THIS EDITION of The Outsider, Brownstoner’s Sunday garden column, is the last to be written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. It’s been fun… now get growing!

Sponsored By James Stephenson's Artist Garden.

James Stephenson brings 20 years of experience in high level hardscape design and all aspects of garden installation from planting to irrigation and lighting.

THERE’S REALLY NOTHING you can’t grow in containers, provided the container is big enough — trees, shrubs, grasses, bulbs, perennials, annuals. On a 4,000-square-foot bi-level roof terrace atop a converted factory building in Williamsburg, garden designer Rebecca Cole has done just that, creating an urban woodland for her client, with elements of prairie meadow, too.

The view is a triple whammy, with the East River, Manhattan skyline, and monumental latticework of the Manhattan Bridge all seen in close-up. It cried out for equally dramatic landscaping. The client, who is in real estate, hired Cole to turn the vast 11th floor terrace into something a couple could enjoy without feeling lost in space.

Cole, a well-known TV personality and author, created the look of natural landscaping, with metal cubes containing birch trees and grasses, ‘carpets’ of sedum, and lots of annual color. She carefully planned the placement of containers to break up the space into functional areas. “You can literally wander as you would through the woods,” she says, “taking different paths around birches and evergreens, coming upon places to sit, noticing pretty little ground covers.”

More after the jump.

Photos: Courtesy Rebecca Cole



WELCOME TO The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly series exploring the various creative ways Brooklyn residents deal with their outdoor spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here Sundays at 8AM.



Sponsored By James Stephenson's Artist Garden.

James Stephenson brings 20 years of experience in high level hardscape design and all aspects of garden installation from planting to irrigation and lighting.


A TRUE GARDENER like Elke Kuhn, whose outdoor space is a 15′x25′ terrace behind her second-floor apartment on Atlantic Avenue, doesn’t let a few obstacles get in the way. Hardly any direct sun? So be it. Kuhn makes the most of every ray that manages to penetrate the ailanthus canopy around her north-facing terrace: a single hour in the morning and a couple more at midday. By choosing the right plants and coddling them — even shifting them around from time to time to give each its place in the limited sun — she has wrought a lush miracle.

No car? No worries. She does her plant-shopping on foot at the Borough Hall Greenmarket and local stores like GRDN on Hoyt Street, takes the bus to Gowanus Nursery in Red Hook, and relies on Bruno’s Housewares  on Court Street to deliver pots, soil, and other heavy supplies. (The cast iron urns are from Restoration Hardware.)

Among Kuhn’s shade-lovers: vines and climbers like moonflower and morning glory, hibiscus, ferns, caladiums, coleus, hostas, spotted begonias, passionflower.  No ordinary impatiens here. Kuhn, an artist, goes in for exotic foliage and unusual color combinations. Her favorite combo: gray/silver (dusty miller, for example) with chartreuse and/or burgundy (sweet potato vine) —plus splashes of color from “as many flowers as I can get.”

As important as the plants are the pots. Her collection started in the 1970s with handmade English pots from Smith & Hawken. Others range from expensive pots by Campo di Fiori to a few picked up on the street. About half of Kuhn’s plant material comes indoors for the winter. Hardier perennials stay outside, moved close to the wall of the house. “I put them into cardboard boxes, and I may throw a blanket or sheet of plastic over them,” she says.

More, including Kuhn’s tips for container gardening, after the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg


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


WELCOME TO THE OUTSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly look at the ways Brooklynites design and utilize their outdoor living spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here Sundays at 8AM.


FOR A CLIENT who wanted a Mediterranean feel on her apartment building’s rooftop, Glenn Smith of Glenn Smith Design, Inc., built a deck and shade structure reached by an elevated ‘bridge’ over an 8-foot-wide pond. Then he surrounded them with an eclectic assortment of grasses, succulents, and conifers.

The building is new construction, so weight bearing was not a significant issue, says Smith, who works mainly in Brooklyn and on the east end of Long Island. The surface of the 400-square-foot garden is covered with pea gravel, and there’s a walk made of round red concrete paving stones 12″ in diameter — the kind “you would find in a suburban backyard,” Smith says. “It’s supposed to be fun, casual, and comfortable.”

The budget? Approximately $25,000, including construction, plants, and Smith’s design fee.

Details and photos of the roof’s 2-year transformation after the jump.

Photos: Glenn Smith


WELCOME TO THE OUTSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly column about the ways Brooklynites use their outdoor spaces, from backyard to roof and in between. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Sunday at 8AM. 


