We moved from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, last October. We left behind a much loved terrace. All 66 Square Feet of it. Our life there inspired my book. Many of our pots and plants from Brooklyn moved with us, some never made it.
On the terrace off the bedroom of our new apartment in Harlem, pressure-treated 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.
I ordered a bird feeder online (there is a vacuum in the design world for attractive as well as practical birdfeeders!) and soon flocks of juncos were hopping around in the snow.
It was a bitterly cold and unusually snowy winter.
Many plants died. A leaking gutter made a wall of ice that entombed old boxwoods, roses, the fig.
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.
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 self conscious. I needed some kind of fence or screen, but did not want to build a stockade or feel like I was in a cage.
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 of 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!
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. Sothern African 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.
I waited for warmer weather to plant out the beans, remembering how much they hate cold nights.
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.
At last the weather warmed enough to let us eat - and cook - outdoors.
By June the gloriosas and the beans had begun to do what I had imagined they might.
And the birds continued to enjoy the fence.
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.
In the shadiest planters on the left I planted mint, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), bellwort (Uvullaria grandiflora) and native bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia).
And when I came home after a month away in late June and July, the beans were dripping with...beans.
This simple screen makes the world of difference when we sit outside.
The Nicotiana sylvestris, grown from tiny seeds, have reached human heights, and are scented at night.
The lablab beans (native to tropical Africa) are the last to bloom, and fruit.
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.
[Fast forward: we survived!]