The Outsider: Outdoor Living Room in Fort Greene

WELCOME to The Outsider, Cara Greenberg‘s Sunday garden column for Brownstoner. KNOW OF ANY BEAUTIFUL BROOKLYN GARDENS? (Sure ya do!) Contact

THE LONG, NARROW BACKYARD is a challenge garden designers face in Brooklyn more often than not. The owners of this one, 22′ wide and more than three times as long, approached James Stephenson of The Artist Garden with the notion of two patios plus lots of planting space. They were looking for a clean, modern look that would blend with their indoor aesthetic.

Working with oversized pieces of thermal bluestone, Stephenson laid out a plan for a central inner patio that serves as an outdoor family/living room, and another toward the rear of the property that provides overflow entertaining space for larger groups.

A central pergola made of iron and cedar is an architectural element that will also become a shade structure when the wisteria vines planted in each corner climb up and over.

Don Statham, an Upstate NY-based garden designer, collaborated on the plantings, which include what Stephenson calls “epic” columnar oak trees that will eventually create privacy walls on either side of the central patio. Everything is planted in the ground; there are no raised beds or containers.

The south-facing garden, with in-ground drip irrigation, is essentially low-maintenance.

More detail and photos after the jump.

Photos: James Stephenson


Overscaled 2’x4′ pieces of thermal bluestone (the norm is 2’x3′) form a landing at the bottom of the deck stairs and two patios with straight walkways between, as seen in this preliminary sketch laid over a photo of the demolished garden.

The space was envisioned as two outdoor rooms, with a seating area as the central core of the garden and a dining table at the rear. A beautiful old magnolia (seen bare at the back) was the only existing plant retained.

There’s a six-foot-wide landing at the foot of the stairs for access to the tenants’ downstairs apartment and air conditioning units on the right. Black bamboo on two sides of the middle patio were intended to create a sense of enclosure there. It’s planted in an area dug out three feet and lined with a bamboo barrier. The ‘after’ photos were taken just a few months after sizable plants went in.

An existing step made of an old 4″x4″ was retained and capped with bluestone. An old cedar fence was painted Essex green with a little extra black in it, and gussied up with new molding. A Japanese maple is in the foreground on the right; on the left, an area for perennial flowers is packed with Russian sage, Shasta daisies, and other perennials.

The pergola is supported by iron posts, with a ceiling grid made cedar. The wooden grid mirrors precisely the pattern of the bluestone pieces below.

Other plants include lamb’s ear, hosta, liriope, and ilex glabra.

Furnishings were the clients’ own. Stephenson added low-voltage in-ground lighting to illumonate the columnar oaks and bamboo. There’s a hanging lamp off the ceiling of the pergola as well.


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31 Comment

  • I love everything about this. Modern, clean, simple, yet elegant. Perfection.

  • Quite impressive. But what happens when the mighty oaks grow up. I’d think their root structures will heave all those slabs of bluestone out of their tight-laced modern grid.

  • How much did this cost? It looks amazing but not cheap.

  • Did Manny LaSalle do the masonry? I think He showed us this when we got him to bid on a similar job.

  • Did Manny LaSalle do the masonry? I think He showed us this when we got him to bid on a similar job.

  • Adam/Dean: As the author of this column, I always inquire about the cost of a project. Nine times out of ten, the client/homeowner (or the design professional, but usually the client) does not want to divulge — not even a ballpark. If anyone is seriously interested in pursuing a similar job, they can always call the designer for an estimate.

  • great looking space. but how functional is this? where’s the BBQ and the other fun stuff?

  • if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.
    this looks like a very formal, straight-edged approach to garden design.
    most people are looking for a more relaxed, less geometric environment outside but if this sails your boat, it seems very well done.

  • To me this is cold and impersonal. like a public space in. A midtown building.

  • Do any of the landscapers or designers take into account mosquito control?

    Drainage, plantings, etc.?


    • Chuck, Is mosquito control a realistic goal? I mean besides having no green plants at all what would work? Usually the culprits are deadbeat neighbors who leave out trash/junk in which standing water can accunmulate. Conscientous gardeners aren’t solving the Brooklyn backyard problem but they’re not really contributing to it either.

    • Chuck, Is mosquito control a realistic goal? I mean besides having no green plants at all what would work? Usually the culprits are deadbeat neighbors who leave out trash/junk in which standing water can accunmulate. Conscientous gardeners aren’t solving the Brooklyn backyard problem but they’re not really contributing to it either.

    • We always take into account drainage, plantings etc when comes to mosquitos

  • Exactly!!!! This screams MIDTOWN OFFICE! Only missing the sad homeless and the Securiy guard. Such very sterile dead space…. And if those plants are only there 3 months, way overplanted.

  • another overpriced soulless garden without a bloom in sight…I personally can’t stand this trend toward shopping mall garden design under the aegis of being low maintenance…

  • Not to be a jerk – but why spend all this $$$ on a garden and then have your A/C compressors (two of them) blasting away within earshot of your pergola in the back yard?

    That would really annoy me … enjoying a beverage under the wisteria and then the A/C comes on and it’s compressor noise time!

    If they own the building, some simple i-beam dunnage is all it takes to put them on the roof.

    • they paid a fortune for a “garden” that looks like it came out of a suburban shopping mall, but cheaped out on putting their a/c compressors on their roof….talk about ass backwards prioities

      • plants vines cover the units, and a fence cover the units, and rather than tearing the old fence down, to save money we refurbished the existing fence, so the garden was not all about spending but saving and using many elements that existed. The clients wanted modern, everyone has different taste….And these particular AC units did not make any noise, thank you As for blooms, russian sage, shasta daises, thalicrum, various annuals, hostas, salvia, lavender, gardenia and more…..

  • Plants don’t cause mosquitos. Standing water does.

  • My policy is to respect my clients wishes…I don’t believe it’s over planted, and it is not 3 months but much longer…

  • Really? Why must we be subjected to soo many snarky comments on this section of the Brownstoner? This may not be to everyone’s specific liking but if you cannot appreciate the artistry, and craftsmanship (keeping in mind that any business should make the customer’s preference a priority) that went into turning this backyard into “someone’s” version of an oasis, then PLEASE show us what your version of better is.
    I understand that not every installment will wow every reader but there lacks an objectivity to the majority of these posts that is so predictable and tiring.
    THANK YOU to the homeowner willing to share what they have created with their garden designer.
    And we wonder why people are not more forthcoming about what these projects cost………

  • wow, pretty harsh reactions here. i really like this, but i guess i’m not as much of a blooms fetishist as other people are. this kind of garden strikes me as being really easy and inexpensive to maintain, and it seems likely to continue to be pleasant even when it’s not being maintained…can’t say the same for some of the flower-heavy landscaping I’ve seen. ultimately, it’s a matter of personal taste, but i love the idea of lots of different green shades, textures and heights. it is not as eye-catching as having lots of blooms, but perhaps not everyone is looking for that kind of experience in her backyard.

    i also like that, with this design, you can enjoy the garden in april and early may without feeling like half your garden is still in winter. i also like that they put the main seating area in the middle – it makes for a nice transition a little further away from the house/tenants, not only for noise but also to increase the sense of privacy and separation. when the oaks are taller, this will feel like a secret picnic in the woods – yes, different from tea in an english garden, but equally as nice (to some of us).

    other things i like about this design: re-using and refreshing the fence, rather than tearing it down; retaining and enhancing the original elevation difference, rather than digging out or leveling up (and wasting soil); and using the bluestone and concrete to act as borders for the planting areas, without placing additional materials there to distract or minimize the planted areas.