|Gledistia triacanthos 'Sunburst'|
I think it's important to keep the physical constraints of a 19th century Brooklyn house and lot in mind because the spatial layout affects the emotional "feel" of the garden space, and will influence the character and form the garden takes. Think linear. You enter the house at the front, walk down a hallway, and enter the small apartment entrance chamber at midpoint, with the bedroom to the left (at the front of the house) and a dining room then living room (the new room under construction) at the back, looking out onto what will be the garden. The open plan of the dining and living area (the existing back wall of the house will be removed) will eliminate any obstruction of the view. A 12-foot wide opening with sliding glass doors to the garden will be almost like a beacon, immediately pulling the eyes to the back and into the garden. The walls will probably be in dark colors, further focusing attention on the garden.
First a dose of reality. Here is the garden as it presently exists--a construction site. I have to try to imagine the space wiped clean, new fencing all around, delivery of tons of gravel, stone and wood, which must be brought through the house during construction (too destructive after it's complete).
The remaining space will become the garden. This plan below is conceptual, but there are some absolutes. Privacy requires a complete fence layered with vines, a relatively high spreading tree canopy of fine foliage to allow light through, thus the Sunburst Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos 'Sunburst'), and perhaps some strategically placed bamboo. I want water to catch the sunlight and sky, and at grade level to allow a good view from inside the house. A very low deck, really just wooden paving, not so much for actually sitting in the garden, though I will do that if I find enough solitude and quite, but more for the conceptual possibility of sitting in the garden, that is, to see a sitting area and be able to imagine sitting there looking back from the garden and to create a sense of "felt" space. I'm also wedded to the idea of using blue stone paving in certain areas; it's the traditional Brooklyn brownstone paving material. And plenty of gravel through which I may plant some strategically placed specimens, perhaps Bergenia, a small grass or carex, equisetum ...
I'm pretty sure I must have a wavy box hedge in the shade of the south wall. As Peter Holt, a garden designer cyber friend has pointed out, its dark green will contrast nicely with the golden foliage of the Gleditsia. I also want fall color, so I'm considering a small, heavily fruiting crab apple tree, even though I'd prefer to have an uninterrupted Gleditsia canopy of delicate, light, airy foliage. If I could fit in a Magnolia delavayi, I would. Time will tell.
While I have a clear idea of what I want, I think I should also consider one or more options far outside my immediate preferences, so I'm thinking about a pared down, simpler, and more formal garden of regularly spaced Gleditsias, a simple rectangular pool, and an at-grade paved area, probably of concrete or blue stone squares. At back a major feature, perhaps a red masonry wall hiding a utility space. This would be more of a strolling garden, a place for a quick breath of fresh air.
This concept doesn't work well in plan view, so here is its inspiration as elevation--Paley Park in Manhattan--but without the multimillion dollar waterfall wall at the back! I'm intrigued by the linear patterns of the tree trunks against a contrasting background.
So what is my garden brief? I don't particularly care for cooking out or eating in the garden. I want it to be a visual ornament, a space for recreational aesthetics and contemplation. I want privacy from the many surrounding neighbors, at all levels. And I want a place for experiencing the life of plants throughout all four seasons.
And somewhere lurking in the background of these thoughts is Dan Pearson's Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City, not as a model to imitate, but as a way of being I'd like to find in this process of making a garden in Brooklyn.
Is that a lot to ask? Comments, new ideas, critiques welcome ...