The Lucky Gardener

Urban Outsiders, #4

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the HGTV show, Urban Outsiders, in which I acted as design consultant and for which my company did the installations. Four gardens in Brooklyn, NY and two in Manhattan.

The upper East Side of Manhattan was the scene for this episode. We were to build paths, patio, beds and a pergola.

The new owner of this studio apartment inherited a true mess of a garden space, which is actually larger than the apartment and presented many challenges logistically. Getting materials in and out the tiny entrance, working around camera crew and sound guys was challenging. The project had to be completed in 5 days, and with rain 4 of thosecdays, we scrambled, got soaked and brought untold yards of mud through the tiny apartmen

Fortunately for all, the owner’s mom cooked up a storm every day, feeding at least 10 hungry and wet crew members.

The backyard as we found it

The backyard as we left  it

April 27, 2012, 15:15
Filed under: garden design, inspiration, sprig flowers, Uncategorized

Trillium – a sure sign of Spring

What marks the arrival of Spring for you?

Is it one thing in particular? Perhaps the classic sighting of the first robin, spotting the first snowdrops or crocuses, or seeing bags of grass seed stacked outside the hardware store? Maybe, like me, it is simply something in the air – the moist, rich smell of soil readying to nurture its emerging plant life for another season.

Gardening has become a national pastime of huge proportions – there is even a National Dandelion Day. (Incidentally, World Naked Gardening Day is May 5th). We have become a nation of gardeners for whom Spring is perhaps the most anticipated time of the year.

Of course, plants aren’t the only life form that points the way to Spring’s arrival. Starting in early March, young turkeys descend on our lawn, the goldfinches flying around our birdfeeders regain their yellow plumage and swarms of tiny insects appear out of nowhere, buzz about for brief moments, then vanish with the wind.

Another indicator is the beginning of the greatest national pastime…Baseball. That sport’s Opening Day celebration is possibly the most-anticipated event in our country. For weeks before, we follow the players through their pre-season warm-ups, watching them stretch, run and throw while working out the kinks in their bodies and long-dormant skills. These weeks of practice remind their muscles how to prepare for the grind of the long campaign ahead.

Gardeners don’t get a Spring Training, nothing to ease them into the season. Our first days count, and are typically followed by calluses, sore muscles and stints on our own Disabled List. And unfortunately, we don’t have a 0 or extra players on a bench to replace us.

Like baseball players, gardeners get to work outside and roll around on the grass, and we don’t work in the rain. Our seasons last only during warm weather, and, as baseball teams go from city to city, gardeners will travel during the season to other gardens near and far. And, as with the occasional mid-season trading of players, gardeners have been known to trade plants, even in the intense heat of summer, when an opening develops or something we already have just isn’t working out.

I love visiting other gardener’s gardens, always learning by listening to someone else’s ideas and walking through their inspired creations.

But, as much as I appreciate the novelty in visiting new gardens, I feel no greater comfort than while surrounded by the familiar, deep-rooted affection I have for my own.

A clear home-field advantage.

Dear Village of Nyack,

Dear Village of Nyack…

Good-bye. It was fun while it lasted.

I just won’t be able to see you anymore.

I will certainly miss watching you move through each day, from the early morning light reflecting off Hook Mountain, to the last bits of sunset creeping over your tallest buildings.

No longer will seeing your traffic lights, eerily glowing on foggy nights, make me feel part of a suspense thriller or Sherlock Holmes novel.

Your firework displays were always a special treat.

No. We’re not moving away.

It’s just that the long-vacant lot adjacent to our property has been sold and the house to be built on it will block our views of the entire town.

Worse yet, the occupants will be close enough to borrow a cup of sugar, or share a bottle of Grey Poupon mustard without much of a stretch.

We always knew this day would come. We’d taken advantage of these views for years, through the property developer’s misfortune. As long as lots remained available, we had our private perch above town.

According to the floor plan, the master bedroom is on the side of the house facing us. Its bathroom window directly across from ours.

This new homestead will put a cramp on our lifestyle, forcing changes in some long-standing rituals. And, we must surrender the land we’ve cultivated and stewarded – well, invaded really – for years.

This means moving the trampoline fifteen feet closer to our house, transplanting trees and shrubs back to our side of the property line and no more ‘composting’ our leaves and grass clippings into their deep woods. A few chomps of a backhoe bucket will obliterate the stone patio that represents our most egregious trespass.

Of all the adjustments, however, the most disconcerting will be the end of a favorite morning ritual – frenetic chases through the house, usually ‘in-the-buff’, brought about by the reticence of our child, who shall remain nameless, to brush teeth or use the bathroom or to simply get dressed.

Our floor-to-ceiling windows will provide the new neighbors front row seats for these romps. No longer shared solely by the local fauna, I fear the incidences will be misconstrued, perhaps as lewd, at the very least crude.

