The Outsider: Reader’s Garden in Clinton Hill

WELCOME to The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekend column exploring how Brooklynites design and use their outdoor spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here every Sunday at 8AM.

 

A BRAVE BROWNSTONER READER has come forth with inspiring photos of his own backyard, a swath of greenery wrested from the overgrown weed patch he and his wife found when they bought their townhouse in 2008. Thank you, Sam Erickson (you know him as ‘wasder’) and Rachel Smith!

With two young kids, they wanted romping room — “a biggish expanse of grass, possible because we get a lot of light in our south-facing garden,” Erickson says. They spent $2,000 (of a total outlay of about $5,000) for the delivery and installation of sod, including grading and proper drainage, by Dragonetti Bros. They salvaged pieces of bluestone “from all over the neighborhood” to make a patio at the rear.

With the help of some day labor and friends, they built long raised planting boxes along either side of the garden out of 4″x4″ railroad ties. In the beds on the shadier side of the yard, they planted azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas; on the sunny side, lilies, roses, and herbs. Toward the rear of the garden, they put in a single weeping cherry.

“You don’t have to hire a high-end designer,” Erickson says. “We don’t have gardening backgrounds, but we are enthusiasts. We’ve learned as we’ve gone along. My wife decides what to plant, and I enjoy watering, mowing, and pruning. It’s a nice stress release.”

More after the jump.

Photos: Sam Erickson

 

Mowing the lawn takes 10 minutes with an electric or push mower. Roses are in bloom on the right and hydrangeas on the left in this recent photo.

 

Hydrangeas thrive at the rear of the property, where there’s a bluestone patio and seating area. Fences along the sides were existing; the lattice fence along the back wall is new. Furniture from the Viva Terra catalogue.


An old Empress tree [pawlounia tomentosa] blooms in April in a rear corner of the lot. The homeowners used salvaged bluestone to build a stacked platform around the tree.

 

The backyard is shared with tenants on the ground floor.

 

Pots and window boxes of annuals and herbs do well on the sunny deck off the parlor floor.


The ‘before’ shot, above, gives little indication of the junk, including piles of brick, that had to be hauled out before they could even contemplate landscaping.”It was virtually impassable,” Erickson says.


Planting boxes under construction along either side of the garden.

 

Sod going in.

 

Hydrangeas and roses, both Brooklyn stalwarts in June.


 

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49 Comment

  • Love the expanse of grass. This is my kinda yard.

  • Sam, it looks wonderful. It’s the perfect brownstone garden; a patch of grass, a tree, and lots of flowers and shrubs. Love it.

  • Beautiful! Love the railroad ties used for planting boxes. This is one of the best presented of these posts. Photos really give a good idea of the whole space and how it fits together, and the “process” photos were interesting as well.

  • Hey thanks guys! It has definitely been a labor of love and one of my favorite things about owning my house. Since I work from home I use the garden for mental health breaks every day. Feel free to ask whatever questions you might have.

    • Very nice.. Great job.. What are the dimensions?

      • The dimensions of the garden are approximately 50×20. Its 20 feet wide and we have a 100 foot lot. House is 40 feet deep, front yard is maybe 10 feet deep so that leaves about 50 feet in the back, though some of that is taken up by space under the deck. So…all that being said, the planted area is probably about 45×20.

  • Perfect. Love it. Green space, sitting area, plenty of flowers. I liked the process photos too, and the “before” shots make the “after” all the more amazing. No landscape architect, not a ton of money invested, minimal help, and it’s just right.

    • Thanks Dylanfan! That was part of my inspiration for volunteering to have my garden here. While I have very much enjoyed seeing a lot of the designed gardens, I thought it would be inspirational to show what could be accomplished with some energy and creative use of reclaimed materials.

      • I dare say your garden looks much more manicured and at the same time inviting than many of those created by “design professionals.”

        And the adorable kids seem to be having a ball in it. Country in the city.

  • Thanks to Cara for a lovely write up!

  • wasder! Magnificent garden! And beautiful wasderettes!

  • Congratulations Wasder! And, to both you and Cara, you should know: this is probably my fave of the Outsider gardens featured to date. Which is not to say that I haven’t sighed and drooled over some of the professional submissions. Heck yeah. I’ve enjoyed them all. But a well-done DIY that shows some homeowner creativity, muscle and love? That will always be a winner in my book!

  • Very nice! Looks like a very pleasant spot to spend time.

  • Thanks again everyone. Only some of those kiddos are wasderettes. The two whose faces are visible in the sprinkler shot are my girls Sadie and Anna. Then its a combination of friends’ kids.

    Brooklynista-nice words. A overly designed garden would be a bit lost on us as we need to be able to muck about. But we also want some things that are aesthetically pleasing. Glad that you liked it. was a lot of work but a great kind of work.

    • How are you fertilizing the grass? We have grass in our backyard too, but after the thick dark green of May, it gets thin and pale for the rest of the summer. Suggestions welcomed!

    • How are you fertilizing the grass? We have grass in our backyard too, but after the thick dark green of May, it gets thin and pale for the rest of the summer. Suggestions welcomed!

  • The best.
    It is easier to work with southern exposure but anyhow this is the most perfect real life brownstone garden. I like it tons better then previous very expensive designer projects. Again, this is an absolute perfection for real life.
    Wasder, if you ever have space for good gourmet strawberries, I am going to have a lot of exras ( good variety, musk type) this fall when they are done producing. I see a good spot for them in your garden on the sunny side near small cherry tree. If you keep them contained in a raised bed controlling runners should not be a problem ( and you will supply the whole neighbourhood with your extras :) ).
    And this gang of tiny will enjoy checking on them and picking berries.

