Gardening with Kids in NYC: Cultivate a Green Thumb in Local Parks and Gardens

The Queens Botanical Garden brings together youngsters from around New York City to enjoy seasonal, hands-on learning, and gardening experiences. Photo by Oliver Lopez
The Queens Botanical Garden brings together youngsters from around New York City to enjoy seasonal, hands-on learning, and gardening experiences. Photo by Oliver Lopez
3/26/24 - By Yuliya Geikhman

In the urban jungle that is NYC, it can feel like nature is hard to come by. But in reality, parks, green spaces, and community gardens brighten up the city in every borough.

Families interested in gardening with kids in NYC are spoiled for choice if they know where to look! You can start small, by growing your own indoor herb or vegetable garden or turning your small backyard space into a haven for butterflies and pollinators.

Or, you can check out one of these excellent programs for gardening with kids in NYC. You might be surprised at just how many options there are. Find more ways to create a greener future in our Earth Kids Guide for Families.


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Where to Enjoy Gardening with Kids in NYC

1. Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Prospect Heights

The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is a 52-acre space that hugs the northeastern point of Prospect Park. It strives to bring visitors closer to nature and is generally a wonderful place to explore.

Just visiting the garden with kids gives them a chance to interact with the plants and gardens—don't miss out, in particular, on the sensory garden, where kids are encouraged to touch and sniff the plants. Because, as Meera Jagroop, director of youth programs, points out: "Nature play is fun, messy, smelly, and surprising, and all the while allows the imagination to grow, encourages healthy risk-taking, and builds empathy for all living things."

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers interactive opportunities for even the smallest horticulturalists in your family to get their start with gardening. The Discovery Garden is a meadow of tall grasses and flowers that attract pollinators and its raised boardwalks were designed with little visitors in mind. The garden regularly holds classes for kids ages 2-13, where they can learn how to plant and harvest their own crops and flowers. You can find semester-long programs as well as one-day parent and kid classes.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a wide range of offerings for kids to suit your schedule and needs, from drop-in programs at the Discovery Garden, to pre-registration drop-off classes, to the more involved Garden Apprentice Program (GAP) for teens.

2. New York Botanical Garden – Bronx Park, the Bronx

The New York Botanical Garden's sprawling 250 acres are home to an incredible million-plus living plants. It also holds frequent programs, performances, and events, including, of course, plenty of family gardening programs.

The highlight of kids' programming is the Edible Academy. Home to hundreds of annual hands-on programs for all ages, its centerpiece is the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden. Open March through November, three gardens converge and form a space for visitors to plant, tend, and harvest crops.

Like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the NY Botanical Garden offers a huge range of classes and workshops available for families and kids ages 2-12, including drop-in programs, season-long courses, and teen internship options.

3. Queens Botanical Garden – Flushing

The Queens Botanical Garden is like the wilder, more rambunctious cousin to the BBG and NYBG. Its 39 acres are nestled between Flushing Meadows Park and Kissena Park in the middle of a bustling, lively neighborhood. Dating back to the 1939-40 World’s Fair, it has moved and expanded into the oasis it is today.

The Children's Garden hosts many workshops and classes. Some classes are by registration only and require a semester-long commitment. Gardening programs are available for kids as young as 2 years old.

Classes introduce kids to different elements of gardening and natural sciences at an age-appropriate level. Budding gardeners get to plant and harvest their own plants and enjoy fun hands-on experiences like learning to forage and making botanical art. Throughout all programs, kids learn the theme of sustainability, food waste recycling, and promoting a healthy water cycle—the latter can be seen firsthand at the Cleansing Biotope, where you can watch water being cycled between the plaza fountain and wetland flowers and plants.

The Queens Botanical Garden provides a limited number of scholarship seats, so every child can partake in its programs, even if they can't afford the fees.

4. The Horticultural Society of New York – Harlem

If you've ever stopped to admire the plants at any of the city's plazas, you've probably seen The Horticultural Society of New York's gardening work. Known simply as The Hort, this organization is dedicated to bringing green spaces and gardens to our everyday lives, from public plazas and open streets to the sidewalks and anywhere else where plants can thrive.

The Hort works with city agencies and local programs to bring New Yorkers free plant pop-ups, workshops, and giveaways. Check its events page or follow its Instagram account for updates on programming.

"Living in our bustling city, our kids need the opportunity to wiggle, giggle, and jump into nature," says Pamela Ito, Director of Education at The Hort. "The Hort’s team works with hundreds of students and enjoys providing them with nourishing gardening experiences and educational, hands-on plant activities both in and out of schools."

Pay a visit to the Greenhouse & Education Center at Riverbank State Park to find gardening workshops and events year-round, all are family-friendly and FREE. The garden features a kitchen, a greenhouse, and outdoor planting beds, and programs take families from planting and cultivating plants to cooking and eating them.

