The Outsider: Private Woodland in Carroll Gardens

WELCOME TO The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the many different approaches Brooklynites take to their outdoor spaces. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit. Find The Outsider here Sundays at 8AM.

A FEW SHORT YEARS AGO, Robert Farrell’s backyard consisted mainly of multi-colored impatiens and a patch of grass. It was pretty, yes, but labor-intensive. Farrell couldn’t go away for more than a day or two in high summer without worrying about watering. Today, it’s a densely planted woodland, with a few small trees and a variety of shade-tolerant perennial plants, from hydrangeas and astilbes to ferns and foxgloves.

What brought about the shift? “Coming to terms with the fact that my north-facing garden was getting shadier,” says Farrell, an interior designer who’s been renting the garden floor of a row house since the 1990s, with exclusive use of the backyard. “The grass wasn’t doing well, and I was tired of mowing. I wanted a garden that would come back every year and that I wouldn’t have to put a lot of effort into, or spend hundreds of dollars each year re-installing.”

Farrell made no changes to the existing hardscaping. There’s a central rectangular bed with a path around it, and concrete patios at either end of the garden. Along the rear property line, he built a three-sided pavilion with a metal roof and white corrugated plastic walls. “The pavilion extends my living space throughout the year,” says Farrell, providing seating for outdoor entertaining and cover from the rain.

More about Farrell’s private woodland after the jump.

Photos: Robert Farrell

A slate dining patio close to the building is conveniently accessed through the kitchen of Farrell’s floor-through apartment. 

 

Farrell’s plantings include painted ferns, sensitive ferns, hydrangeas, astilbes, scented azalea, boxwood, an evergreen daphne, a pair of Stewartia trees (a deciduous tree that flowers abundantly in spring), and a Korean umbrella pine that requires occasional pruning. He chose Stewartia because they have a columnar shape and create “more of a screen than dense shade,” he says. He placed things not according to any geometric scheme, but “where I thought they’d do well.”

 

A diagonal path of bark chips cuts across the rectangular bed, allowing access for maintenance and a sense of being immersed in the garden. 

 

Inside the pavilion, on a floor of pea gravel, are a low-to-the-ground iron frame with a fabric-covered foam mattress and two butterfly chairs for seating. In fall and winter, Farrell likes to light a fire (“safely”) in a fire pit he made.

 

To catch up with previous installments of The Outsider, click right here.

 

 

19 Comment

  • It’s a surprise that the hydrangea and the ladies’ mantel are thriving in a north-facing garden. A great cottage-like feeling for a city backyard…

    • rfarch

      The surprising fact about urban gardens is that they often create micro climates that can sustain an unlikely variety of plants in close proximity. If you watch an urban garden closely you can notice hot and cool spots created as the shade of buildings and neighbors trees changes with the time of day. There is enough sun to support the ladies mantle in an area of a few square feet adjacent to a thriving hydrangea which blooms profusely without being burned by too much sun while they are only a few feet away.

  • Beautiful garden, great layout – I’m envious. Hope you are getting tons of butterflies!

  • snappyglitter

    What did you make your fire pit out of?

  • Congrats on a wonderful outdoor space, but how exactly is a fire pit “safe” or even legal in a city backyard?

  • How wonderful to have the country in NYC. So very inviting.

  • How do the mosquitos like it?

  • I notice that stores and catalogs advertise and sell for backyard use portable

    outdoor fire pits. These fire pits burn wood in a metal dish that looks like a big

    sometimes with screening. I am aware that the Fire Code regulates barbecues. Does it regulate fire pits as well?
    Yes. Portable outdoor fire pits that burn wood or other solid fuel (such as manufactured firelogs) are regulated by the Fire Code as an open fire. The Fire Code (FC307.1) prohibits open fires, with a few exceptions, because of the fire hazards they present. The main exception allows barbecues that burn charcoal, propane or piped natural gas to be used on residential property. The fuels used in a barbecue generate heat or a controlled flame, as opposed to the uncontrolled fire that is created by the open burning of wood in fire pits.

  • I notice that stores and catalogs advertise and sell for backyard use portable

    outdoor fire pits. These fire pits burn wood in a metal dish that looks like a big

    sometimes with screening. I am aware that the Fire Code regulates barbecues. Does it regulate fire pits as well?
    Yes. Portable outdoor fire pits that burn wood or other solid fuel (such as manufactured firelogs) are regulated by the Fire Code as an open fire. The Fire Code (FC307.1) prohibits open fires, with a few exceptions, because of the fire hazards they present. The main exception allows barbecues that burn charcoal, propane or piped natural gas to be used on residential property. The fuels used in a barbecue generate heat or a controlled flame, as opposed to the uncontrolled fire that is created by the open burning of wood in fire pits.

  • blowfish

    is the korean pine the same as a japanese umbrella pine? how much sun does it get? I need an evergreen that will do well by our front stoop, which gets a little direct morning sun, then shade (one one side) and indirect sun (on the other side) in the afternoon. its not enough for the blue spruce that there currently.

    • rfarch

      Yes it is a japanese umbrella pine…and it will grow too large for the spot you are talking about. Most evergreens require a lot of sun. Try
      a euonymus it is a evergreen shrub not a tree like the umbrella pine….there are many varieties see which you like best.

  • dash

    I love this one. It gives me hope for my own rental backyard. I find the DIY gardens featured so much more inspiring than the professional ones. By my own budget, it takes enough money just to buy plants and supplies. I like that Robert pulled out a conventional lawn to create this lovely space. Nice job.

  • dash

    I love this one. It gives me hope for my own rental backyard. I find the DIY gardens featured so much more inspiring than the professional ones. By my own budget, it takes enough money just to buy plants and supplies. I like that Robert pulled out a conventional lawn to create this lovely space. Nice job.