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SEEMS TO ME THE FALL COLORS — peaking late after an unseasonably warm October — are more brilliant than usual this year. Here in Brownstone Brooklyn, there’s no sense one needs to go up to Vermont or the Hudson Valley to be fully satisfied on that score. Above, Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights. Below, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — my favorite urban refuge –in its autumnal glory.
WITH INDIAN SUMMER and its crazy beautiful sunsets stretching well into October, it was hard to tear myself away from the East End of Long Island. But mornings were getting chilly, as were evenings, in my unheated house — though I was more sanguine about it than I was last spring. “52 degrees!” I heard myself say, looking at the thermometer in my living room first thing in the morning. “Not bad!”
I’m back in Brooklyn, more or less, planning occasional forays to check on my two properties in Springs. I’ve given the listing on my original cottage there to Corcoran and wished them good luck.
In the last few weeks of the season, with the help of a friend, I painted the exterior of the house — and there was one other big project I needed to accomplish before letting go of summer ’13. That was repairing the 6′ stockade fence that surrounds my half-acre property and protects it again maurading deer. Or does it? Yes, they can jump six feet. But will they, if they can’t see over or through the opaque fence? My neighbor, who has a deer-control business, thinks not. We shall see. I purposely did not spray my hostas or my hydrangea, so it will be evident if they’ve trespassed.
I had Shane of The Deer Fence (highly recommended) raise the few existing 3′ and 4′ sections to a uniform 6′ all around. At the moment, I can’t afford the 3′ top extension with heavy-gauge wire mesh that would have absolutely assured the sanctity of my vegetation, but that’s OK — I haven’t planted much yet that needs protecting. And then — this is the exciting part — I had him change the configuration of the fencing at the front of the property, where the driveway was lined on both sides with stockade fence, one side of which met the corner of the house in a way that totally bugged me (see the ‘Before,’ below).
Now, below, the driveway is shorter (but still long enough for 2-3 cars), the fence is halfway down it, the house seems to have more architectural integrity, and there is the beginning of an entry courtyard that will eventually be planted and may even get some sort of central (water?) feature.
The view from inside the property toward the driveway, below, is much improved, too.
I will sleep better this winter, knowing I have a painted house with an entry courtyard to go back to in the spring.
Also, in a late-season thrift-shop triumph, I found an 8-foot-long solid oak (?) table on a chrome base, marked made in Finland, at LVIS. Very late ’60s, or perhaps ’70s. Now I’m ready for a banquet, or at least a proper dinner party. All I need are the chairs.
PART OF THE FUN OF BLOGGING is getting the occasional bead on a great subject from a reader. I met Dorothee van Mol and her husband Paul a year ago when they came to look at my East Hampton cottage as a possible year-round rental. We spent a pleasant hour chatting on my deck, but ultimately, they decided to rent in Southampton, closer to their primary home in Brooklyn. Dorothee continued to follow my blog, and when she saw the unconventional modernist house I bought in East Hampton last spring, she knew I’d be interested in seeing the sprawling complex she and Paul have been renting.
The site: now that’s a tale. As is the house itself, which began as a 1920s industrial dairy building. It’s unclear whether cows were actually housed there, but refrigerated compartments, concrete floors, a pass-through marked “Milk and Package Receiver,” and other quirky elements are clues to its origins. The acre-and-a-half spread, on the fringe of Southampton village, was owned at one time by a garden designer, some of whose landscape architecture remains, and then by three partners who began an ambitious expansion of the house with cinderblock construction and casement windows, covering many thousands of square feet, before feuding and parting ways. The property came up for rent, and that’s when Dorothee and Paul, who have two college-age kids, stepped in. They decorated resourcefully, on a shoestring, with furnishings they had in storage, items they found on the property, and a few fill-ins from IKEA. I love its casual Bohemian air.
Let’s circumnavigate the property first, and then we’ll go inside…
Walls around the gravel parking court and elsewhere on the property are made of stacked stone in wire cages called gabions.
Charcoal gray-painted trim against brown vertical clapboard siding, looks chic and ties together disparate windows and doors.
One of two kitchens — yes, that’s right — is in an extension at the front of the house.
Around the side, you sense the building’s utilitarian origins.
Old perennial beds and self-seeding annuals soften the unfinished walls of the never-completed extension.
There’s a lap pool around the back, of which I’m terribly envious, surrounded by ornamental grasses and an allee of trees.
Long gravel walks punctuated by cypress trees and lined with flagstone packed in wire cages have a classical Mediterranean feel.
A wall of glass windows and doors opens to a gravel courtyard. The parking court and entry gate are in the stone wall at left.
The long west-facing entry hall gets afternoon light. Kitchen #1, below, is down the end.
