Garden Consultation

Harlem (450 square feet)

COVID-Update: During lockdown, I am consulting and designing remotely, for gardeners near and far. For details please email me at myviljoen(at)gmail (dot) com.

The Backstory:

I love plants and I love gardens. My own New York City gardens have been created from (very) bare bones in four very different space in Brooklyn and Manhattan: three terraces, and one big backyard. I work on a tight budget, haul the soil, plant the plants, and tend them.

My professional garden design background is very different: Big budgets, work crews, and custom-everything.

Both kinds of gardens have been exacting and inspiring teachers. I understand first hand what challenges city gardeners face, from microclimate to weight restrictions and dollar-constraints. And squirrels. Always squirrels.

But I grew up far away, in South Africa, where my love of plants was nurtured in my mother's two gardens. There is a good chance I gardened before I spoke. In my childhood garden in Bloemfontein (cold winters, hot, rainy summers) I learned to grow plants from seeds and bulbs, and later, as a teenager in a new Cape Town garden (dry summers, wet winters), I created and planted my first design - a herb garden for my mom. Herbs and culinary plants were - and remain - a passion of mine.

Cobble Hill (66 square feet)

Fast forward to living in New York, where I worked at a garden center for two years while recovering from whooping cough; I was an opera singer then, and coughing and singing were a terrible combination. I learned a new plant language and fell in love with North American flora. And I learned to design rooftop gardens. I never went back to opera. Instead, I moved to the Cobble Hill terrace apartment (above) and also on to a small high-end garden design firm (Holly, Wood and Vine) where I first worked as a gardener before graduating to head of design, designing dozens of gardens ranging from aloof penthouse rooftops to intimate and shade-shrouded courtyards. Budgets were big and I had the opportunity to oversee major projects from creation to installation. I was laid off in 2009, after the previous recession, but was fortunate suddenly to have the time I needed to write my first book, and then to transition to food writing and edible plant research.

But the garden designing never stopped - it is far too much fun. I now prefer to work with people who want to create their own gardens, and interact with them rather than view them as a backdrop. Gardens are to be lived in.

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (1,000 square feet)

My own gardens have ranged from the first, tiny 66 square feet to a roomy 1,000 square feet. They have seen morning sun, all-day blazing rooftop sun, wind, deep shade, building shade, and lead in the soil. They have thrived, and I survived. Gardening is exhilarating, never dull, and always therapeutic.

                                         Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

When designing gardens for others, my personal and professional experience give me the insight and perspective to ask the right questions and to give informed answers. I know what plants work where. I don't know everything. That's not possible. Every garden situation is truly unique and the garden itself is usually the best teacher. There will be failures, and they will be instructive!

Windsor Terrace (98 square feet)

I believe gardens are to be lived in. I can help show you how.

Client garden, Flatiron District

Cosmopolitan flower gardens, native woodland courtyards, and pollinator-friendly plantings are all city possibilities.

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Would you like to grow your own salads? Or unusual indigenous edibles? Perhaps you'd like a truly American kitchen garden (and what does that mean?). How about a serviceberry orchard on the 17th floor (and what is a serviceberry? Or do you prefer blueberries?

Client garden, SoHo

Maybe you just like lilies. Or have always wanted your own city forest.


You may have full shade or full sun, or bits of both. High shade or deep shade.  Dappled shade. It all makes a very big difference to what and how you can plant.

Cobble Hill

What I Do:

Ideally I'd visit your space in person. Remotely, in COVID-times - or if you live beyond New York City - I do that with your help: You send me pictures or video, and also answer some basic but important questions that I send about aspect and microclimate: sun, shade, challenges specific to your site (such as deep shade pockets, orientation with regards to winter winds). I can then advise on which plants might do well, and answer your questions about plants you love or want. Some of this is about managing expectations - but there is always a wonderful collection of plants that will work in your space. Consults last between 30 minutes and an hour-and-half, typically.

If you need a design, I then follow up with a schematic watercolor design (under remote circumstances based on a very rough sketch from you (you will need a tape measure or laser measurer), accompanied by detailed plant lists or planter sizes. Good gardens require good planning.

If necessary I also offer seasonal care outlines.

Finally, I offer practical coaching: how to plant, how to water. It seems simplistic, but the number one cause of plant death is user error. And it's usually about water. Too much (mostly), or too little. Understand the plant and its needs, and the gardening battle is won.

Rates upon inquiry.

Please get in touch via at myviljoen (at) gmail (dot) com