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.

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…

Rocks In My Head?
October 26, 2011, 10:00
Filed under: bluestone, garden design, inspiration, masonry, patios, Uncategorized

I find comfort in the company of rocks. Boulders, field stone, quarried stone or sandy pebbles – they all make me grin. The feelings run deep, relating mostly to my preference for using natural materials in my garden designs.

As with enduring lifelong friendships, certain rocks have accompanied me through more than one house move, becoming part of gardens in different locations. A good rock is hard to find and not lightly left behind.

One day last Spring, I wanted to rearrange a few plants and rocks in the garden. For some reason, I encountered exceptional resistance while attempting to move one of my larger ‘friends’ just a few inches from where it was. The wrestling match that ensued left me breathless, yet exhilarated.

At that moment, with a twinge in my back and twinkle in my eye, I realized that even though I design and build gardens every day, it had been quite a while since I was in the trenches, interacting with rocks at that more personal level. I missed the action, bloody fingers, blisters and all.

That brief encounter was an eye-opener. And, whether it was a personal challenge to summon long-dormant abilities, or a direct, some said foolhardy, attack on the aging process, I gave myself a summer project of building a bluestone patio on our property.

I set out each day full-tilt, buoyed by youthful enthusiasm and, no doubt, glorified memories of my own past conquests. With focus firmly fixed to the tough work of hauling, lifting and sorting slabs of stone, the patio quickly began to take shape.

However, as August gave way to September, fatigue and apathy had me in their grips and slowed progress considerably.

Heart and soul lost ground to creaking bones and aching joints that led to nightly bouts of live rigor mortis.

I’m convinced that had it not been for a hurricane, flattened wheelbarrow tire and my Chiropractor’s summer vacation, I surely would have finished in time for our Labor Day party.

When did rocks get so heavy, anyway?

April 7, 2011, 08:15
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few posts ago, I shared a sunrise in Los Cabos, Mexico. Realizing how spectacular my home town of Nyack, NY can be, I took these sunrise photos last week.

Though it continues to pour nearly every day, the following treat greeted my family during a morning break from the gloom.

HGTV Series, ‘Urban Outsiders’, pt. 3
April 6, 2011, 09:59
Filed under: Uncategorized

This, the third of the six gardens we installed for the HGTV series, Urban Outsiders, was the smallest space we’d encountered.  A mere 8′ x 20′ , surrounded by brick walls and solidly covered in soot and detritus, it was more alleyway than backyard.

We had six days to build the garden as designed. How we found room for 4 workers, 3 film crew members and a director, plus piles of demo’d concrete, new tile, mortar, bricks, and top soil is still a mystery. Three days of soaking rain added to an already tense atmosphere for claiming rights to the limited indoor staging areas located amidst the laundry room/storage space used by the building’s tenants.

Typical of NYC backyards, access from the street to site meant negotiating a series of up and down stairs, back-twisting turns, head-whacking steel I-beams, skin-tight hallways and the occasional head-scratching of how to maneuver materials spec’d by the designer which didn’t fit through door jambs.

We were all new to our forced relationship of builders and chroniclers sharing intimate spaces to create incredible gardens and TV shows. This project tested the resolve of us all. My crews worked on auto-pilot, doing great construction as they always did. I was in charge of continuity, keeping everyone on the set happy and productive.

The new design fit the site perfectly and maximized the owner’s living space. In addition to the new construction, power-washing the brick, re-pointing masonry and changing the deck railing brought the new and old elements into modern harmony. These changes are evident in the photos below.

And This Just In…
April 1, 2011, 13:16
Filed under: April Fool's, Uncategorized

Baseball Practice Canceled…Bicycles Back In The Garage…Firewood Returned to Porch.

On this foolish first day of April,  it is absolutely no joke that snow is falling once again outside my window.

My early Spring plans have been put on hold – for a second consecutive week.

I’m not sure if it makes me feel better or worse, but these luscious pictures I took just weeks ago at sunrise in Los Cabos, Mexico – are just a happy memory. They do remind me that I am, indeed, The Lucky Gardener for having been able to witness such a stirring sight.