The Collector's Garden
Brooklyn, NY
This brownstone back garden space had been cultivated by the client for years without a master plan and included many heritage plants gifted from the client’s father which needed preserving and relocating. Existing masonry walls, a mature pear, and a collection of garden art lent character. The client pointed us in the direction of billowing English cottage gardens and did not require a “low-maintenance” garden. It was our job to integrate the existing plant collections with an exciting list of new plants. 

Four distinct garden areas: a (mostly) native shade garden called “The Grove,” a gravel garden, a cottage garden, and a rose garden are arranged around a central bluestone patio with a firepit, dining table, and custom cantilevered cedar pergola. A gravel path separates a small lawn from the Gravel garden, drawing you towards and across the central patio and onward on a circular path through the Grove.
Gravel and dry-laid bluestones offer varied walking experiences and stable, free-draining surfaces.
The Grove Garden is densely planted with shrubs which will grow to combine with a Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ and an existing Pear tree to create a strolling tunnel through dappled shade. Three vignettes of sedges and Spring-blooming groundcovers weave a matrix below the woody plants. Wildflowers grow amongst bulbs below the flowering shrubs, with a taller fern planting complementing a bonfire of red, orange, and maroon foliage in Autumn. Herbaceous species include many semi-evergreens, providing a green-mulch effect throughout the season, excluding weeds and providing a visual rest from the strong Summer florals of adjacent garden areas. The Grove is planted with seventy-three percent native plants by species. We transplanted a heritage Japanese maple and many of the client’s art-objects into this garden area. Metal lanterns and a stone Buddha provide structure in the soft “green mulch.” Maidenhair ferns recall curly hair planted in a terracotta wall planter the client refers to as “Mother Earth.” Steel-edged paths open to accommodate an existing bench. 
Cor-ten steel edging defines gravel path in the Grove Garden
The Gravel Garden dispenses with irrigation tubing and eliminates most of the need to weed. A deep, fast-drying gravel mulch reduces surface-level productivity below the tolerance of most seedling weeds, but doesn’t phase container-grown material planted down into the native soil below. Species were selected from Mediterranean environments across the world and feature evergreen pines, succulents, and the client’s existing herbs such as lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme. Existing stone troughs were combined with locally-sourced fieldstone to create tiers, visually deepening a narrow bed and offering a variety of growing niches. 

Spring brings the gravel garden blue cushions of creeping phlox and choice garden bulbs whose winter-dry requirements exclude use in traditional beds. By Summer, feathery Nassella grass joins with tumbling lavender to soften the hard edges of the trough planters and native thread-leaved yucca. It’s an ebullient effect for a garden hewn from stone. Autumn’s purple asters link the Gravel Garden to the purples of the Rose Garden across the patio. 
Autumn color embraces a wooden bench in the Grove Garden
The Cottage and Rose Gardens draw on historical precedents of Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden in the mid-20th Century. We used many of Sissinghurst’s original exotic plants for the sunset-themed Cottage Garden, but treated the pollinators too, and found locations for 56% native plants by species including fiery butterflyweed and orange coneflower. Existing pink roses, some transplanted to their new location, form the backbone of the Rose Garden. A bevy of Mint family plants and the roses themselves bloom in early summer. Nearby lowbush blueberries and sour cherry ripen soon after. Summer is colored by taller, swaying blooms of purple coneflower, soft grass plumes, and the decadent, scented trumpets of Lilium × ‘Casa Blanca’. Japanese anemones and aromatic aster finish the season. 

Existing stone troughs create planting niches in the Gravel Garden

Long-blooming native vines trade off bloom times for five months of bloom on the Arbor linking the Cottage and Rose Gardens.

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