NYC's Indoor Gardens: Get an Early Dose of Spring at These Hot Spots
[UPDATED: JANUARY 28, 2013]
Although the weather has felt spring-like for the past couple of weeks, it's going to be a few months before the flowers actually start blooming. If your family needs a fix of fabulous flora right now, you're in luck. There are lots of indoor gardens in New York City where you can find thriving flowers, plants and green trees, even in the dead of winter.
The Conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Crown Heights
990 Washington Avenue at Crown Street
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4pm (November-February) and Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5:30pm (March-October)
$10 for adults, $5 for students, free for children under 12. Tuesdays, Winter Weekdays and Saturdays 10am-noon are free.
The BBG's Conservatory boasts five separate and distinct indoor areas, each reflecting a different climate. In the steamy Aquatic House, you'll find waterfalls and green foliage cascading from ceiling to pond. Delicate and colorful orchids are safely ensconced behind glass. The dry Desert Pavilion is filled with spiky cacti and hearty wildflowers, largely from South America and the African continent. The Tropical Pavilion features lush plants and trees, and has a 65-foot ceiling to accommodate the tallest arbors. The Warm Temperate Pavilion is the place to visit in February and March, as many of the vibrant African plants will be in bloom. The winding path leads to a restful viewing point, making this pavilion a personal favorite of mine. The Bonsai Museum is home to 350 miniature trees, one of the largest collections outside of Japan. Children will be fascinated by these tiny woody plants, which look as if they sprung magically out of a storybook. The BBG's free winter weekday admission is an added incentive to visit now.
The Conservatory at Wave Hill – the Bronx
675 Independence Avenue between West 249th and West 250th Streets
Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-4:30pm (November 1-March 14) and Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5:30pm (March 15-October 31)
$8 for adults, $4 for students, $2 for children 6 & up, free for kids under 6. Saturdays 9am-noon and Tuesdays are free.
This beautiful 28-acre garden and cultural center is a glorious destination in warmer months, but in winter you can marvel at its Conservatory, a trio of glass houses that contain delicate flora. There's the Palm House, home to vibrant South African bulbs; the Cactus and Succulent House, featuring plants from dry climates; and the Tropical House, hosting a variety of plants from humid regions. Creative Family Art Projects on the weekends are always inspired by nature.
Tropic Zone: The Rainforest at Central Park Zoo – Upper East Side
830 Fifth Avenue at East 64th Street
Open Daily 10am-4:30pm (November 4-March 29) and Daily 10am-5pm (March 30-November 3)
$12 for adults, $7 for children 3-12, free for kids under 3
This two-tiered, indoor jungle is a literal hotbed of animal activity. You'll feel like you need to duck to avoid low-flying exotic birds (or their poop—watch out for it!). You'll also spy sapphire-colored poisonous frogs, lemurs and golden lion tamarins through the lush-green foliage. Don't worry: They're all safely behind glass but the continuum of trees and greenery gives the impression that you're in the wild.
The Butterfly Conservatory at American Museum of Natural History – Upper West Side
Central Park West at 79th Street
Open Daily 10am-5:45pm (October through May)
$25 for adults, $19 for students, $14.50 for children 2-12, free for kids under 2
No glass here! The museum's live butterfly exhibit allows you to get up close with these delicate insects, whose spots and colors rival a peacock's. Kids are encouraged to look at live specimens through magnifying glasses and if you're lucky (and wearing bright clothing), one might even perch right on you. In addition to the gorgeous butterflies, you're surrounded by stunning tropical flowers. Good luck getting your kids out of this room!
Enid A. Haupt Glass Gardens at the Rusk Institute – Murray Hill
400 East 34th Street between First Avenue and FDR Drive
Open Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday-Sunday noon-6pm
Sadly, this garden has closed. We wrote about this "secret" garden years ago. The lovely 1,700-square-foot conservatory contains a koi pond, tropical birds and other exotic attractions, making it a wonderful winter hangout. But if you want to see it, go soon: The Gardens, along with the Rusk Institute, are scheduled to be demolished in March 2013!
Japan Society – Midtown East
333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues
Open Tuesday-Thursday 11am-6pm, Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am-5pm
$12 for adults, $10 for students, children under 16 free
This Japanese cultural center features multiple indoor gardens, a reflecting pool and a waterfall. The spot frequently hosts family programming, which is a perfect time to visit. Demonstrations, crafts and live performances are planned around Japan's annual festivities.
There are also lots of public atriums in New York City that contain plants and flowers. These free indoor spots are great places to read, snack or just relax. Some of our favorites include:
The Ford Foundation Building – Midtown East
320 East 43rd Street between First and Second Avenues
This public space feels like a rainforest and features foliage and a wishing well, but no seating. Everyone sits on the ledges and stairs. See our full review.
The Winter Garden at the World Financial Center – Battery Park City
220 Vesey Street at West Street
This awesome glass atrium on the Hudson River is home to enormous palm trees, in addition to shops and restaurants. It also frequently hosts free entertainment, art exhibits and activities.
David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center – Upper West Side
Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets
The gigantic live plant walls are just one of the attractions here. Visitors can also catch free performances every Thursday evening at 7:30pm and the first Saturday of every month at 11am.
Restaurants with Indoor Gardens
Lots of NYC eateries spruce up their atmosphere with plants and flowers. But we know of two with veritable indoor gardens.
Le Petit Cafe – Carroll Gardens
502 Court Street between Luquer and Nelson Streets
This adorable French restaurant is totally kid-friendly and has a garden in its back room. Last time we ate here, plants were literally brushing our backs!
Pane e Vino – Cobble Hill
174 Smith Street at Warren Street
Probably better for a date night than a family meal, this Italian restaurant has a gorgeous enclosed garden. Just one look at the online photo gallery and you'll want to make reservations for your next date night.
Find more indoor fun, check out our Indoor Activity Guide.