Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The making of a garden

 October 2013

We moved from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, last October. We left behind a much loved terrace. All 66 Square Feet of it. Our life there was immortalized in my book. Many of our pots and plants from Brooklyn moved with us, some never made it

On the terrace attached to the bedroom of our new apartment in Harlem planter boxes built by our landlord some years before were already in place. In them irises, asters, Pachysandra, tomatoes, eggplants, tangles of morning glory and many weeds crowded together. The dusty soil was so dry it would not absorb water. 

Over the first weeks I removed most of the plants and added 10 bags of organic potting soil, and handfuls of Espoma granular fertilizer. I transplanted the irises and asters.

January 2014

I ordered a bird feeder online (there is gap in the design sector for attractive birdfeeders!) and soon flocks of juncos were hopping around in the snow.

January 2014

It was a bitterly cold and unusually snowy winter. 

January 2014

Many plants died. A leaking gutter made wall of ice that entombed old boxwoods, roses. The famous fig.

 February 2014

But I worked in good weather, and planned on new plants. 

And then the soil in the pots began to thaw. I planted pansies, and sowed catgrass for the feline. 


 March 2014

But whenever I was out on the terrace I felt as though the eyes behind every window facing us were on me. I doubt they were, but I felt vulnerable. I needed some kind of fence or screen, but did not want to build a stockade or feel like I was in a cage.

April 2014

Birch poles seemed a good idea - I love the natural colour and texture of white birch and they would also provide relief from the all-surrounding, slightly oppressive pale brown of the deck and planters. The poles came from Wilson Evergreens and arrived within days after ordering. 

I sank the the 6 foot uprights all the way down into the boxes, two feet deep, and watered them in well. The next day the Frenchman helped me tie the 4 foot crosspieces on with brown twine. The birds took to them immediately!

 April 2014

I thought about hanging filmy screens or curtains from the fence but decided that fast-growing climbers would be better looking. To save money I ordered annual seeds: scarlet and purple runner beans, and hyacinth beans (lablab) from Botanical Interests. Gloriosa lilies - which had worked so well as sprawling climbers in Brooklyn - arrived from Brent and Becky's. The Brooklyn clematis was in a corner pot near the fence, and I hoped it would flourish, here too.

April 2014

I waited for warmer weather to plant out the beans, knowing how much they hate cold nights.

May 2014

Roses came from David Austin - while happy in the spring, they have not flourished in the four hours of direct sun they receive. They need more. By far the most successful shrub has been the blueberry, so I bought two more at Union Square.

May 2014

At last the weather warmed enough to let us eat - and cook - outdoors. An elemental pleasure, for me. 

 June 2014

By June the gloriosas and the beans had begun to do what I had imagined they might.

June 2014

And the birds continued to enjoy the fence.

June 2014

Wonderful friends brought fat boxwoods and perennials all the way from Saunders Brothers in Virginia. And I added a small annual cardinal vine to the climbing mix. Roses, Thai basil, nasturtiums, Calamintha, Echinacea, Talinum, chives and the original asters share these front planting boxes.

June 2014

In the shadiest planters on the left I planted mint, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), bellwort (Uvullaria grandiflora) and native bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia). 

July 2014

And when I came home after a month away in late June and July, the beans were dripping with...beans. 

August 2014

This simple screen makes the world of difference when we sit outside.

August 2014

The Nicotiana sylvestris, grown from tiny seeds, have reached human heights, and are scented at night.

August 2014

The lablab beans (native to tropical Africa) are the last to bloom, and fruit.

August 2014

So there it is. A terrace after six months.

Its future is uncertain. Our landlord says he must lift the whole deck to repair leaks in his roof, below. The whole garden will be lifted down to his backyard.

But let's not think about that, now. 

Let's enjoy it while it lasts.

28 comments:

  1. Thank you for the progress report! It is gorgeous and inspirational! And, yes, let's not think about the landlord's roof project right now....

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  2. Egad! That's going to be a massive project!

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  3. I have enjoyed reading about the progress of your new terrace - it is quite amazing how lovely it looks in such a short time. I have a copy of your book, so any time I feel nostalgic for your old terrace I look through the pictures. I have to add that you have inspired me with a lot of your ideas for container planting so I thank you for that.The question is - where will the feline lounge about when the roof terrace disappears for repairs.

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  4. You've made remarkable progress in just a few short months, Marie - well done!

    Can I ask about your purple runner beans - could you let me know the variety? The only purple beans that I can think of are climbing french beans (e.g, Cosse Violette - brilliant, btw), not runners, and the photo shows something not dissimilar. I would be happy to be corrected - it may terminology lost in translation across the pond, of course.

