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

Tip-Toeing (?) Through The Tulips
October 5, 2011, 09:58
Filed under: April Fool's, garden design, Matt James, Sanguinaria, Wild Turkey

Much of my childhood was spent in my parent’s gardens. On any given weekend,  I could be seen practicing the arts of digging holes, weeding, cutting grass and raking leaves – usually under some form of duress.

Learning about gardening, however, accounted for less than half of my garden time.

I lived in a neighborhood with dozens of kids, and like most boys and girls, we played outside constantly. Whatever the season, there were always ball games going on in the street and around the neighborhood. Errant throws and hits were indiscriminate in where they landed. Balls were lost to storm drains, overly enthusiastic dogs and into the ‘scary’ woods that surrounding our block. Occasionally a ball got trapped in the groundcover and shrubbery of ‘The Feldman Gardens’. Big mistake, especially on weekends when my dad was home. We all knew this was scarier than the woods could ever be.

Though my buddies Ricky, Danny and Jimmy were by no means immune, I took the brunt of the wrath for our wayward Wiffle balls and missed football touchdown passes.

My father’s booming voice, ”Jonathan!! – get out of the garden!” still rings in my ears, albeit now more fondly than in fear.

Finally, the Springtime weather has brought my son and I out of doors. He keeps busy with toys and games while I am puttering about. We throw a ball together and have fun chasing after them down the hill, under the deck, or…in the gardens!

The first time I watched him retrieve a tennis ball that lodged itself in the newly opened daffodils, I was immediately struck by a new, yet somehow eerily-familiar, sensation.

In our generation of father and son, my footsteps have been followed with his keen love of sport and a corresponding lack of accuracy. Though no windows have yet been broken, way too many airborne launches have found their resting places in my gardens. I’ve endured decapitation of cherished flowers, trampling of coddled perennials and an overall disregard for all of which I work so hard.

The echo of my father’s siren guides me to be more understanding with Richard, but I couldn’t hold back the time a football trashed a favorite Hydrangea.


Richard!! – …

May the circle be unbroken.


Here is another garden transformation we completed in Brooklyn, NY as part of the HGTV series, Urban Outsiders. G. biloba Gardens, my landscape Design/Build company, was hired as construction contractor for six episodes of the series.

Because of the production schedule, we had only 6 days to complete the entire renovation.

This space, about 8′ deep  x  25′ long, is in Brooklyn Heights, along the Promenade.

Bare concrete walls and a concrete slab floor was the view the new owners inherited.

A simple and cozy design, by show host Matt James, changed the mood from alley way to Mediterranean.

The view of the back of the space shows a sitting wall and built-in cedar storage.

Quick Change, Artist (ically)


A few years ago, I was hired as Construction Contractor for a British Production Company doing a gardening show for HGTV, called “Urban Outsiders”, in Brooklyn, New York. The show’s premise was that host Matt James, a well-respected gardening expert/columnist in Britain, would come to the States and transform horrendous-looking city backyards into places of beauty and calm for their distressed owners. We did 6 episodes, 4 in Brooklyn and 2 in Manhattan.

Urban Outsiders, Brooklyn New York – Jon with Crew (above)

Show host, Matt James, with Jon (below)

Before and After’ pictures are always fascinating, so here are some of the gardens we built for the show. More to follow.

(Before, above) A typical backyard chosen for the show

(After, below) Magical transformation of the space