  • Just to make it clear about strawberries: I am not offering anything for sale, just sharing for free.

  • Just to make it clear about strawberries: I am not offering anything for sale, just sharing for free.

  • Mosksow–that is awesome. If you want to give me some strawberry plants–I’m in. We have some blueberries that just started producing.

  • Mosksow–that is awesome. If you want to give me some strawberry plants–I’m in. We have some blueberries that just started producing.

  • Done.
    I will contact you when I start to thin them.

  • Beautiful. Wasder, how did you salvage pieces of bluestone from all over the neighborhood to build the rear patio?

  • Sauerkraut–we would troll construction sites looking to see if they were discarding any. We also got some from a Brownstoner forum listing where somebody said they were giving some Bluestone away.

  • dt–we haven’t actually done anything to the grass. It has somewhat miraculously kept its thick green. I am going to look into fertilizing but thus far we haven’t done anything. we get a lot of sun and that helps. Growing grass in Brooklyn back yards is a crap shoot at best. Most gardener types I know try to dissuade people from planting grass as most yards don’t enough sun to sustain grass. But our yard seems to get enough.

  • Wonderful, Sam! Love it. Looks great — great for the kids to run barefoot and have the feeling of lawn under their feet. We went a similar route — beds around the perimeter, lawn in the middle. Having a terrible time with lawn weeds, though. I hope all is well with you and the wasder family.

  • By the way, garden lovers, I am in Paris at the moment, and yesterday I went to Giverny, Monet’s house and garden. Mad inspiring. Everything he grew, we can grow in Bklyn. http://casacara.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/paris-day-5-giverny/

  • By the way, garden lovers, I am in Paris at the moment, and yesterday I went to Giverny, Monet’s house and garden. Mad inspiring. Everything he grew, we can grow in Bklyn. http://casacara.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/paris-day-5-giverny/

  • Its great to see a proper garden, and getting proper use too!. When I came to NYC from London in ’95 I found myself nonplussed at the awful and ignored “yards” people had. I assumed it was some odd cultural thing, like the middle-american fixation on guns and putting lettuce in Greek salad. Anyways, great to see it being put to use – kids and sprinklers!

    As someone who inherited a weeping cherry in the suburbs last year, when the tree matures make sure your prune any branches shooting up or off course instead of weeping. I spent two weekends last year getting my tree in shape. Which also made me realize I’d be much happier as a tree surgeon than an attorney.

    re. the grass question – high nitrogen fertilizer will help darken the grass. Make sure you don’t spread by throwing it about by hand or you’ll likely end up with lawn burn (too high a salt concentration).

    I like a little clover in my lawn, keeps the nitrogen in the soil up and the honeybees love it. However, in the burbs clover in the lawn is an indication of amorality.

  • “Which also made me realize I’d be much happier as a tree surgeon than an attorney.”

    LOL, yes, me too!!

  • “Which also made me realize I’d be much happier as a tree surgeon than an attorney.”

    LOL, yes, me too!!

  • Thanks Slope! And thanks Ditto. Yeah, I have been similarly mystified by some folks not utilizing their back yards but in my little quadrangle there is a bit of a friendly garden one-upsmanship. We seem to be inspiring each other to greater things. Agreed that a little bit of clover is nice in a yard. I don’t mind weeds as long as they are green and soft. Will check out your fertilizer suggestion.

  • Love it, wasder! I like the buddha, too! : ) (My ex and I used to have one in our garden.)

  • Love it, wasder! I like the buddha, too! : ) (My ex and I used to have one in our garden.)

  • Slopefarm, we had a terrible time with weeds in our lawn too. The lawn grew great, but the weeds grew even more. They weren’t typical lawn weeds such as dandelion but rather wild plants that had been growing here in a huge overgrown tangled mess before we moved in. I couldn’t remove them, since they were embedded in the lawn. So after the weeds took over, I dug up everything and let the dirt sit for a year while I constantly sprayed the whole thing with Round-Up and weeded over and over and over until finally we just had dirt. In the spring I planted grass seed. We still have a few of those same weeds coming up, but so far I have been able to pull them out or cut their tops and they haven’t spread too badly yet. Fingers crossed. Cara, very exciting you are in France! Maybe Brooklynites need a post on Giverny :)

  • this is my idea of a garden. i find many of the ones previously featured over-designed and not very welcoming.

  • balanchine–roses are tricky as I have learned. Yes they need lots of sun, which we get but there are also fungal problems that they can have (black spot etc) that can kill them. I got black spot one time and had to spray them a bunch.

  • Very nice. A piece of paradise in Brooklyn.

  • Love this! Great to see the kids enjoying the space so much and the patio around the old tree is lovely.

    Wasder: I struggle mightily with our grass. We don’t enjoy as much sun as you, which is no doubt part of the problem. Cara mentions that Dragonetti installed a drainage system? Can you provide any details?

  • GrandArmy–yes copious amounts of sun is key to raising healthy grass but drainage is also a big deal. I had originally had the sod laid by somebody who was cheaper than Dragonetti but didn’t properly grade the yard. As a result the water would constantly pool in unfortunate places and the grass didn’t thrive. So this year I had Dragonetti come in and they did a much more professional job (and more costly–was about 2G). They graded the yard down to the bottom right corner if you are looking at one of the wide shots of the yard. Then in that corner they dug what they called a French Drain, which was a three foot by three foot pit which they filled with gravel and covered with top soil. Then the sod was laid on that. Despite all of the rain we have had this spring I have had no pooling and the grass has thrived. So I would say they did a pretty good job.

  • Wasder: I think you picked up some bluestone from us. Thrilled to see it put to good use.