The charm of a secret garden isn't that it's unknown–usually plenty of people can pass through one–but that it tends to be surrounded by walls or is somewhat hidden from view.
Ideally, it requires you to open a gate or walk under an arch, leading to a peaceful space filled with beautiful flowers, small trees and maybe even a magical creature or two.
Luckily, uptown has three that truly fit the bill and make perfect spots for reflection on a sunny afternoon. Schedule an escape to these oases while the days are still warm and bright–your frazzled self will thank you.
Now that the end of the season is approaching, the sunken garden behind the Morris-Jumel Mansion–built in 1765 as a summer villa for English colonel Roger Morris–has become an overgrown idyll. To find this hidden spot, follow one of the small stone paths that twists around the northeast corner of the park, because there are no big signs pointing the way.
A small stone retaining wall separates the garden from the larger park, and it's here you'll find a few wooden benches from which to admire the sundial as well as the many plants, including stinging nettle, anise, yarrow, and horseradish. But the centerpiece is the copper-domed brick building towards the back, which will instantly transport you to a scene straight out of a romantic English landscape–an almost impossible task for any structure in New York.
Situated in the middle of Fort Tryon Park, the Met Cloisters resembles an old European cloister and houses The Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval art collection. Walking through the two levels, visitors will find three enclosed gardens, each laid out in different ways. But the one that's the most secluded–it's the furthest away from the main entrance–and filled with the largest variety of plants is the Bonnefont Cloister garden.
Reached by an arcaded walkway, this corner garden with inspiring views of the Hudson River features as many as 300 species of medieval plants used in cooking, medicine, magic and art. New York State residents can pay whatever they wish to enter the museum, so a visit can cost as little as a dollar (or less). And if you get tired of your own company, you can attend one of the museum's garden tours, offered daily at 11am through the end of September.
A few steps south of the magnificent Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights is the entrance to the neo-Gothic church's grounds, which are open year-round during daylight hours and feature a number of peaceful gardens. But only one is truly tucked away.
Follow the driveway that leads to the Cathedral School and on your left you'll find the small arched entrance to the Biblical Garden. A charming oasis featuring a central fountain surrounded by shaded benches, the garden is filled with a variety of plantings mentioned in the Bible. Consult the handy guide near the entrance to learn what's what while waiting for one of the Cathedral's three peacocks who roam the grounds at their leisure–Jim, Harry and Phil–to wander by.