The Outsider: Outdoor Living Room in Fort Greene


    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

    Overscaled 2’x4′ pieces of thermal bluestone (the norm is 2’x3′) form a landing at the bottom of the deck stairs and two patios with straight walkways between, as seen in this preliminary sketch laid over a photo of the demolished garden.

    The space was envisioned as two outdoor rooms, with a seating area as the central core of the garden and a dining table at the rear. A beautiful old magnolia (seen bare at the back) was the only existing plant retained.

    There’s a six-foot-wide landing at the foot of the stairs for access to the tenants’ downstairs apartment and air conditioning units on the right. Black bamboo on two sides of the middle patio were intended to create a sense of enclosure there. It’s planted in an area dug out three feet and lined with a bamboo barrier. The ‘after’ photos were taken just a few months after sizable plants went in.

    An existing step made of an old 4″x4″ was retained and capped with bluestone. An old cedar fence was painted Essex green with a little extra black in it, and gussied up with new molding. A Japanese maple is in the foreground on the right; on the left, an area for perennial flowers is packed with Russian sage, Shasta daisies, and other perennials.

    The pergola is supported by iron posts, with a ceiling grid made cedar. The wooden grid mirrors precisely the pattern of the bluestone pieces below.

    Other plants include lamb’s ear, hosta, liriope, and ilex glabra.


    Furnishings were the clients’ own. Stephenson added low-voltage in-ground lighting to illumonate the columnar oaks and bamboo. There’s a hanging lamp off the ceiling of the pergola as well.


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