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    1. You appear to be correct, Hazel. I have always called climbing beans runner beans. I had not realized it was a particular species of bean.

      Apparently there are other cultivars of the species (Phaseolus coccineus - scarlet runner bean), too.

      These are the purple climbing/pole beans I planted

      https://botanicalinterests.com/products/view/0214/Bean-Pole-Trionfo-Violetto-HEIRLOOM-Seeds

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  5. Beautiful....romantic, colorful, private.....amazing what you've accomplished in such a short time. Are you sure you can't come to Seattle and design my garden?

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  6. Oh, I'd encourage thinking about having the deck replaced. Perhaps while the construction is going on, you could casually suggest bigger and better planting situations, not just for your new deck, but for the courtyard. Are you able to go in it? It's hard to tell from the photos.

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    1. ...not sure what 'planting situations' are? There is no courtyard, though our landlord has the garden below us.

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    2. I meant making more areas for your garden. A stronger, bigger deck perhaps? A fixed gutter to prevent ice walls this winter. Heck, a roof top garden! Dream big!

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    3. Ah, OK. The deck is very strong - but it can't be made bigger as there would be nowhere for ti to go. Roof garden not feasible - top floor walk up, no water, roof membrane only, not my roof, and so on :-) I do look forward to the repair of leaking gutter! It's only been 8 months...

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  7. Bravo, Marie, for psychologically moving past The Past. . . and creating a nurturing new home for you and assorted men. It's stunning, and thank you for sharing the big picture of what you've created! You must miss the veggie garden which seemed to have adequately supplemented your pantry. Your openness to uncertainly is inspiring as we all need to remain open and sure-footed in this rapidly changing world. Susan.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. We do miss the horizons that roof farm gave us, and yes -some really good vegetables! New York Harbor, and an endless series of rooftops to the east. But now is now.

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  8. Hey, Kath-we'll have to start a fund to get Marie to Seattle! My garden would certainly benefit from her advice.
    Marie-the new place looks magnificent! All of those trips up the stairs with big bags of soil, plants etc. were definitely worth it. Love the photos of Estorbo amongst the plants.

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  9. OH wow!! thank you for doing that for us!!! The pics make such lovely wallpaper on a laptop. What you have done is really amazing and beautiful. I see you are willing to go to Seattle. What about Tucson Arizona?

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    1. I will go anywhere for garden design :-)

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  10. Wow, you've done a lot of work, but it is providing rewards! Nice when your vision is realized. Well done, a real retreat. Super impressed by the Nicotiana sylvestris, the season is way too short here, but I admire their stature and scent whenever I am in Vancouver.

    If it's not dealing with rentals, landlords and privacy, it's something else. Here I have lots of hungry, urban deer who eat everything in sight. Only small portions that are fenced or out of reach are safe. You've inspired me to grow more in pots on my deck - really the only place I can grow decorative plants without them being browsed to nothing.

    Have you tried many peppers? I'm growing Shishitos (I had a really tasty dish at Red Farm in the West Village last time I was in NYC) and Padrons on my deck this year - the Padrons are clearly in the lead. Very vigorous. I'm so happy, they are delicious. I have a first batch of homemade bitters on my fun project to do list - inspired by you. Just waiting for the chokecherries to ripen.

    Greeting from Calgary,
    Jake

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    1. Darn deer.

      When do you cold nights start?

      I have not tried peppers here, but did in Brooklyn - lots and lots of sun. They did well. Happy your Padrons are doing so well.

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  11. I am at work, just enthralled with your urban gardens... We have a small inner-city yard, which is our oasis, but grow our vegetables in a nearby community garden. The squirrels in our home-garden steal all our tomatoes. So happy to have found your blog! Lois from Hamilton Ontario

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  12. So glad to see it in context and over time.. I see another book, or perhaps at least a calendar. But, what is the big square 'hole' with the railing. Looks like a skylight for the lower apartment...

    But it looks wonderful. Such an urban oasis!

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    1. Thanks, Win :-) Yes - skylight to our landlord's apartment, down below...

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  13. Unlike many other blogs these are real pictures from real people living. Love them, and the roof garden too!

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  14. Marie. So beautiful. The birch poles are perfect. Thank you for sharing everything you've been up to with us. You have been a very busy person!

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  15. Wow! Scrolling down your post makes it look like I'm seeing a beautiful time lapse. Your terrace garden is just spectacularly beautiful. The plants look so vivid and verdant and the arrangements are lovely, which is a testament to your skill as a gardener. It's kinda sad that the plants are to be taken down, though. I hope they return it after the repairs. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing post. Wishing you all the best!

    Gwendolyn Reyes @ Tapestry

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