While all programs are all-ages, The Hort also has dedicated weekly family programs specifically adapted for kids. Parents and caregivers are welcome to join. Facilitators cater to each gardener's needs and learning level.

The Hort can bring gardening even closer to home, offering support to local private and public school gardening programs.

5. New York City Parks – Citywide

Get kids gardening and volunteer your time through the NYC Parks programs for families. Families can volunteer to mulch, plant, rake, weed, and beautify your park through the It's My Park program. Run by the Partnership for Parks—a public-private partnership between City Parks Foundation and NYC Parks—it features events nearly every day in the spring and summer, though events are available year-round.

The parks and rec department has many other ways to get involved in gardening. The Garden Kitchen Labs, for instance, is an after-school program that teaches kids how to grow and cook their own food, apply scientific concepts and tools to learn about what they consume, create digital media, keep a gardening journal, and more.

Finally, you can join NYC Parks for a workshop or event for aspiring gardeners and families with a green thumb. These programs teach everything from how to start an indoor herb garden to designing and building a trellis for climbing plants. Most programs are FREE and some are even virtual.

6. Community Gardens via GreenThumb – Citywide

Some of the best places to get gardening are right in your very own neighborhood, and GreenThumb makes it easy to find them. Founded in 1978 by the NYC Parks Department, GreenThumb is the nation's largest urban gardening program. The website provides a searchable database to find a green space near you.

Many community gardens welcome families interested in trying urban gardening for themselves. Gardens differ in style and layout, from providing each family with its own raised bed to working collaboratively on the entire garden. Chrissy Word of the City Parks Foundation likens finding the perfect community garden for your family to apartment hunting—the best way to find the right garden for you and your kids is to stop by when the garden is open to explore and inquire about helping out.

That said, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation highlights the following as especially welcoming to kids and young adults:

  • Children’s Magical Garden: As you can tell from the name, this garden is designed specifically with children in mind and hosts many kid-friendly events throughout the season. 131 Stanton Street, between Norfolk and Essex Streets in Manhattan. More info.
  • Frank White Memorial Garden: This garden is connected to The Brotherhood Sister Sol’s Environmental Programs, which are dedicated to attracting and educating a new generation of urban gardeners and environmental activists. 506 West 143rd Street in Manhattan. More info.
  • Hill Street Garden: This garden has native plant areas and educational growing beds for visitors to learn more about different crops. 50 Hill Street in Staten Island. More info.
  • Paradise Community Garden: This garden frequently hosts Girl and Boy Scout troops for tours and educational activities and plans several family-friendly events every year. 107-29 Inwood Street in Queens. More info.
  • Amboy Street Garden: This garden is a hub for the community's youth. It welcomes young people from all walks of life and frequently hosts events for young adults. 208 Amboy Street in Brooklyn. More info.

7. Grow NYC's Teaching Garden – Governors Island

The Teaching Garden on Governors Island is a 1-acre urban farm featuring vegetable beds (made from recycled plastic lumber), an outdoor kitchen, a greenhouse, fruit trees, and much more. Kids are encouraged to grab a watering can and help water the plants or dig for worms as they learn about compost (don't forget to grab a baggie of compost for your plants at home!), while friendly educators answer questions.

The farm is also home to bees, the occasional baby goats (which you can hand-feed), and a whole gang of chickens. It's open seasonally on weekend afternoons.

The Governors Island Learning Garden is presented by GrowNYC, an environmental nonprofit group that works with New York's green spaces, from community gardens to Greenmarkets. Learn more about the organization's programming on its website.

8. City Parks Foundation's Learning Gardens

The passionate members of the City Parks Foundation are dedicated to building communities around gardening and nature. The foundation hosts hundreds of programs annually in more than 300 parks, rec centers, and schools across the five boroughs.

The City Parks Foundation's learning gardens are set up for kids and teens to get up close and personal with nature and sustainable gardening. There are four locations: Grove Hill in Morrisania, the Bronx; Abib Newborn in Brownsville, Brooklyn; ENY Success in East New York, Brooklyn; and Liberty Garden in South Jamaica, Queens. The City Parks Foundation works with local schools and camps to provide programming for the community.

"Children need outdoor experiences," says Chrissy Word, Director of Education at the City Parks Foundation. Besides the foundation's own programs, Word encourages families interested in gardening to seek out their local community gardens.

Want to take advantage of the foundation's kids' gardening programming? In that case, you can get in touch with either the foundation or your child's school, after-school, or camp for potential collaboration. And if you live near any of the Learning Gardens, be on the lookout for programs that take advantage of the urban gardening know-how of the foundation's staff.

Places featured in this article:

Queens Botanical Garden

Greenhouse & Education Center at Riverbank State Park

The Teaching Garden on Governors Island

Abib Newborn Learning Garden