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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.
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 DAFFODIL FOLIAGE PUSHING UP in the front yards of brownstone Brooklyn, the winter of my content is coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed this uninterrupted two-month spell of life in my ever-amazing home borough, where you see things like the movie shoot, above, on Prospect Park West, when you go out for your Sunday morning walk.
We’ve had our bit of snow (that’s the cherry orchard at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, with the Brooklyn Museum in the distance, above, as it looked a week ago Friday, and the view from my front window, below). I’ve caught up with old friends and gobbled down some culture (the Matisse show at the Met, the Museum of Arts and Design, French lessons on Saturday afternoons, even an afternoon at the ballet), though not enough of either.
And at long last, I’m in sight of a closing date on the property I’m buying in East Hampton. On Friday, the house passed its inspection for an updated Certificate of Occupancy, meaning, the Town deems it safe to live in (and that the backfilling of a derelict swimming pool, which I oversaw last month, was done to their satisfaction). And this afternoon I got an email from the seller telling me he is “putting together a crew” to move his two boats and the accumulated furnishings and stuff of 30 years out… this week.
Ye gads. It’s really happening! This means that after weeks of lying on the sofa, leafing languidly through books on Japanese landscaping and ripping pages out of decorating magazines, I’ll soon be putting in actual hard labor. All too soon, perhaps. Am I ready to plunge full-tilt into cleaning, painting, gardening, renovation? It makes me want to settle back on the couch with “The Art of the Japanese Garden” and a cup of tea. I’m already reflecting nostalgically on this temporary period of being a one-home person. I haven’t missed the Long Island Expressway one bit.
Soon enough, I’ll be in the woods, at the beach, breathing country air and enjoying country silence. Meanwhile, I’m appreciating the beauties at hand, like the freestanding mansions of Victorian Flatbush, above and below, where I went earlier this week for the annual ritual meeting with my accountant.
Mostly, though, what I appreciate is my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, below, where I’ve been cozily cocooned. Its cheery yellow walls never fail to boost my spirits, and its two south-facing windows have served my houseplant collection well.
As the days lengthen, then, onward to what’s next.
AS THE OLD YEAR CAME TO A CLOSE, I said goodbye to my beloved East Hampton cottage — at least for a year, perhaps forever. Yet as I drove away on December 15, leaving it to my new renters — a sweet young couple who are over the moon about the place — it was with only a smidgen of regret. My grand plan is unfolding; I’m inching toward closing on another house in the same area. Meanwhile, it’s back to my Brooklyn apartment for the duration (when you have only one residence, I’m afraid it can no longer be called a pied-a-terre).
My East Hampton tenants kept some of my furniture — the sofa, the bed, and a few other major pieces. All my rugs, books, dishes, artwork, etc. had to be packed up and stored in the basement, above, in the space of about five days. My houseplant collection, below, came with me back to Brooklyn, and miraculously I’ve managed to place them all in front of my two windows.
I chafed at the confinement of urban living at first, but I’ve adjusted. There are trade-offs. What you give up in fresh air and bay views and the silence of the woods, you gain in quirky discoveries that can only happen in a great city…like the row of Victorian carriage houses in Prospect Park, below, that I had somehow never noticed before. They’re now used as garages by park maintenance, but wouldn’t they make a charming residential mews?
Or the sight of a vintage subway train pulling into West Fourth Street, bedecked with Christmas ribbons and wreaths…
….a fire escape festooned with lights in Williamsburg…
….or a gingerbread rendering of the new Barclay’s arena, seen at the Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights: all things you wouldn’t see in East Hampton.
Christmas week was a little quiet because, well, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I did some cat-sitting and a whole lot of writing, including an article about Palm Springs’ mid-century architecture for a travel magazine, and two time-consuming pieces for HouseLogic, a website owned by the National Association of Realtors, which led to my one New Year’s resolution for 2013: don’t say yes to any writing assignment that comes down the pike. Life’s too short for hackery.
My sister and I indulged in some year-end furniture and rug shopping, though in my case it was merely speculative. We went to FIND in Gowanus, where I was moved to take a picture of the chairs above. They are crafted out of rubber tires and they are unbelievably comfortable. I’ve never seen anything like them. They were asking $100 for the pair of these oddities. I can’t decide whether I like the look of them or not. Do you?
I am mulling the purchase of a high storage chest like the one above, seen at Re-Pop in Williamsburg, since I’m desperate for additional clothing storage in my bedroom. It’s $850, so I postponed the decision. Whereupon we went next door to the Roebling Tea Room and had cocktails at the bar in an old, high-ceilinged industrial space (I suppose they have tea, too).
Another day, we checked out the kilims at Jacques Carcanagues in SoHo. I can’t get the one above out of my mind. It is 13′ long, 6’6″ wide, and was bought in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, we were told. The colors are only four — purple, navy, cream, and white — and so unusual. For $900, it seems a great deal. But without a house, I don’t need a rug.
New York being New York, every time I venture out, there’s a new bar, restaurant or bakery. Above, the new Grandaisy Bakery on the corner of West Broadway and Beach Street. It definitely wasn’t there the last time I looked.
So onward to 2013 with fresh eyes, ears, mind. It’s a new year, so let’s make it new: new adventures, new activities, new people, new prospects, new music, new ideas, new knowledge, new dreams.
A LOT OF PEOPLE (myself included) give up, somewhat, on window boxes and outdoor containers by the time November rolls around. Others keep going… like the owners of the swell Manhattan townhouse, above, who’ve created an arresting display with gourds and berries.
My go-to place for inspiration in all seasons, including fall and winter, is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above (that’s a side view of the Brooklyn Museum as seen from inside the garden), where crews were busy on Sunday repairing Sandy damage. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have been too extensive there.
Some go all out in autumn with mums. Usually that’s not particularly interesting, but I like the front yard planting, above, where the lavender mums are interspersed symmetrically with juniper, a yellow grass, and a deep purple leafed thing whose name is not springing to mind.
Sweet potato and coleus hang in through Thanksgiving, at least, the chartreuse of the always-satisfying sweet potato vine a vivid contrast against the brownstone.
A red annual grass is flourishing now in the concrete window boxes of a fine house on St. Marks Avenue in Prospect Heights. Is there anything being built today that matches the elegance of that hefty iron stoop railing and brownstone window ledges? No, there’s not!