Must-Visit Urban Oases in New York City

In her new book, photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo gets down to nature.
P4 New York Botanical Garden New York Green By Ngoc Minh Ngo

A riot of cherry trees and daffodils in spring bloom at the NYBG. Ngọc Minh Ngo, excerpted from New York Green © 2023, Artisan

For the spring publication of her new book, New York Green (Artisan), photographer and author Ngoc Minh Ngo traversed all five boroughs of the Big Apple, visiting green spaces large and internationally renowned (Central Park, New York Botanical Garden) as well as small and somewhat surprising (Paley Park, Hunter’s Point South Park). Here, she talks about the importance of urban oases to metropolises such as New York, in addition to her favorite hidden gems.

NYC&G: Which green space among the dozens you’ve photographed is the most surprising in this book?
Ngoc Minh Ngo: Hunter’s Point South Park, located on the Queens side of the East River and built in 2013, was something of a discovery for me. It was created with public money on a small budget, but it’s done so beautifully. The entire design is based on the ecology of New York before colonization. It’s a sound blueprint for future waterside parks that are intended to give access to everyone.

How did you approach shooting New York’s better known, widely photographed parks?
I instinctively photograph things the way I see them and take pictures of whatever interests me. Even though there are a million images of Central Park, for example, I didn’t think about how to make it different. I wanted to show how I experience such beloved places.

What specific challenges are there to photographing gardens?
The main challenge is that there are so many things not in your control, from the weather to the condition of the garden on a shooting day—it’s very much unlike studio photography. You have to let go and shoot what you see as the beauty of that particular day.

P245 Hutners Point South Park New York Green By Ngoc Minh Ngo

Trails hug the coastline at Hunter’s Point South Park. Ngọc Minh Ngo, excerpted from New York Green © 2023, Artisan

How have green spaces in New York changed?
Relatively new to the city is increased access to the waterfront—it’s possible to go kayaking now! And a lot of the more recent waterside parks have an educational component too, covering marine biology and ecology, especially for kids.

What trends do you see in public green spaces?
I hope it’s true that there is an increased consciousness of a site’s ecology and the effects of climate change. Landscape architects have become more environmentally aware, creating designs that consider stormwater management, native plantings, and a more natural aesthetic. Green spaces are connecting people to nature in a more meaningful way.

P71 The Heather Garden At Fort Tryon Park New York Green By Ngoc Minh Ngo

The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park. Ngọc Minh Ngo, excerpted from New York Green © 2023, Artisan

Where is green space in New York City still lacking?
The city’s big parks are really great, but we need to pay more attention to smaller neighborhood parks in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn—these local gems can deeply enhance people’s lives.

What is your favorite New York City park or garden?
Brooklyn Bridge Park, particularly the flower fields. Rebecca McMackin, the park’s former director of horticulture, did such an amazing job there. It’s so meaningful for a city park to have a wildflower field that is all native—designed for butterflies, insects, and birds, but also for people to enjoy.

The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Ode to the City.