America's Most Hauntingly Beautiful Sunken Gardens

These gardens lie just below ground level, but they can feel like time machines to long-gone eras.

Sunken gardens can make stylish and unusual additions to any landscape. With a little digging and fortification, you too can create a unique garden that exists just below ground level. Whether you're seeking a new design concept for your backyard or a peaceful retreat from the world, these unusual gardens make perfect places to break free from the normative restrictions of ordinary gardens.

Sunken gardens are also strangely eerie, and can emanate unnatural, skewed auras, perhaps due to the disorienting nature of a garden submerged below the earth's surface. This has made these gardens into hotbeds of various myths and legends, in addition to being architectural and natural wonders.

Without further ado, here are six of America's loveliest and most intriguing sunken gardens.

1. The Sunken Garden in St. Petersburg, Florida

This four-acre Floridian park packs a lot of punch for its size. Full of winding, labyrinthine trails and populated by creatures such as butterflies, tortoises, brightly colored koi, and pink flamingos, that this garden exists is entirely thanks to the vision of a certain plumber. In 1902, George Turner, Sr. purchased a large lake in Florida and promptly drained it. He then turned it into a below-sea-level garden, starting with a few citrus trees. Today, the St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens are a local historic landmark. They were allowed to grow wild for many years, but restoration efforts have since returned the tropical vista to its original radiance.

Image via Green Bench Monthly

2. Sunken Gardens, Huntington County, Indiana

These gardens began as a stone quarry, which was acquired by county residents in 1924. They proceeded to beautify it, installing features such as gazebos, a meandering river, and a stony bridge. Today, the garden is one of the two largest sunken gardens in the nation, and it's a popular place for weddings, gatherings, and contemplative retreats of all stripes.

Image via Visual Commonwealth

Image via Flickr

3. Sunken Gardens, Lincoln, Nebraska

This unnatural wonder features an annual floral display of over 30,000 individual blossoms, which correspond to a specific theme each year. In 2018, the theme was "Sun Salutations," meaning that the garden was lit up with an array of fiery orange and red floralia. It's the only garden in Nebraska to make the list of the top 300 gardens in the U.S., and it features a huge number of tulips, ferns, and perennial shrubs. The garden also contains a secret 'Healing Garden,' inspired by the famous White Garden of Sissinghurt Castle, England, which was created by Vita Sackville West (who was—fun fact—Virginia Woolf's longtime secret lover) and her husband Harold Nicholson in the 1930s.

Image via Flickr

Vita Sackville-West's White Gardens, via Pinterest

4. San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden

As one of the most beautiful parks in San Antonio, Texas, this garden was also originally a rock quarry. It was then transformed into a lily pond, which was later drained to make way for the park it would become. Today, the park is a registered Texas Historic Landmark and has also garnered a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a wonderland of limestone bridges, pagodas, koi-filled ponds, plants, a 60-foot waterfall, and other opulent natural wonders. Despite its idyllic appearance, the park has a bit of a fraught history. In 1917, efforts began to transform what was then a pond into a Japanese garden, and the Japanese-American artist Kimi Eizo Jingu was invited to design it. However, the Jingus were evicted when anti-Japanese sentiments overtook the U.S. in the 40s, and in an act of extreme disrespect, the garden was renamed the Chinese Tea Garden. Though its elaborately carved entrance sign still unfortunately reads "Chinese Tea Garden," the garden was publicly renamed in 1983, when City Councillor Van Archer announced the change and stated, "Officially renaming the sunken gardens will serve as at least a small and symbolic reparation for the wrongs suffered by an American minority group caught in the madness and hysteria of war."

Image via Imgur

Image via Texas Hill Country

5. The Sunken Garden of William and Mary

Located at the heart of the historic West Virginia University, this sunken garden is a popular place for students to congregate on sunny days. Designed in the style of eighteenth-century English gardens, this landscape is "intended to uplift the spirit by leading the eye toward a distant, natural setting," according to the college's website.

Image via Twitter

The gardens are oriented to look out over the Crim Dell, an iconic and historical bridge that Thomas Jefferson once insisted on preserving so "the College could look out forever on the Country." Today, the bridge is more of an emblem to natural beauty than patriotism, and it's emblazoned with a plaque that reads, "...[T]hat one may walk in beauty, discover the serenity of the quiet moment, and dispel the shadows." The same sentiment might apply to the sunken gardens—if they weren't so paranormally active. According to university folklore, the sunken garden at William and Mary is haunted by many spirits from colonial times, including the ghosts of Native American children and specters from George Washington's Northern Army encampment. It's also haunted by another odd fact: In 2009, the gardens were the location of a world-record-breaking achievement when the lawn became the location where the most people did the zombie dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" at one time.

Image via Redbubble

6. The Sunken Gardens at Caramoor

In 1928, New York's Caramoor was purchased by a wealthy couple who became enraptured by the Italian villa's array of old gardens. Thanks to their efforts, some of those gardens have been successfully preserved to this day—including the old sunken garden, which provides a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, as well as a refuge for contemplation and communion with nature.

Image via Pinterest

In 2014, these gardens were the location of an interesting installation called "Sunken Gardens," created by composer Betsy Briggs, whose work is intended to "expose the beauty in the everyday." The exhibition was an audio installation, and featured an array of sounds that would be triggered as visitors walked throughout the garden. According to the artist's statement, "Unlike traditional music, visitors will play the piece non-linearly simply by walking through it." Caramoor's strange and peaceful sunken garden seems like a natural place for an art exhibit like this, one that molds the natural landscape into a mirror of human desire.

Sunken Gardens

7. The Sunken Garden at Warner Castle

Located near Rochester, New York, this castle was originally owned by Horatio Gates Warner in the mid-1800s. After that, it went through several iterations, including a stint as a sanatorium. Today, the Scottish-style fortress is undergoing renovation, but its gardens remain open to the public—including its most famous attraction, the sunken garden. Nestled at the crux of a stone fortress in the castle's backyard, the garden was designed in the 1930s by Alling DeForest, a land artist and student of Frederick Law Olmstead. According to legend, there's a sealed entrance to the castle's catacombs located somewhere in the sunken garden—and perhaps that's the origin point of the garden's mystical aura. Regardless of the source of its romantic mystique, this garden definitely feels like it's a time capsule from a past era.

Warner Castle Sunken Garden Image via Harbors and Meadows

Image via Pinterest

Sunken gardens are places where human vision melds with the natural world to create something hauntingly beautiful. As the earth's climate continues to warm, we'll have to find ways to beautify and rewild all the empty, barren lakes and ruined landscapes that will result from all the droughts and wildfires, so perhaps we'll be seeing more sunken gardens crop up as the years go by. If you're inspired to create your own, be sure to check out some expert gardening tips, and get ready to start digging.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).


You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker