A Lush Garden Grows on Top of a Sidewalk Shed in Dumbo


If you walk down Plymouth Street in Dumbo, what you’ll see is one of the most common sights in the borough: construction scaffolding, specifically a sidewalk shed.

But when you reach the front of 168 Plymouth Street, two buildings brought together around a private courtyard by Alloy Development, you’ll notice something unusual about this particular sidewalk shed. A garden is growing on top, above the heads of passerby.

168 plymouth street

The greenery is from a group called Future Green. Based in Red Hook, the landscape design firm specializes in creating green spaces in urban environments. Their work is featured at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Empire Stores and the Castle Braid Factory in Bushwick.

168 plymouth street

The unusual siting of the garden up high and in the middle of a construction zone is supposed to evoke “surprise and wonder from all passersby,” said Future Green designer Max Cohen. “We situated the planters at the perimeter and used trees that would grow vertically. Together, this assortment of vines and perennials spills over the edge and can be seen from the street.”

The firm selected plants that “could thrive” in shallow conditions — only 12 inches of soil — to meet the weight requirements of the scaffolding, he added. Alloy installed an irrigation system to water the plants, they said in an email.

168 plymouth street

Many are native not only to New York but to Dumbo. They are “representative of local flora and fauna that grow in New York’s — and in particular, Dumbo’s — urban environment,” said Cohen. There is a wide variety, and each has different functions.

“Clusters of birch and sumac quickly grow vertically, while the euphorbia and Virginia creeper vines hang downward, scrambling for space and sunlight,” Cohen explained. “A mixture of meadow grasses and perennials sway in the breeze and express the season with colorful flowers and seed heads.”

168 plymouth street

But is all of this legal? “Within the Department of Buildings requirements, it states that all scaffolding must be hunter green to make for a better interim experience for the community,” Alloy CEO and Founder Jared Della Valle told Brownstoner.

Playing on the idea of a green sidewalk shed, they decided to transform it into a planter box. “We live and work in Dumbo, and our office is right next door to the construction site. Understanding the impact construction can have on a neighborhood, we feel responsible to improve the quality of street life in any way we can,” he said.

Unlike many of Future Green’s other projects, though, this one has a brief timeline. Because of the impermanence of building around construction, Future Green wanted a selection of plants that would grow quickly and exist for a single season. They designed planters that can be reused on the building’s roof terrace, Future Green’s Cohen said, when the project is finished and the scaffolding comes down.

[Photos by Susan De Vries]

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