‘LANDSCAPE URBANISM’ is the specialty of Future Green Studio, according to the Gowanus-based firm’s website. Meaning what, exactly? Principal David Seiter explains: “Typically, landscape architecture looked at parks and gardens, but as we’ve moved into denser urban environments, we’ve started to consider under-utilized spaces as landscape — streets, roofs, spaces between buildings, vacant lots, waterfronts, all sorts of post-industrial areas.” Landscape urbanism deals with “emerging landscape typologies,” like rainwater catchment systems and the overlooked potential of wild urban plants (otherwise known as weeds), “looking not just through an aesthetic but a productive or performative lens.”

That doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty. This 25’x50′ townhouse rooftop was conceived, says Seiter, as a “desert meadowscape of grays, pinks, and purples” — grown in 6-8″ of soil to limit weight load. The primary plants are grasses, flowering sedum, and groundcovers, planted in a random mix. Because the client had a strong interest in botanical diversity, “We packed in a lot of different plants,” Seiter says. As opposed to a monoculture, or using four or five plants repeated in various places, “Everything is a specimen.” And extremely drought-tolerant; there’s an irrigation system, but it’s used only two or three times a season.

The roof’s architecture was designed by N Architects in DUMBO. Future Green designed the plantings around areas carved out for decking, a shower, stepping stones, and an HVAC system. The green roof section, Seiter says, cost approximately $25/square foot, including drainage materials, substrate materials, soil, and plants.

More photos and a plant list after the jump.

Photos: Future Green Studio


WELCOME to The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly garden column, written and produced by Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Sunday at 8AM.


ATOP a block-through garage, next to a one-family townhouse, 1,500 square feet of horticultural wonders lurk. Once a barren rooftop, the space now provides its owners with areas to rest, sunbathe, dine, and entertain — as well as grow both edible and ornamental plants, including many which are both.

Brooklyn-based garden designer Cynthia Gillis conceived a ‘zig-zag’ plan based primarily on triangular shapes. “It makes the spaces more interesting than having a rectangle, and gave us a way to have a longer path, rather than a straight line,” she says. Raised beds with retaining walls of stacked bluestone are connected by paths made of leftover scraps of ipe wood. Underneath the growing areas are three layers: ordinary roofing material, a root barrier layer, and a water-retention layer (a plastic grid that holds water and allows it to be slowly absorbed into the soil).

The separate triangles have different kinds of soil for different types of plant material: acid soil for blueberries, lingonberries, heathers, and pines; rich, deep compost in a sunny area outside the kitchen for perennial herbs like rosemary and sage, fragrant lavender, and a Concord grape on an arbor. There are creeping raspberries trailing over stone walls, mint and strawberries used as groundcover, and other edibles mixing freely with flowers, ornamental grasses, and evergreen shrubs.

Find out more after the jump.


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


WELCOME to The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the many and varied ways Brooklynites approach their green spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Sunday at 8AM.


A 2,000-SQUARE-FOOT BACKYARD, shared by three buildings, was overgrown and mostly neglected space until Andrea Solk, a LEED-certified architect and recent West Coast transplant, spent the better part of this spring working to reclaim it. Solk, a renter in one of the buildings, is trying, with the owners’ permission, to “transform it without any intention beyond growing vegetables and making a nice space for everyone to hang out in.”

She’s had the help of assorted folks who’ve pitched in at weekend work parties, and the benefit of advice from Andrea Parker, Julia Price, and Maggie Hansen, all practicing Brooklyn-based landscape architects who consulted on such matters as how to deal with existing contaminated soil.

One of the initial tasks was removing dirt from buried pieces of slate and flagstone to uncover a patio area. In order to grow edible food, they built raised beds out of wood and salvaged brick, filling them with fresh soil and compost. Two cubic yards of imported topsoil at $35/yard has been the main expense to date, along with some Greenmarket veggie starters and a few bags of compost. “It’s incredibly low-budget,” Solk says.

Clusters of clay pots, plastic buckets, and “anything we could find” are filled with broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplants, and herbs. At the rear of the lot, where there’s daylong sun, Solk plans to put more wooden beds with tomatoes, cukes, squash, melons, and other summer veggies that need a lot of sunlight. There are flowers as well, including bachelors buttons and foxgloves, along with rose bushes that have been there all along. Right now, watering is done by hose and watering can, but Solk hopes to put in a drip irrigation system.

The photos in this post were taken in late April. “It was very undefined space,” says Solk. “Now it’s starting to look like a cared-for garden.”

Photos: Andrea Solk


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


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