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IT BEGAN when my daughter moved into a Prospect Heights brownstone with a struggling pine tree in a barrel out front. Each time I visited, I eyed the dead branches, wishing I could take a pruner to the thing and tidy it up. One day, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told her, “I’m going to prune that pine. If your landlord says anything, tell him your mother is an itinerant urban gardener who goes around pruning people’s shrubs unbidden.”
While my East Hampton house is rented out, I’ve been getting my gardening jollies catching up on maintenance in the yards of my buildings in Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill. I ride around with a wooden box of garden tools in the back of my car — a hand rake, lopper, pruner, shovel, gloves, trash bags. When the urge to garden strikes, I’m ready. But I can see how this could get out of hand. Last week, I was walking along a Park Slope sidewalk and saw a lovely Japanese maple in a cobalt pot in someone’s front yard. It was full of weeds. My fingers itched to reach over the iron fence and pull them out, but I restrained myself. One recent morning, in Philadelphia to visit my son, I went out in my pajamas at 7AM and pulled 2-foot-tall weeds out of cracks in the sidewalk in front of his building … and the building next door.
Soon, I’ll have my half-acre to play with. In the meantime, I stealth-garden on other people’s property and enjoy what they’re doing with their window boxes, tree pits and containers. They’re doing a lot; it’s an encouraging sign of the times.
Below: March of the pots, a trend I’ve spotted this year for the first time. This is good news. In decades past, they might well have been stolen.
Above: Window box explosion in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood. Below: Ivy and seasonal containers decorate a carriage house in Old Kensington.
Below: Orange cosmos and white gaura have burst through the iron fence around this apartment building in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, seeding themselves in cracks in the sidewalk.
Below: A proudly tended Brooklyn tree pit with petunias and variegated hosta.
Beach plums in bloom
STEAMING TOWARD A MOVE-IN DATE of this Friday at my new/old house in East Hampton, N.Y. Yes, I know it doesn’t look move-in ready, and the fact is, I still don’t have water. But that’s my goal. The phantom plumber was supposed to come yesterday to hook up a couple of fairly important items, including a toilet, but he was sick. Fingers crossed for today.
I had two satisfyingly productive days recently. On Sunday afternoon, I put a coat of primer on the plywood floor in the dining/sitting room, above and below, soon to be covered by floor paint, probably white. Quick way to make the place feel cleaner and brighter.
This first required the painstaking removal of hundreds of carpet staples, most with tufts of carpet stuck to them, a prospect that had been hanging me up for weeks. My daughter got to it last week with a pair of pliers, enabling the operation to proceed, and for that I am very grateful.
I spent almost all day Monday cleaning the house as best I could without H2O. That was a rather non-green operation involving broom and dustpan, the vac, Swiffers both dry and wet, spray cleaner, and lots and lots of paper towels. I won’t be happy until I get my rubber gloves into a bucket of hot soapy water, but it helped.
While I worked inside, Eric the tree man buzzed and chipped outside, removing tree limbs and a couple of whole trees near the house that posed a danger of falling. It’s not a dramatic change, but to me, the space in front of the house feels more open and airy. (Don’t go by these iPhone shots. I keep saying the place looks brighter, while the photos look terribly dim.)
The kitchen floor, below — 18″x18″ charcoal gray tiles — has been laid and will be grouted today.
This was the inspiration photo for the floor tiles:
The stove and fridge are being delivered later this week.
The contractor built a wooden base for a deep two-basin kitchen sink top that was left behind in the shed, below, following a magazine picture I showed him. I think it came out better than the picture.
Then I’ll have to say goodbye to all my helpers for a while and forge on alone for the next couple of months. The coffers have run dry, and all incoming funds will be going toward fix-ups at our mews house in Brooklyn. <–That link is to a four-year-old post; the rent has gone up. If interested, contact me at caramia447@gmail. The longtime renters are leaving, and the place requires attention and an infusion of cash.
By the way, anyone need a 9-1/2 foot long liquid propane tank, bottom? Once used to heat a now-disappeared swimming pool, it sits in the parking area like a beached submarine. I got a $4,000 estimate to take it away, so it won’t be leaving any time soon. It’s not in my way, but neither do I anticipate any future use for it. Do I have any takers?
THE LATEST IN MY SERIES of interior design/renovation columns for Brownstoner.com is up today — it’s a 1,200-square-foot duplex in Cobble Hill, with space and storage challenges masterminded by the talented local team Nastasi Vail.
It has a nice kitchen, too.
Go here to see the whole thing, including the shockingly claustrophobic kitchen ‘Before.’