A hidden magical garden behind the FDR Drive

Considering the density of its streets, New York is a city with a surprising number of hidden gardens: some in churchyards, others created on empty lots, and some designed to mask garages and other unpretty structures.

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But few of these green spaces are as hard to get to as the quarter-acre oasis between the FDR Drive and First Avenue, behind the cluster of buildings that make up Bellevue Hospital Center.

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It’s the Bellevue Sobriety Garden, a strangely magical place that mixes sculpture, trees, flowers, mosaics, doll parts, cement, and foliage.

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Started by a Bellevue psychiatrist in 1989 and tended to by recovering addicts in the hospital’s Chemical Recovery Program, this isn’t your typical serene green space.

You won’t find many tourists or crowds here; it’s accessible via a lonely stretch of 26th Street beyond First Avenue or from an FDR Drive off ramp. And it’s not a landscaped masterpiece; grass can be patchy, and it has a wild, overgrown look to it.

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But that’s all part of its whimsical and imaginative charm, a garden straight out of an artist’s fairy tale. It’s not exactly a secret, but if you visit, you’ll feel like you stumbled into a New York you never knew.

The entrance, flanked by enormous statues and pieces of old buildings, welcomes visitors while encouraging them not to steal the veggies and fruits grown here in warmer months.

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Slender cobblestone paths take you past patches of flowers to benches, trellises, a wooden bridge, and a tiny gingerbread-like house. Along the way you’ll walk past mosaics and sculptures of sheep, dogs, pigs, and a snake.

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Take a walk through it, and you’ll forget about the parking lot next door and the roaring traffic on the FDR Drive.

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Back in 2014, someone came in and vandalized the garden, defacing its statues. By the looks of things now, on a warmish autumn day, everything seems back in order—a peaceful and magical respite not very accessible to the average New Yorker.

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4 Responses to “A hidden magical garden behind the FDR Drive”

  1. Timothy Grier Says:

    Back in the fifties and sixties my parents took me to that location once a year to see an outdoor Ringling Brothers Circus performance for Bellevue and NYU hospital patients. The highlight was seeing the elephants arrive and leave by walking in NYC streets.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’ve seen photos of the circus there!
    https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/when-the-circus-came-to-bellevue-hospital/

  3. Ruth Rosenthal Says:

    thank you ephemeral. once again, you have revealed a hidden gem. i will make a trip to this spot.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you–you’ll love it!

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