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Backyard Community Garden, Red Hook

Soon: Backyard Community Garden, Red Hook, Brooklyn

SNOW IS STILL BLANKETING THE GROUND — another few inches yesterday — but it’s getting nearer the day we can start gardening in earnest. I intended to do a whole planning thing with graph paper and templates this winter, as I did two years ago in Nigel Rollings‘ garden-design class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but frankly, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got in my head what I want to do – must do – and when the time comes (next month, God willing) I’ll just get out there and do it.

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Soon: Sissinghurst, Kent, England

There are so many steps to accomplish before I can put new plants in. The soil must be improved, first of all – it’s just sandy dirt at the moment, with a layer of oak leaves – and that will involve much purchasing of compost and manure and back-straining labor  – and then I have to move about 300 square feet’s worth of old ferns and astilbes, along with daffodil bulbs I put in rather thoughtlessly last fall (after they bloom and fade, in early May probably) to make room for a new deck.

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Soon: Sissinghurst, Kent, England

Right now, I’m reading a lot. Garden books, naturally. I continue to mine the library and occasionally order something from half.com. My latest discovery is The Country Garden by Josephine Nuese, published in 1970. Sydney Eddison, another wonderful garden writer, put me on to her. Nuese wrote from Zone 5 in northwestern Connecticut, near where I used to garden, so the plants she speaks of all feel very familiar. Some of what she says is dated; painting tree wounds (cuts) after pruning is now discredited, for example.  What I wouldn’t have expected from either of these ladies is the conversational, chuckle-out-loud quality of their writing.

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Soon: GRDN, Brooklyn

Nuese’s book is divided into chapters by month. February is all about seed-starting, for which I have neither the room nor the patience — not this year, anyway. So I’ve moved onto March, with its long list of “Don’ts.” In March, Nuese writes, “After months of mostly sitting, punctuated by purposeless walks, you have the figure of a woodchuck and the mentality of a stuffed owl; you can’t wait to get out into the spring and employ your mind and muscles in some meaningful work.” See how she understands me? It’s as if she’s been reading my blog…

Don’t whip off winter protection (mulches, burlap) too early, she warns; don’t attempt to work wet earth that still has frost on it. Do rake the lawn of twigs and branches; prune shrubs and small trees of storm-damaged wood; spread wood ash to add alkalinity to soil, which most perennials enjoy.

Meanwhile, tantalizing catalogues and e-mails continue to arrive from nurseries and gardening websites, the best of all being Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden. She’s got an ambitious calendar of events planned for 2010, some in conjunction with Loomis Creek Nursery, all making me wish I lived a little closer to the Hudson Valley.

392A FEW YEARS BACK, this 25’x30′ Brooklyn Heights backyard was basically a dog run, with a broken stone patio and a canopy of ailanthus trees.

Now, with the help of garden designer Nigel Rollings, who teaches the popular Urban Garden Design course at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, it’s a verdant oasis on several levels, with one bold, theatrical stroke: a circular wall fountain.42

On September 11, 2001, this space was covered in ash and debris. Soon after, the homeowners called Nigel and asked him to create a “healing garden” with a dining area, water feature, and seasonal flowers.

He chose a circle for the unusual 12-foot-diameter wall fountain because it’s a universal symbol of unity and healing, and it complemented an existing, gracefully arching Japanese maple.39

Raised beds diagonally bisect the space, making it appear larger. “Hanging gardens” vertically extend planting space on either side of the fountain, with cascading mandevilla, fuchsia hybrid ‘Autumnale,’ ipomoea ‘Blackie’ (sweet potato vine), and abutilon.54-hanging-garden

There’s a ‘bistro deck’ big enough for two outside the kitchen door, with a box for culinary herbs built into the railing.21

Plantings are in wet and dry zones. Astilbes, cimicifuga, huechera, and long-blooming annuals like coleus (about  $2,000 worth each season) are drip-irrigated. The central bed and terrace garden flanking the waterfall are filled with drought-tolerant annuals like Algerian ivy and liriope.

Shrubs, including oak leaf hydrangea, Japanese plum yew, and bridesmaid mountain laurel are living screens and space definers.

58-nigel-rollingsDuring excavation of the old patio, workers discovered an archaic food storage chamber, possibly native American. Once uncovered, long-dormant fern spores sprouted there. It’s now covered by a thick piece of plexiglass and lit at night, adding a mysterious dimension to the garden.5245

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