The Itinerant Urban Gardener


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.

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Below: A proudly tended Brooklyn tree pit with petunias and variegated hosta.


Anatomy of a Pot

IMG_0203I HAVEN’T BEEN DOING AS MUCH WITH CONTAINERS this season, as I’m getting enough satisfaction from how my perennial beds are coming along in this, their second year. But sometimes I can’t resist potting up a few things for my front deck.

Pots allow you to fit many different shapes and textures into a small space, and when I see something unusual, like the ruffly upright Prince Rupert Geranium (lemon-scented!) at one of the area nurseries I’ve been avoiding this year, for fear of overspending on non-essentials, sometimes I just have to go for it.

In this one 15″ diameter pot, below, are:

  • Scented geranium ‘Prince Rupert,’ aromatic and ornamental. The label says it can be trained as a standard. Deer-resistant (though they wouldn’t dare come up on my decks… or would they?)
  • ‘Glennis’ coleus, more delicately colored than some of the more common coleus. Though I do love coleus in all its forms, and the deer don’t.
  • Good old sweet potato vine, ‘Bright Ideas Lime’
  • Juncus inflexus ‘Blue Arrows.’ As the name implies, an upright, blue, ornamental rush.
  • There’s also an elephant ear bulb in the middle, planted two months ago, starting to push its way up through the soil.


Yay for containers! That’s all.