Structure in the Snow

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THE NORTHEAST WINTER is long for us gardeners, hit with snowstorm after snowstorm when all we want to do is get out there and dig.

“The books” advise a season of assessment and planning (preferably with a hot toddy by the fire). It’s true, I realized last weekend up in New York’s Hudson Valley, on a property I know very well from gardening myself there in years past, it’s easy to see the big picture when there’s not all that green stuff in the way.

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Above, the twisted canes of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, a plant that’s all about winter interest.

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Fallen needles under the gigantic white pine count as brilliant color this time of year.

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Plumes of zebra grass stand tall (most of them) ’til their early-spring cutback.

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Hydrangea and yucca along the privet-lined driveway, above.

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The little yellow outhouse, above, by the 3-season stream, below, was built in the 1930s when the house was really rustic.

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Above: Ain’t much to look at in mid-winter, but this area pops with crocus and other early bulbs in April. Burlap coats protect boxwoods from windburn.

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A section of stone wall, probably 19th century, from a time when these woods were grazing land. Such stacked stone walls lace through woods all over the Northeast, revealed in winter even as you drive along the Taconic State Parkway.

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The remains of last season’s ornamental grasses line a steep path to the fenced vegetable garden. I’m reminded of what garden designer Piet Oudolf said: “Brown is a color.”

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Tag-sale Buddha presides over a stone outcropping planted with small Japanese maples and other dwarf species.

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The mysterious concrete rectangle that came with the property, above, perhaps the floor of a greenhouse or other farm building, now filled with gravel and known as the Zen litter box.

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To see this same property in summer, go here.

Hello Crown Heights

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Park Place stop on the ‘S’ train. Who knew?

BROOKLYN IS VAST — a mighty city in its own right until 1898, when it was consolidated into New York City and forever after out-dazzled by its skinny neighbor across the river. Considered on its own, the borough of Brooklyn is the fourth most populous city in the U.S. (and, I hear, the third most expensive after San Francisco and Manhattan). It sprawls seven miles from the Brooklyn Bridge to Sheepshead Bay, a patchwork of amorphous neighborhoods whose names and borders shift with changing demographics.

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Old industrial building  on Bergen St, developed as offices for creative types

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Corner of Bergen and Franklin

And boy, are they changing, nowhere faster than in Crown Heights. I only stuck my toe in the waters of Crown Heights the other day, almost for the first time, when a friend and I set out to take a walk and ended up cruising Franklin Avenue, an artery exploding with restaurants, cheese shops, bakeries, wine bars, and vintage clothing stores on the northern side of Eastern Parkway, and nothing but laundromats and bodegas south of it. The Line of Yuppification, as a friend used to say, is stark.

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Little Zelda, an appealing coffee shop

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Rosebud Vintage, one of several

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Wedge, a fancy cheese shop

We discovered an elevated subway line we never knew existed (the S train, a shuttle that runs only three or four stops between major lines), scoped out some beautiful industrial buildings, popped in and out of various shops, and ended up at cozy Cent’Anni in time for happy hour (5-7PM Monday-Friday, $4 wine and  $2 crostini). Happy were we.

Below: the attractive Fez, now closed, soon to re-open

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New Images of Israel’s White City

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I’VE BEEN A FAN OF TEL AVIV’S BAUHAUS-STYLE ARCHITECTURE at least since 1984, when a show at New York’s Jewish Museum made me aware of the design importance of the so-called “White City.” German Jewish architects influenced by the Bauhaus and LeCorbusier emigrated to Tel Aviv in great numbers in the 1930s, fleeing the Nazi rise to power. Erich Mendelsohn is probably the best-known of them; he and others brought International Style ideas of modernity to the construction of mostly low-rise apartment buildings, adapting their design principles to a hot climate.

Now Israeli artist Avner Gicelter has launched a website featuring meticulous graphic illustrations of 11 (so far) outstanding buildings throughout his beloved city. It’s an attractive resource and a useful document.

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I’ve written before about Tel Aviv’s stock of 4,000 such modernist buildings, including an outraged letter to the New York Times Travel section after a writer summed up the city’s architecture as “awful.” Remembering a walking tour conducted by Israeli friends, I described the city’s back streets as “uniform blocks of characteristically flat-roofed, cubic structures with ribbons of balconies, or with sleek curves and rounded corners that rival anything in Miami’s South Beach for streamlined modernity.”

The city’s collection is impressive. Three districts were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, and Conde Nast Traveler magazine has called Tel Aviv one of the world’s best cities for architecture lovers. Some of the Bauhaus-style structures anchor broad boulevards, like the elegant Rothschild Boulevard, or encircle plazas like well-known Dizengoff Square. More line narrow side streets. Some have been carefully restored; others are still in an unfortunate state of disrepair. There’s an ongoing preservation battle.

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All the above illustrations are from Gicelter’s website, where you can see more building images and subscribe to the continuing series.

Springs Cottage Near Water 300K

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NEW YEARS BARGAINS ABOUND on the East End of Long Island, though how much of a bargain this 1/4-acre property in Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.) really is remains to be seen. The house may well be a teardown; the “barn-like accessory structure” looks sound, though, and no smaller than the house itself.

The main selling point here is waterfront proximity (though not water view) — it’s just a couple hundred yards to an unspoiled channel off Three Mile Harbor, top, and there’s a small beach at the foot of Folkstone Drive.

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The house is on a gravel road, pitted and puddled after recent rains, but you can’t complain about traffic.

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Above, the c. 1945 house at right and the newer garage/barn at left.

The door to the house was open, and I walked in. Definite smell of damp. There’s almost certainly been water damage.

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It’s a project for the right person/people. I like the idea that you could live in the (unheated) barn while fixing up the house or building a new one. (The barn was locked, so i didn’t see inside, but there are photos of its interior in the linked-to Halstead listing below.)  I also like that it’s cheap — down to 300K, and will probably end up selling  for even less.

For photos of the house in summer and more shots of the barn (and a startling demonstration of what a sunny day and a wide-angle lens will do for a place), go here for the official listing.