If Central Park provides the lungs for Manhattan, then the community gardens of the East Village are like inhalers for the locals. They offer bursts of oxygen and verdant shade amidst the dust and cracking asphalt of summer.

There are many gardens dotted about the blocks of Alphabet City and the Lower East Side. Unlike parks, they were originally vacant lots repurposed by local residents for something other than the congregation of the dispossessed. Rubbish and rubble were shifted and the spaces transformed. The gardens are locked at night and responsibly managed by volunteers from Green Thumb.

Green Thumb is a subsection of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation that works with residents to plant and upkeep the green spaces in their neighborhoods. Although this happens throughout the five boroughs,the gardens are more a defining feature in the landscape of the East Village. Community gardens have also been an integral part of the rehabilitation of New York City starting in the late 1970s.

The 6th Street Community Center has been documenting the community gardens of the Lower East Side and East Village, an undertaking that has not been done for over a decade. The gardens, the non-profit writes, “are a vibrant example of how a neighborhood that was burning down was saved by community gardeners amongst others, and how in turn, the neighborhood saved the gardens when they became endangered.” The organization hopes the documentation of existing and lost gardens will make  history more visible in the neighborhood, help community gardeners come together again and tell a story of successful resistance to the politics of the city.

Apart from aesthetics, there is much variation between the gardens. Some are only open on weekends, some seem to never be open (even though they profess to be) and some are still under construction. Some permit dogs, some don’t. Some allow gatherings, some aren’t so keen. Rules and opening hours can be subject to change.

There are at least seventy community gardens in this neighborhood alone and  6BC Garden, on 6th Street between Avenue B and Avenue C,  is one of many jewels in the crown. It is positively thriving.  About an acre in size it still manages to twist itself into an interesting amble through shrubs or under bowers along a thin, bricked path. There are many shaded spots to find furnished with chairs and benches of surprising materials. It gives the impression of a secret garden where things are waiting, for years maybe, to be discovered, or uncovered.  Seasonal flowerings do not detract from the overall greenness, you are virtually swamped – and the effect is a cooling one.  There are also a couple of small ponds, where you can watch the wildlife come to play.  A perfect place  for shade, oxygen and natural soundproofing from the city – for any visitor.

6BC Garden is located on E 6th Street, between Avenue B and Avenue C [Map]