The Outsider: Country Feel in Greenpoint

This is The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly garden series by Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Sunday at 8AM.

“A WILD, LEAFY LOOK” was the starting point for this 21′x48′ row-house garden belonging to a single man. “He wanted a country-type feel,” says garden designer Alexandra Abuza, who was hired to help achieve the goal. It was one of Abuza’s first projects in New York City after arriving from Maine four years ago, where she had worked on perennial flower gardens for summer estates. (Her portfolio now includes terraces, roofs, and brownstone gardens “with a slight Japanese influence.” She also does floral design.)

This backyard, with no tall buildings around, is blessed with an unusual amount of sunlight for a city garden. The client “had just put up a wood fence and hated it,” Abuza recalls. “He wanted to cover it with vines, but I told him it can’t happen immediately.” They did plant thickly, though, after digging down to remove old construction debris, broken glass, and wires, and bringing in new soil, compost, and other amendments.

“The soil was junk,” Abuza says. Getting fresh soil in was one of the most difficult aspects of the job. “We had a delivery of five yards of soil, plus bag after bag of amendment, and two pallets of fieldstone. All this had to be moved from the street, quickly, then up a ramp we built for the wheelbarrows, and down a very long, very narrow hallway.”

Abuza, who apprenticed to a stonemason, laid out stone paths and a patio, then chose plant material in a blue/purple palette. Shrubs and small trees include buddleia (butterfly bush), a crabapple, a Japanese stewartia, and a climbing hydrangea intended to eventually obscure the fence. Hosta, heuchera, and Russian sage are among the perennials, and there are planter boxes for annuals on the small patio near the house.

With soaker hoses laid out to aid in the watering, the job was complete in a few weeks. “It looked pretty good the second year, one year after planting,” Abuza says, “and even better the third.”

More photos and info after the jump.

Photos: Alexandra Abuza

 

Abuza began with fieldstone for paths and patios and a wood arbor which she designed and had built. “Hardscaping is the skeleton of the garden,” she says. “You install that first, and then flesh it out with plants.”

 

There was “a romantic instinct” at work in the concept of this garden, Abuza says — “a feeling of  ‘let’s create something that looks like it has always been here, something a little wild and old.’” She enhanced that feeling by choosing fieldstones with lichen and moss on them, and planting Irish moss and creeping thyme between the stepping stones.

 

Climbing hydrangea in the right foreground will eventually cover large portions of the fence. The roundish purple leaves belong to a cotinus, or smoke bush. Catmint, Russian sage, lady’s mantle, and cranesbill geranium are among the perennials chosen to help give the garden an untamed effect.


“I opted to stick with blues, violets, yellows, and silvery greens. A mostly monochromatic scheme of cooler colors allows for a serene, spacious, and expansive space,” Abuza says.

 

The homeowner was “anxious to be rid of the concrete-jungle feeling,” says Abuza. “The plan was to plant thickly to get something lush faster, and then thin later.” Some things  have since been moved out of the garden to planters at the front of the house.

Missed any installments of The Outsider? Go here to see them all.

 

 

26 Comment

  • wasder

    that is really gorgeous and peaceful looking. I love it.

  • I like this one too. Looks like a gardener has been living there for twenty years–I think that’s what the owner was after.

  • Beautiful, but two things come to mind1. Fence is illegal(over 6ft including concrete lip) 2. Mosquitoes!

    • pig three

      Not sure if it is legal height, but only has to be 6ft from the high point on the other side of the fence. Could be legally 10ft from inside the yard if the grade were below that of the neighbors.

      1. there are ways to deal with mosquitos

      2. i’m sure someone hates that you’re their neighbor

      • Ugh, can we get thru an installment of the Outsider minus the snarkiness?
        The original poster (nightmaremoon) began their post with a compliment, was it really necessary to be so mean?
        And btw – my poor neighbor in Greenpoint was ticketed last month for an illegal fence by a Building dept inspector that actually came to inspect an adjacent construction site. Fence warnings should not go unheeded, if you can get away with it, awesome; but beware.

  • Lovely! Are the planters new (they don’t have an weathered aged look) or treated in some way? Were they built for this project or sourced somewhere. I would love some in my yard!

  • One more question…did they remove cement/concrete in the back half of the garden and then leave the concrete near the house? Is that decking near the house?

    • I believe the concrete existed when the owner bought the building. It took up over half the garden so we decided to cut it back a little. We left a portion of it so he could have a dining/barbecue area, as well as a composter. I think he was considering building decking over it at some point – but as he hadn’t made up his mind yet he decided to keep the existing concrete so he would have a place for furniture, etc

  • really nice…like the layering of the plantings, and the statement by the gardener that it is a work in progress, rather than “maintenance free”

  • I LOVE this. It seems like it could have mostly been done DIY aside from the soil. Wow, what a bear that must have been.

  • You people are too thin-skinned. I don’t see snarkiness, I see 2 comments, which have valid points. The mosquitos in Brooklyn are notoriously wicked, and NO ONE has come up with a sensible plan to keep them at bay yet. So, not true on the “there are ways to deal with mosquitos.” Even if you’re doing your best to kill them off or keep them from multiplying, you have no say in what your neighbors do or don’t do in their yards.

    I like the choice of colors and textures in this yard and am jealous of the ample sunlight.

    • “2. i’m sure someone hates that you’re their neighbor”

      In what world do you exist in that this statement is NOT unnecessarily snarky on a board that discusses “outside home decor and renovations”?
      Seriously, this is not abut hurting any ones feelings (as if!), its about the immature one-upmanship in the comments that detracts from the positive experience on this site.
      My lack of tolerance for that type negativity on a blog about “home decor and renovations” doesn’t make me thin skinned.

  • You people are too thin-skinned. I don’t see snarkiness, I see 2 comments, which have valid points. The mosquitos in Brooklyn are notoriously wicked, and NO ONE has come up with a sensible plan to keep them at bay yet. So, not true on the “there are ways to deal with mosquitos.” Even if you’re doing your best to kill them off or keep them from multiplying, you have no say in what your neighbors do or don’t do in their yards.

    I like the choice of colors and textures in this yard and am jealous of the ample sunlight.

  • pig-three, can you source your info on the fence height being 6ft from height of other side?

    And I agree — a beautiful job.

  • I love this garden. Luckily, the soil in my back yard is decent and I have slowly adding amendments as I expand the perennial beds. I am going for a similar look as this garden but I am mostly shade and partial shade so I am using ferns, hostas, astilbes, other shade lovers.

  • The photos don’t do this one justice. Wild and crazy is a great antidote to the over-designed looks Brooklyn homeowners too often choose. All that’s missing here are the deer.

    • Thanks, Astorc and everyone else for your kind and constructive comments!

      The fence was built before I was brought on, and as I don’t do garden carpentry, I wasn’t aware of height restrictions but it’s certainly useful to know.

      Originally, the fence was a little higher, but it was shortened before I began my part.

  • who did the fence? I would love a fence like that? And am having a hard time finding one that I do not have to build myself

    • The owner’s carpenter built the fence – I think they might have bought it at home depot? I know you can buy fencing kits online – so I would try a few basic searches. Some of those outfits might be a little on the pricey side, but with a little research you might find something reasonable.

    • The owner’s carpenter built the fence – I think they might have bought it at home depot? I know you can buy fencing kits online – so I would try a few basic searches. Some of those outfits might be a little on the pricey side, but with a little research you might find something reasonable.

  • NeoGrec

    As someone with a “wild and hairy” backyard (over-grown and under-prunned!), I really love this design. Great color palette too. Anyone have suggestions of what to grow between bluestone in DEEP shade?