Thursday, June 07, 2012

Brooklyn Garden Timeline

Busily moving forward with planting the Brooklyn garden, and preparing for a local garden group to visit next Wednesday, I put together a photo timeline to show the path from the destruction last August, when Hurricane Irene blew over an 80-foot mulberry, thus changing my future garden from shade to sun, to the present.

August 28 - Mobile phone photo sent to us in Boston (we thought we were on vacation) to show the fallen tree

December 21- the future garden, now a construction staging area for the house extension

January 15 - extension structure nearing completion

January 28 - new fence installed and some cleanup begun

February 3 - pool complete, terracing being installed

March 26 -  fence stained, terracing complete

March 26 - view from above (photo courtesy of Michael of Bramble & Bean) - it looks clean, yet many onerous bricks, stones, and large tree roots lurk beneath the surface

April 11 - Gledistia triacanthos 'Sunburst' planted as tall whips, box woods being positioned

May 3 - gathering clutter as I put too much "stuff" in the gravel area (bad idea), Japanese maple (an impulse buy) planted at back

June 1 - clutter removed, yews planted across back to make a continuous hedge (as soon as they grow together), Gleditsia well leafed out

June 1 - bed on "shade" side being planted (all remains experimental) - I secretly want to remove all perennials and have only ground cover and box, perhaps something as simple as ivy and box, but don't yet have the courage or self-control to try that. First I overplant!

June 1 - Smilacina racemosa, Astilboides tabularis, Ajuga, Darmera peltata (dug up at Federal Twist garden), Galium odoratum (also from Federal Twist), Cornus canadensis, further back Ligularia japonica, Disporum cantoniensis 'Night Heron' (from Federal Twist), other shade plants - all intended to evoke a look of tapestry - a suggestion of the Medieval hortus conclusus 

The "sunny" side will be grasses, sedums, Pycnantheum muticum (a favorite for its late summer silvery foliage), bronze fennel, Tetrapanax japonicus, a Cotinus, and some other plants such as a black ajuga ground cover. It will echo the shady side, though with different, and I hope complementary, plants. Think of music; a theme is "spoken" then is "answered." Planting to start this weekend, I hope.

I want to keep the back very simple and am trying to root plain green Euonymous (nurseries don't sell plain green Euonymous anymore, only variegated forms).

All is tentative. But that's life. Isn't it?


  1. Love the palette of plants! It's definitely a lot, but you've restrained the colors, heights, and textures so I think it will read as a cohesive piece.

    I'm glad you didn't do the Ivy and box. It's not that I mind the minimalism of that concept, it's just that I find ivy to be boring. It barely changes seasonally. If you ever did the super-minimal version, perhaps something like box and Hakonechloa--the straight species. Tom Stuart Smith has used that combination to great sculptural effect. I love the Hakonechloa in the winter. Much better than the variegated cultivars.

    Anyways, I think the tapestry you've chosen is better anyways. Sure, you'll do some editing over time as those plants battle it out. But leave super-minimalism to the landscape architects who do it partly because they don't understand how to use a complex palette in a calm way. You are one of the few people I know(on this side of the pond, at least) who can use a maximalist plant palette in a refined, spiritually calming way.

    I'm personally glad I don't have to wait through your minimalist phase ;) More is more!

    Well done, friend!

    1. Thomas,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I did go round with the planting several times before I realized I was most comfortable working with plants I know and had worked with at Federal Twist, things like the Darmera peltata, Ligularia, Astilboides tabularis, False solomon's seal, ajuga, sweet woodruff. I decided to play with a music I was familiar with. I do think as the plants grow together and I edit as they change, the planting may work. I like that you wrote I can "use a maximalist plant palette in a refined, spiritually calming way" because you seemed to put your finger on something I felt, but hadn't consciously articulated to myself. The photos in the post were taken in harsh mid-day light. In the evening, the foliage of the Darmera and some of the other plants catches the backlighting of the sun. That really brings it all together, unifies the planting in a way you can't see mid-day.

