan at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Andy Goldsworthy's permanent exhibition imbues a rooftop garden with history and pathos. Trees grown from stone and planted by Holocaust survivors, their families and the artist in 2003, Garden of Stones is a changing exhibit that invites visitors to return again and again.
The garden is visible from almost every floor in the museum, demonstrating the effects of time on people and the environment as seasons change and plants grow and mature. Inspiring both an appreciation of art and culture through horticulture. To find out more about the Garden of Stones, visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage website.
Brooklyn Heights Townhouse
Bright and beautiful, the Brooklyn Heights Townhouse rooftop garden captures the quintessential vibe of a private oasis among the hustle and bustle of New York’s hippest borough.
Combining a mix of perennials, roses, crape myrtle and junipers in a series of planter boxes scattered around the bluestone tiled deck, the garden uses an automated drip irrigation system to hydrate the plants with a minimum of fuss. Lighting is also automated, using low voltage illumination in the evenings.
You can find out more about the Brooklyn Heights Townhouse at the Amber Freda website.
Just south of Hell's Kitchen, Gallow Green’s overgrown abundance conceals a bar with a theatrical slant. Propped atop The McKittrick Hotel, home of the interactive theatre performance Sleep No More, Gallow Green is a rooftop garden with a difference.
As the sun sinks on the horizon fairy lights glimmer on the trees and you are greeted by a remarkable ensemble of British garden party types. Actually paid actors, these folks help lend an air of campy frivolity to the scene. With other neat features like a railcar smack bang in the middle of the rooftop (who knows how they got that up there) and a name borrowed from the field where six 17th Century Scottish witches were hanged and burned, it's a surreal environment that manages to maintain a sense of frivolity despite the well-practiced apparatus of actors, waiters and bar staff.
For lovers of gardens, cocktails and unique if a little over the top experiences Gallow Green is an inspirational moment in New York culture.
The High Line
Not all of New York’s inspirational gardens are on rooftops. The High Line, a public park spanning an elevated freight line from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street was opened in 2009, but its history goes back almost a century.
From freight to flora
Starting in 1934 as a freight line carrying goods to and from the largest industrial district in Manhattan, the line ran until 1980 when advances in trucking replaced the need for a dedicated freight line into Manhattan.
Interesting fact: The last High Line train carried three cars of turkeys.
Campaign for green
Peter Obletz, a local activist and railroad enthusiast, campaigned to prevent a group of property owners from demolishing the train, taking it all the way to the courts.
However, it wasn't until 1999 that Friends of the High Line was formed. Responsible for around 98% of the fundraising for this unique New York Park. The final section opened in 2014 and is frequented by thousands of visitors every week.
Collaboration on design
The design of the High Line park is a collaboration between designers, horticulturalists and public space advocates. Themed to capture the textural variation and sustainability of self-seeded plant life growing out of disused rail tracks, plant focus is on perennials, shrubs and grasses that appeared naturally in the area prior to its conversion in a public space.
Being elevated and quite lengthy, the High Line incorporates a number of unique features including lookouts, sundecks, public program spaces and water features.
Inspirational both in design and history, High Line is a demonstration of how the public can come together and create something unique from existing Infrastructure.
An international ideal
While New York might be famous for rooftop gardens that doesn't mean you won't find great examples elsewhere. Now you know what makes a great garden maybe it's time to go out and create your own. Just remember to choose plants, garden beds and pots which are suitable for an elevated environment. Also, ensure that irrigation and logistics is planned out correctly beforehand. An investment of your time now will help create the ideal rooftop garden just for you.