Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

Garden Diary: Brooklyn Grows

May 30, 2013

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Overflowing, abundant, voluptuous–the garden grows. My neighbor’s rose made me add voluptuous. I have no roses in my garden, but in such close quarters, it appears I’ve borrowed one. Yes, voluptuously it droops, limply, wet with rain.

The rest of the garden is full to bursting and we’re not even to June.


I’ve done some paring back–cut back the overly tall Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) filling the bed on the right, exposing the monstrous Tetrapanax ‘Steroidal Giant’ and the emerging Panicum ‘Cloud Nine’, pruned the lower limbs of the Sunburst Honeylocust, forcing them to grow higher as quickly as possible. Next the box, badly in need of a vigorous pruning.


I still need to put a coat of dark stain on the landscape timbers, the same slate color as the walls.

The size of the photo distorts the relative proportions of the plants and the garden enclosure, making the scene appear more crowded than it actually is. You’ll have to take my word for that.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Weber May 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I think it looks wonderful so far…it really is filling in fast! I really love the reflecting pool…such a great focal point, if I ever have the opportunity to put one in (in my next, bigger, garden, obviously), I definitely will!


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 7:50 am

Thanks, Scott. Filling in too rambunctiously actually. But the editing will start, probably next year. My advice if you do a pool is put in the open, not under a tree to reduce debris falling in, and keep a net handy to remove floating debris. Also make the pool deep. Mine has enough volume to support something like 37 linear inches of fish without pumps, filters, aerators and all that other mechanical equipment. BTW, my Brooklyn garden is much smaller than yours.


Emily May 30, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Wow…it all looks just amazing and full already. Nice!


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 7:51 am

Thanks, Emily. Second year. Everything’s on trial.


Michael B. Gordon May 31, 2013 at 5:17 am

It looks lush and lovely! A new garden at this stage always reminds me of a 3rd grader: exuberant, sweet, full of promise and eager to please. The next stage, a few years later, everyone is fighting for position and a bit awkward and out of control: the teen years which requires editing, discipline, and tough love. Then a long (hopefully) period of relative calm: early adulthood. Then middle age–a long, long way off…Enjoy those third graders, they are perfect!!


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:13 am

What a great analogy. Yes, this 3rd grade exuberance is quickly leading me to thoughts of certain removals already. Frankly, I’m always been disturbed by the bright gold Sedum ‘Angelina’ at the back and may change that. Other things are quickly outgrowing their space. An advantage of this is that my tiny Brooklyn garden is becoming a growing on spot for plants I transfer out to Federal Twist. Plants grow far more vigorously in Brooklyn. I’ve already used the Brooklyn Pycnanthemum muticum to start new colonies at FT. I’ve read many gardens stall at seven years and need significant replanting. That’s already happening at FT, largely due to vole damage, the effects of an alternating cold and mild winter which formed an ice bowl the literally drowned some plants, and Hurricane Sandy. On the other hand, new things are happening. Many plants that never self-seeded before are doing it now under changed conditions. Every year is a new adventure.


Cindy at enclos*ure May 31, 2013 at 8:20 am

All the hardscaping colors — fence, gravel, pond edges — are working so well. And I love how the fence and plants are reflected in the pond in these photos.

I hope the roses are scented.


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:16 am

The pool is the most important part of the garden. I could literally get rid of all the plants and do with rocks and gravel, maybe a few shrubs. Unfortunately, the roses are not scented. Albert, my next door neighbor, lends me crab apple blossoms in early spring, pink roses now, and white roses to come. I love having his garden spill over into mine.


Ross Hamilton May 31, 2013 at 8:42 am

It’s lovely, James. I agree with Emily: the reflecting pool is a stroke of genius. Just the place for a green thought in a green shade. Ross


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:28 am

I agree, Ross, that the pool makes the garden. I have a pump to make a small fountain, but I don’t use it. I find watching the shimmering reflections in the water to be much more appropriate to tranquil contemplation, especially in contract to the almost gaudy theater surrounding it.


Rob (OurFrenchGarden) May 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I think your neighbour’s rose is a really pretty, ‘soft’, unplanned addition.

The Tetrapanax is such a good plant, though I find the name steroidal giant a little disconcerting.

I know you want to clip the box James, though in the meantime, I admit to a sneaky regard for their current shaggy appearance.

Have you moved Bacchus?


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:32 am

Rob, yes. Moved Baccchus to the side wall near the house. I wanted the regular “small” Tetrapanax but found this in the nursery. I had no idea it would become a small tree, so I experiment. The cultivar name appears to be Steroidal Giant, which I don’t care for either. I want to find out more about this one. The overgrown box look great after days of rain, I agree. It’s branches droop very appealingly, but in sun they quickly get shaggy.


amy May 31, 2013 at 7:34 pm

How lush the garden looks after a rain. And how generous of you to let your neighbor’s rose hang over into your garden. It does add a voluptuous element, and that precious ‘accident’ of garden making that is so alluring.


