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The Randall’s Island Waterfront Garden is a little known oasis that is just a few steps from Manhattan, providing a beautiful setting of flowers, plants, and trees with panoramic river and skyline views. Free and open to the public year-round, this summer the Randall’s Island Park Alliance is offering guided tours by the garden’s horticulturists, helping to increase the garden’s public profile.

Photo courtesy of Melanie del Rosario, Randall’s Island Park Alliance

Created about a decade ago, the Randall’s Island Urban Park is located approximately a 5-minute walk north of the 103rd Street Footbridge, a sleek pedestrian and bicycle crossing that links the island with East Harlem. It is a linear garden, almost a mile long, extending along the Harlem River shoreline and bounded on the east by the Randall’s Island bicycle path. The traffic around here consists of runners, walkers, and bicyclists on land and boats on the river.

Photo courtesy of Melanie del Rosario, Randall’s Island Park Alliance

Overall, the experience is one of being in a serene and colorful environment of green grasses, vegetation of multiple hues, and blue water. The Manhattan skyline serves as a backdrop and a reminder one is still in the City, but one’s focus is likely to be on what is more immediately in view: the garden and the animal life it attracts including squirrels, birds, and butterflies. It is a little slice of horticultural heaven.

The Randall’s Island Waterfront Garden features perennial plants and flowers, which bloom at various times of year ensuring that no two visits to it will be completely alike. Its proximity to the shoreline creates a sense of openness with abundant light and air and river breezes.

Photo courtesy of Melanie del Rosario, Randall’s Island Park Alliance

The garden is cared for by the Randall’s Island Park Alliance’s Horticulture Department, which is helped by various neighborhood and corporate volunteers.

Photo courtesy of Melanie del Rosario, Randall’s Island Park Alliance

In order to encourage more people to discover the garden, free bi-weekly tours led by horticulturists SueAnn Tropico and Kevin Wiecks are being provided every other Thursday at 11 AM. Upcoming tour dates include July 16, July 30, and August 13. (On the alternate Thursdays, also at 11 AM, Randall’s Island Park Alliance is providing free tours of its Wildflower Meadows, another horticultural treasure on the island.)

Whether during a tour or any other time, a visit to the garden can be combined with other Randall’s Island Park activities including Icahn Stadium for sporting events, golf driving range, recreational fishing, and miles of running and bicycle paths (bicycle rentals are available on weekends during the summer near the 103rd Street Footbridge).

Map courtesy of Randall’s Island Park Alliance

Click here for more information on where to meet for the Waterfront Garden Tour. The Randall’s Island Park Alliance is a non-profit organization that administers Randall’s Island Park, working closely with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Randall’s or Ward’s Island?: The southern part of Randall’s Island, including the Waterfront Garden, was originally a separate island called Ward’s Island. Ward’s Island was linked to what is now the northern part of Randall’s Island through landfill beginning in the 1930s. (The 103rd Street Footbridge was formerly known as the Ward’s Island Pedestrian Bridge.) Prior to the establishment of parkland in the 1930s, the islands hosted a number of public facilities and a few still remain.

Image courtesy of Randall’s Island Park Alliance. Ward’s Island Emigrant Refuge, 1800s, Vicinity of today’s Waterfront Garden site

Next, read about 6 Sustainable Urban Agriculture Spots, including Randall’s Island Urban Farm that even has rice paddies.

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