      I'm unusual, I suppose, in my liking for ivy, boring though it may be to most. But I really like your suggestion of using the plain green Hakonechloa and may decide to use it in the more minimal back planting (rather than green euonymous), depending on what's available.

      I planted most of the sunny border today. Now I wonder if that one will pass muster.

  2. Your plant palette looks great, James. Things are coming along nicely. Can't wait to see after the planting. I like the spoken/answered idea. I might use it myself.

    1. Thank you, Michael. I've always thought of myself as a "new perennials" (though that moniker is decades old, I realize) disciple of Piet Oudolf, but this garden reminds me much more of Tom Stuart-Smith (whose name Thomas Rainer mentioned above). Interesting how these visual impressions take effect without conscious thought. You mention the spoken/answered musical analogy. It's an interesting idea I hadn't thought of before, at least not in the context of gardening. I'm of an age that I can remember Leonard Bernstein using the New York Philharmonic to give music lessons to America in the 1950s. I do remember the lesson about sounding a theme then answering it, almost as if I had watched it on TV yesterday ... oh, the blessings of memory. Life is grand.

  3. It looks beautiful. I am envious of the visiting garden group. Can we have a bigger version of the first June 1 photo soon? I've been wondering about how the trees are developing.

    1. I plan to work on planting the rest of the "sunny" side on Sunday. It takes hours because of the large stones and roots in the soil. Hope it's a cool day.

      I'll take new photos of both sides as soon as I can get them in better light. I forgot to mention that I used some of the new (to me) miniature hostas. I had thought they would be far too "cutsey" because they're promoted in that way. When I first saw them in photographs, I felt something like revulsion. But they are actually very appealing plants, different from the large hostas entirely. They're more like ornate ground covers. The trees have developed small limbs about a foot long, so they actually look like trees, though with very small crowns.

    2. Are they nice stones at least? Nothing is better than a good pile of rocks. I found some miniature hostas in my mother's back garden last year. They are great, but she had too few for me to make off with any yet.

      It looks to me like your back neighbors have planted some trees on their side of the fence. If so, that should give you a nice green backdrop.

    3. Cindy,

      No, they're not nice stones. So I'm learning to deal with another problem of the urban gardener with limited space. I'm putting them, a few at a time, into garbage bags and hoping for the best.

      Although we're on a hill (enough of a hill that it was a fort in both the Revolutionary War--Fort Putnam--and War of 1812--Fort Greene, named for Nathanial Greene), I think the 19th century developers brought in a lot of fill, so the rocks are mostly detritus. The rocks I am using, very sparingly, in the Brooklyn garden are Argillite, the native stone at the Federal Twist garden. It has a "Japanese" look. Yes, the back neighbors had a garden installed, with planters all around three sides of the garden, planted with black bamboo, backed by a garden fence. I'm hoping the planters will contain it, prevent it's spread, though for now it does add a bit of privacy, which I'm grateful for.

  4. Spoken and answered? Federal Twist speaks, and this is the essence, the familiar (to you certainly) theme, the answer in Brooklynese. Another way of bringing home the seashell, the pine cone, for me a rock, as a tactile and visual memory of beach, mountain or landscape.

    1. Diana,

      Thanks for extending that metaphor to apply to both gardens. Though this one is highly geometric and controlled, in contrast to Federal Twist, which is loose and naturalistic, they do share some qualities in common. Now what are those qualities? An interesting question. They're both contemplative, tranquil, a place for meditation perhaps. I think this is an important question, one I'll need to give thought to.

  5. James, your Brooklyn garden is coming along splendidly, and you're doing it so meticulously. It would be hard not to overplant, coming from your Federal Twist-scape, but I'm sure you'll do the new garden justice.

  6. Yes, Faisal. Once the planting is done, I begin the "shakedown" cruise, waiting and watching, deciding what to move, what to remove, what to replace. Yesterday, I made another round of nurseries, but I wan very disciplined, collecting ideas for things I might want to use, but mostly only looking, not buying.

  7. Very cool to see the transformation, awesome job for showing it all bit by bit, it made me feel as if I were outside my house watching it turn into a garden. Happy Gardening!

    -Tony Salmeron



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