There’s a small dining area in that same kitchen, above…
and a rustic bar.
The main living space has one spectacular window and a wood ceiling.
Wire grids found around the property were pressed into service as bulletin boards.
There’s a sophisticated contemporary bathroom with a marble vanity and the world’s smallest sink, below.
Kitchen #2, below, looks out into the heart of the abandoned construction project, which, as greenery overtakes it, seems a bit like an ancient archaeological site.
Below, the enormous master bedroom.
Two additional bedrooms, one with the curious cubby-hole.
The future of the site and the couple’s tenancy is uncertain, so — though they put in a fair amount of work painting and decorating — the whole project has a casual, spur-of-the-moment feeling about it. Thanks, Dorothee, for letting us have a look.
I LOVE THIS BOOK, but not because I needed convincing that the American lawn habit is an environmental disaster — a $40 billion dollar industry, writes Pam Penick, an Austin, Texas-based garden designer and blogger in Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard (Ten Speed Press). American lawns consume 300 million gallons of gas annually, and 70 million pounds of chemicals that do no favors for our water supplies. And it’s pretty much all for “show” (who uses their lawns, especially front lawns, anyway?)
No, the main reason I love this book is that the projects in it look accessible. Most garden books are so ‘aspirational’ they cause me to despair, along the lines of ‘I could never do/afford that!‘ Not so here. Check out the home-made patchwork path, below. I see that photo and think, “Yeah! I could do something like that…this weekend!” It’s creative and casual, as are many of the gardens shown in the book.
Photo: Pam Penick
There are other, more personal reasons for my lawn aversion, and that’s the maintenance involved. I don’t have a mower, or a partner to wield one, and I’m not a fan of loud noise (memories of having to clap our hands over our ears while Dad mowed our quarter-acre on a Saturday afternoon). Also, I recently bought a property on Long Island where a lawn would never grow — it’s wooded and shady, filled with tree roots, and the terrain is uneven. So why bother? Not gonna.
Photo: Moss and Stone Gardens
Penick suggesting practical, easy-care plants to substitute for lawn in all parts of the country. Though many of the photos seem to be from Texas and California, the concepts travel — ornamental grasses, ground covers in various colors and textures, expanses of mulch and gravel in lieu of plantings. And there is a hefty section of regional plant recommendations. The book even suggests ways of dealing with homeowner’s association rules and skeptical neighbors, who still regard a greensward plus foundation plantings as the way to go.
Photo: Michelle Dervis
Yay for Lawn Gone!, a book for people who want more than a monoculture.
Photos reprinted with permission from Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard by Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press, © 2013)
NEW YORK HAS BEEN CHANGING FAST, in large part due to the soon-to-end 12-year reign of the not-entirely-beloved but undeniably greenery-conscious Mayor Bloomberg. Under his tenure, 750,000 trees have been planted and there have been innumerable improvements to the city’s public spaces, especially along the long-neglected waterfront. So the appearance this month of the 288-page Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes by Robin Lynn and Francis Morrone (W.W. Norton) is well-timed.
The book highlights 38 masterpieces of old and new landscape architecture, including such venerable favorites as Greenwood Cemetery, Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, and so on. There are midtown plazas and atriums, and newer sites that have quickly become high-profile tourist draws, like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park. But what pleases me most is the book’s inclusion of many unusual suspects.
Concrete Plant Park, the Bronx
For instance: Brooklyn’s leafy Eastern and Ocean Parkways, two of the most attractive and civilized boulevards in New York City (or anywhere), which rarely get their due. There are detailed descriptions of such obscure sites as the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Greenpoint, along a formerly waste-strewn industrial waterway; Erie Basin Park in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where IKEA built a 7-acre waterfront access facility on the site of a historic dry dock, and did it so well the critics were silenced; as well as new parks and sites in all five boroughs and on Roosevelt, Governor’s and Randall’s Islands.
Paley Park, Manhattan
I found the photography disappointing, a lost opportunity to romance some strikingly beautiful places. Edward A Toran’s photos are mostly overalls, lacking in intimacy, and often shot with harsh shadows or in dappled light. But the writing, including a stirring, nostalgic foreword by Pete Hamill and a reprint of a very funny 1914 New York Times article by critic James Huneker about Manhattan’s parks, which he called our “lungs,” help make up for it.
Columbus Circle, Manhattan
Quirky suggestions for eating and drinking near the featured landscapes include the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens (NYC’s last remaining outdoor beer garden) and the café at Fairway in Red Hook, whose dramatic harbor view is surely unique among supermarkets.
Going forward, a blog will keep the book’s info up-to-date.
Bryant Park, Manhattan