Brooklyn, a viewing garden

This garden is more for viewing than sitting in. After a year with it, I’ve realized I see it much more from inside than outside. It’s like looking into a lighted aquarium.


It’s the fourth wall of the living room, where we spend most of our “city” time, and it’s a constant source of entertainment and pleasure. Another room, but a room outside. Its exposure to neighboring houses may encourage this rather passive garden enjoyment. I speculate we’ll spend much more time outside when the four-square framework of Sunburst honey locusts grows into a high, lacy canopy, lending a sense of open privacy we lack now.

Too much prospect, too little refuge.


As I look at these photos, I’m amazed how different the space appears encased in the frame of this image. The garden looks crowded reduced to a six-inch-wide photo; in reality it doesn’t seem crowded at all. Perhaps this has something to do with the foreshortening of the camera lens, the flattening of three-dimensional space?

Looking toward the house wall with its simple geometric forms and straight lines, some sense of proportion and three-dimensionality is restored, even in a two-dimensional photo.


I don’t mean to say I never go outside. I go out for a few minutes in the morning, usually just before running out of the house to go to work, and I do it again when I get home. Just a short visit to do whatever it is gardeners do in such “in between” moments. Lately I’ve been cutting last year’s grasses and weeding.

There are more and more things to see as spring advances …

… Astilboides tabularis …


… Mukdenia rossii …


… Hydrangea petiolaris climbing the wall and about to blossom …


… Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’, the amazing double-flowered form, which probably will grow much too large for this garden …


… a form of low honeysuckle and a pretty clambering ground cover whose name I forget …


… Sedum angelina, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, and Ajuga ‘Dark Scallop’ blooming …


The bare soil needs a low-level ground cover. It will become invisible when the plants grow to size, but a low carpet of Mazus reptans, ajugas, and other diminuitive spreaders will be a good thing, both for visual appeal and to keep down weeds.


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16 thoughts on “Brooklyn, a viewing garden

    1. I think at least another year. The locusts actually grew much larger canopies last summer but, because the trunks haven’t developed, I had to cut the tops back relentlessly.

  1. A big difference in growth between last week’s photos and these. Nice! Some time ago, I was wondering if you had any Lonicera nitida in this garden (and I think the Lonicera pictured is not it….but also nice…) because it really has pretty foliage and a nice habit for a garden such as this.

    1. It is growing fast now that temperatures are warming. I had to pull out mounds of Pycnantheum muticum and bring back to the country garden. The honeysuckle definitely isn’t nitida, but the foliage is similar. This one is much more droopy than nitida.

  2. Gleditsia. I planted three in January 2012. Which might have been the same time you did. It’s been fantastic and growth like I haven’t had from anything else here in this hard environment. Yours don’t seem to have done so well. But when they do, it will be fantastic. Such amazing trees.

    1. They’re actually doing amazingly well. I planted whips that had absolutely no upper limbs. Those grew out last summer but grew so fast the trees fell over (to the ground) in heavy rain. I’ve kept them cut back until the trunks develop some girth. Hope that happens this summer, then I can let the canopies develop much faster. Of course, your NS climate may make a dramatic difference in growth. You planted more mature trees, didn’t you?

      1. I planted the Gledisia in our summer. January 2012. At that time they looked much the same as yours now. Just sat there, then over our last summer October 2012 to just March 13, they just took off, with multiple shoots, each about a meter in all directions. Amazing. There does not seem to be much trunk thickening and I have removed any shoots up until head height. They are well staked and supported, which I guess you will not want to do for the look.

  3. It’s coming together so nicely. I wasn’t sure about the honey locusts at each corner when you put them in, but now that I see the young trees starting to leaf out, I get what it will look like, and the lacy canopy is exactly what is needed to shelter and provide privacy. They will be perfect to provide the garden’s vertical frame in a few years, making the fence recede. I love your plant choices for this garden!

    1. You’re right. Once the trees have height, the garden will feel more open and the fence will recede. I also await the growth of the wall covering plants. It appears the ‘Fenway Park’ Boston ivy I planted last fall died. Now I’ll have to start a search for a local source.

  4. James things have really moved on in a week or so. I know I said it before, but yellow works so perfectly in your ‘back yard’ and I think the Gleditsia are just going to take things to another level.
    I grow a yellow foliaged, well behaved hypericum whoose name I’ve forgotten – ‘golden’ something or other (apt), probably golden beacon, its leaf colour is a treat.

    Being able to view the garden through the glass doors hugely increases viewing time. But I bet still ‘garden is a verb’ here away from Federal Twist, mentally changing this or that, not quite a comfy chair in the living room, more a directors seat. It’s all looking really good James.

    1. Rob, you may be right about the director’s chair. On my present schedule, the only time I have to do any gardening in Brooklyn is just after work, for about an hour, on Tuesday, then off to the country to attend to the larger garden. I have things I know must change in Brooklyn. Two Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’, for example, which I well know won’t fit in a couple of years. Then they’ll go to Federal Twist. These are the so-called double-flowered ones that bloom continuously, with one wave of blossom following another, so I couldn’t resist that lavish display even though I know it’s temporary. So my mental plans already run several years into the future.

  5. Absolutely lovely space. It must be pure pleasure to experience.
    Once the trees provide a sense of ceiling it will even more inviting and intimate.
    Have you ever considered staining the wood borders a dark stain to match your house trim and fence ? I recently worked on a project somewhat like yours and the simple color addition to the wood border was amazing in how it tied the border to the architecture. It completed the vignette.
    again, lovely space.

    1. I do intend to paint (stain) the timbers the color of the fence, the dark slate color. Just don’t have time now since I’m preoccupied with my larger country garden. But thank you for the suggestion.

  6. I have been following the evolution of your urban garden with eagerness and delight since it was nothing more than a vision and then a work in progress. I greet each new posting about it’s development with the same excitement as did Victorian readers when Dickens’ weekly chapters were published. The linear quality of the design, and the powerful visual effect of the black fence that makes the plants glow, contribute to the successful execution of the design plan. The ability to appreciate its beauty from within the home makes this garden sublime. Your urban garden is a work of art. I suspect that the well-deserved publicity and accolades have only just begun.

    1. Thanks, Allan, for the compliment. I’m still waiting to see if I’ve over planted and will need to simplify. Plants are springing to life bigger than they were last year, so I fear some difficult editing may be in my future. I’m anxious for the trees to gain height so I can get a better feeling for the garden space. The proportions are still hard to judge with the tree canopy so low. Speaking of proportions, I’ve discovered a large (possibly giant) plant that has come up at the back of the garden appears to be rhubarb or burdock, though judging from the size of the stalks, my bet is on rhubarb. I love the sculptural effect, but don’t know how long it can stay. (Note I did not plant rhubarb or burdock!)

  7. Have you considered hops? Sometimes they grow high and fast enough to provide a bit of cover, if you’re lucky, maybe in a corner. Not sure how realistic that is, but they have beautiful structures in their flowers or something else that looks like a fluffy almost-pine-cone.

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