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:35 am

Ross Hamilton wrote a book called Accident, so now every time I hear that word I do a double take, looking for meaning beyond the intended meaning. Yes, a fortunate accident. Felix culpa?


allan becker May 31, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Like borrowed views, borrowed plants enrich our gardens in ways we never could have imagined.


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:36 am

Yes, Allan. And I get the benefit of the rose without the trouble of growing it. I’m loving this one.


Pat Webster June 1, 2013 at 7:45 am

The growth in only a few weeks is stunning, and wonderful to see on-line. I particularly like the placement of the boxwood and will like them even more when you’ve found the time to prune. I’m planting some near an aquaduct project I’ve been working on since last fall, and I think of them as water drops that have splashed over the side of the pool. Yours look so quietly balanced — really nice.


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:40 am

My original concept started with a pool and a diagonal “flow” of box breaking the rigid symmetry of the garden. I have no idea where that concept came from, but it seems similar in quality to the “water drop” look you’re planning. (Actually, I think it’s a Japanese concept, or possibly a “trope” found in many arts, regardless of culture.)


Diana Studer June 1, 2013 at 8:13 am

you’ve skipped the sleep and creep and gone straight for LEAP. That looks magnificent and full of unique character. Since it is your garden your mind tells your eyes it doesn’t match the concept you’re planning – but for an impartial and objective gardener looking on – Deep sigh of contentment …


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:41 am

Thank you, Diana. An objective comment helps me stop the incessant circling thoughts–what if I do this, what id I do that?


Xris (Flatbush Gardener) June 1, 2013 at 8:40 am

Lovely. Doesn’t look like only the second year, more like the third, or fifth! if not for the trees.

All the light Spring and golden foliage pops against the dark green of the fence. I have something similar in mind for the concrete block garage wall that’s the fourth, and last to finish, edge of my backyard.


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:48 pm

The “pop” helps keep the eye inside the garden. If you really look around to the neighboring houses, the view is less than calming. Fortunately my neighbors seem to be paying much more attention to their gardens, so we may have a tranquil oasis in Fort Greene in the future.


Xris (Flatbush Gardener) June 1, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Having gardened in Park Slope for 13 years, I’m acquainted with the double-edged sword that is the “borrowed view” of Brooklyn brownstone backyards.


James Golden June 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Sometimes I’d like to imagine I’m in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But no way, my block isn’t that interesting.


Anne Wareham June 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm

“The pool is the most important part of the garden. I could literally get rid of all the plants and do with rocks and gravel”
Serious plant addiction there, James. I imagine it’s troubling you?



James Golden June 1, 2013 at 8:44 pm

You got my number, Anne. As much as I protest, I do seem addicted. Will I have the discipline to do what is needed?


Anne Wareham June 2, 2013 at 3:24 am

Well, if I’m right, it will be you that suffers the niggles and feeling of dissatisfaction. So, really, it’s about how seriously you take yourself and your needs?


James Golden June 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

I’ll have to discuss this with my psychotherapist!


Diana Studer June 4, 2013 at 5:25 am

No! It’s a city garden, there must be ‘some’ green. For the wildlife, for you James, and for your borrowed scenery neighbours.

Faisal Grant June 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

I couldn’t have imagined so much had happened so quickly, James, but there you go, gardening is like that. Wonderful, by the way.


James Golden June 11, 2013 at 6:22 am

Thanks, Faisal. We’re having lots of rain and everything is growing at warp speed.


ryan June 5, 2013 at 2:00 am

It looks great. I don’t know what’s planted in the back, do you plan on something specific like a specimen to be framed reflecting in the pool or are you planning on more of a freeform reflection of foliage in the pool?


James Golden June 11, 2013 at 6:23 am

Ryan, definitely just freeform reflection. From inside the house, which is where most garden viewing takes place, the reflections are really nice, changing throughout the day and as the wind blows.


Denise June 9, 2013 at 11:42 pm

The literal framework of lush but contained growth, gravel and water — it’s fantastic. Don’t change a thing! Anything more austere (i.e. less variety in plants) would quickly pall on a day-to-day basis — at least I know it would for me. That kind of discipline is for monasteries! The serendipity of a rose flinging its branches over the fence is a shockingly delicious surprise intrusion, as if to mock the best laid plans — and the best part is not having to look at the the rose’s knobby knees!


James Golden June 11, 2013 at 6:26 am

Denise, thanks for giving me permission to keep my very abundant planting. I think I do need to make some changes. I like all the gold, but I usually think it’s a little much. Oh, if only I could find a source for Hakonechloa (the all green form). That’s one plant I want en masse in the back, but can’t find anywhere.


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