The Outsider: Midwood Garden Charms With Subtle Plantings and Plenty of Open Space

Photo by Anna Shive


Low-maintenance and user-friendly, this 20-foot-wide backyard garden, built and planted by Crown Heights-based Brook Landscape, proves that garden design needn’t be complex to be successful. “You don’t need a ton of ingredients to make a good meal,” points out Brook Klausing, who founded the design/build company in 2007 with Brian Green, an architect and fellow Kentuckian.

There wasn’t much to work with when they arrived on the scene — just “weeds and dirt,” Klausing said. An existing plate-glass picture window and minimal steel stair by Brooklyn-based architects vonDALWIG, who oversaw earlier interior renovations, suggested the garden’s modernist style.

The Brook Landscape team began by pruning back some of the neighbors’ overhanging trees and excavating soil near the house for a below-grade patio. They built a raised deck made of ipé, a Brazilian hardwood highly rated for weather resistance, and surrounded the yard with horizontally slatted cedar fencing.

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The plant palette is limited for simplicity of design and ease of care. There are classic rows of hornbeams on three sides of the yard; topiary boxwood balls in front and back; shade-loving, early-blooming hellebores around the garden’s perimeter; and a pink-blooming kousa dogwood, under-planted with rosemary, in a raised central bed.

A hidden soaker system takes care of irrigation.

Klausing sees a lot of urban gardens so heavily planted that there’s “just one pathway and a little seating area,” with hardly any space left over for family use or entertaining. “We’re always striving for the right balance between usable space and horticulture,” he said. “I love this garden because it’s open and spacious, with nicely partitioned rooms for different functions. But we still allowed for diverse, layered plantings and let the garden be a garden.”

Garden Design Ideas Brooklyn Brook Landscape Midwood

Boxwood balls soften the rear foundation and underline the wide picture window that overlooks the garden.

Garden Design Ideas Brooklyn Brook Landscape Midwood

Mondo grass in front of the boxwood requires no mowing. A fig tree in a pot has its own illumination.

The richly veined marble pavers, set in gravel for easy drainage, were imported from Turkey  “We thought it would be fun to do something textured,” Klausing said. “It’s really vibrant when it rains.”

Garden Design Ideas Brooklyn Brook Landscape Midwood

Garden Design Ideas Brooklyn Brook Landscape Midwood

As evening falls, uplights around the garden’s perimeter impart a glow to the limbed-up trunks of the hornbeams.

The curvy Loop chairs, made of lightweight cement, are a 1954 design by Willy Guhl, still in production.

The dining table and benches are a vintage find, with classic French bistro chairs from Fermob for extra seating.

[Photos by Anna Shive]

Check out the new ‘The Insider’ mini-site:

The Insider is Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, and The Outsider is an occasional series on garden design, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. Find The Insider here every Thursday morning. Got a project to propose for The Insider? Contact Cara at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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