But who knows, perhaps they will be similarly inclined toward ‘au naturale’ living. Then, though I’ll lose some views of the Nyack’s land and nighttime sky, I might get to see a different type of moon!

Winter Sights
November 21, 2011, 20:42
Filed under: Uncategorized

It took a few decades of designing gardens for me to appreciate how sculptures and garden art can add another level of interest to the plants and hard-scape structures I’ve always included. Having seen gardens with way too many examples of ‘art’ littered around the property, I proceeded cautiously incorporating pieces into my designs and my own gardens. I have a few pieces I am fond of, two of which were made by a friend, Gil Hawkins, a New Jersey-based sculptor. On loan (perhaps permanent at this point, eh Gil?) is a brushed aluminum piece entitled, “Hudson Highlands”. It has been installed in my gardens with the Hudson River as backdrop. and a detail…   In celebration of my son’s Blessing Day, Gil presented us with a mobile. The two piece construction featured a ginkgo leaf and ginkgo nut suspended in a vertical plane. I have known Gil since 1980 and he in my life at the genesis of my garden design company, G. biloba Gardens. The Ginkgo has always been my favorite tree and Gil captured my object of my affection with the simple  and touching gift. I move it around the gardens occasionally, to see how its movements change with different exposures.     Another piece is special to me as well. It is an early 20th century stone pedestal carved from red sandstone. It reminds me of the building fragments scattered about the grounds of the Roman Forum…yet even better that is it hand-carved from slabs of my favorite local stone. The final garden art in my gardens is a creation from a collection of weather vanes known as ” Wind Leaves”. I purchased this in the early 1980s, from its creator, Bart Kister. This one, a dogwood leaf, is solid copper and has turned effortlessly in the gardens of every house I’ve ever owned. I also bought a Ginkgo leaf ‘vane, but time claimed it a while ago.   Of course, I have to admit, there’s something about a giant frog greeting you at the end of a day…

Seasons Changin’…
November 18, 2011, 12:48
Filed under: garden design, House Plants, Indoor plants

…just like that. It’s colder outside and darker earlier. House heat comes on – drying out the air. No more hosing down the plants to water them. Delicate pouring is the only way to keep the plants alive and not ruin the floor.

I hope these make it through to Spring.

Transplanting A Giant
November 9, 2011, 12:12
Filed under: fallen trees, inspiration, storm damage

In my landscape design/build firm, refurbishing a client’s landscape occasionally involves removing well-established specimen trees. Frequently, the client will offer us the tree in exchange for what they imagine will be a huge discount off of the job price. Invariably, they’d heard wildly exaggerated stories of the value of the tree and images of 4-figure savings dance around their heads. Ninety-nine and seven-eighths percent of the time, we can’t move, or aren’t interested in, the tree. When we were offered the Japanese Split-leaf Maple pictured below, however, it was too good to pass up – especially when we knew exactly where to put it… OUR garden!

Always a risky venture, the decision was made to commit the time and resources required to move the mature specimen.

Early one morning, four men set out to begin the transplanting process – equipped with truck, excavator  machine, trailer, shovels, burlap, baling string, hoisting straps, peat moss and fertilizer.

Extracting the fifteen-foot wide tree from the ground required every tool they brought to the site, including the horticultural knowledge and delicate maneuvering skills each man had acquired through years of experience.

Once successfully separated from its native soil and loaded on the trailer, the operation shifted to prepare the spot where the tree would spend the rest of its (hopefully) long life. The following slideshow and video chronicle the final phase of the project.

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Día de los muertos…de las plantas: A Pre-Halloween Trick

In most parts of the United States, our days leading up to Halloween can be busy hanging ghoulish decorations, carving pumpkins and perfecting costumes. This year, though, if you live anywhere in the Northeastern US, such plans were set askew by a freakish snowstorm that blasted its way up the Atlantic Coast just two days before ‘tricksters’ were to swindle ‘treaters’ out of their candy.

Nearly one foot of snow fell here in Nyack. The weather event came so early in the autumn season that most trees had yet to complete their end of year leaf-drop. As a result, gravity’s pressure on increasingly snow-laden leaves began to quickly and violently detach limbs from trees and trees from soil.

Looking out at the tops of trees swaying in the strong winds, I heard dozens of loud cracks, followed by ‘smoke-like’ puffs of snow, then finally definitive crashes of wood hitting the ground.

Magnolia, Bradford Pear, Purple Plum and Tulip trees seemed to be the most affected, though no species was uniformly spared.

Many old-growth trees and established landscapes were destroyed – a loss of plant life much worse than had resulted from any hurricane or ice storm I can remember.

The aftermath looked like a tornado. A Bradford Pear, about thirty feet tall, was felled in perfect symmetry, as the following pictures show.

In many countries, Halloween is not so much about candy, but rather for remembering family and friends that have died. Certainly, the massive loss of trees caused by this storm qualifies a new type of celebration for El Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.