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.
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