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.



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