The Outsider: Shady Terrace in Brooklyn Heights

NO SUN… no matter. My friend Elke Kuhn has wrought a lush green miracle on the north-facing terrace behind her 2nd floor Brooklyn apartment.

Go here to read today’s Brownstoner post about how she manages to nurture all sorts of lovely things and keep them going from year to year.

Late Summer Garden Challenges

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THIS IS NOT my East Hampton garden’s finest hour. I came back after two weeks in the Big City and a hurricane — no, a tropical storm, but still — to find it looking…well, shvach. That word comes to me from my grandmother: it’s Yiddish for ‘lacking, underwhelming, disappointing.’

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The only real color in the front perennial beds is the ligularia, which puts out rich yellow spiky flowers right about now. I was conscientious about my Deer-Out regimen in spring and early summer, but as the season progressed, “SPRAY!!!” moved farther and farther down my list of things to do. So the cranesbill geranium ‘Rozanne,’ for instance, which is supposed to bloom till frost, is bare of flowers.

One of the accomplishments of the season was the extension of my perennial border another 30, maybe 40 feet, to the left of the path below. It’s all mulched [thank you, Barbara!] and ready to go — if only I could think what to plant there. To the right of the path, the shadiest area is home to ferns, Korean boxwoods, pieris, epimedium…green, all green.

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It’s not unusual for gardens to lack color in late summer and fall. They needn’t; it’s just that people tend to start out all gung ho and buy out the nurseries in spring, then rest on their mountain laurels and more or less forget about planning for later in the season. That’s not entirely my problem — it’s more about the challenges of excessive shade and deer.

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On the plus side, the recently pruned rhodies, above, are happily sending out fresh new growth. Below, the miscanthus are satisfyingly full at the end of their second season. I’ll probably be dividing them before long.

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Perennials will be on sale in a few weeks, and I’ll try to pump up the late summer color quotient for next year.

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An old clump of chelone, or turtlehead, above, pre-dates my 2009 arrival. I moved it from under my about-to-be-built deck to a spot way at the back of the perennial border, where it is a  standout. Ought to get more of that stuff, come to think of it.

Below, still no decision on what to do with the amoeba-shaped island bed in the middle of the back lawn. Ajuga (bugleweed) is colonizing it, and I see no reason not to let that happen.

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Then there’s this vast empty area along the western property line, below, a fairly sunny spot where I might create a fenced cutting garden, or plant a variety of ornamental grasses. There’s an baby Eastern Redbud tree toward the back; I’m looking forward to it filling out and blooming pink next spring.

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Below, the wrath of Irene. A huge — no, I mean, huge— oak keeled over toward the back of my property. Actually, its trunk was on land belonging to the Town of East Hampton.The first five feet of it fell on Town land; the other 70 feet on my land. I’ve made the phone call and been told someone will “take a look.” Uh-huh.

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Trees and shrubs go on sale around here tomorrow. I’ll be exploring the local boxwood selection. Boxwoods are tidy, shade-tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen, classic. They provide screening and structure. Yay, boxwoods. What could be bad?

Lighting My Cottage Bathroom

Z008418TIME WAS, you could turn up a great Art Deco lighting fixture at a flea market for $3, but you’d have to look long and hard, and maybe re-wire. I’m thinking of something like the one at left. We do indeed have that exact fixture in its original incarnation in one of the bathrooms in Cobble Hill. Found it years ago for a few bucks, with a pull chain (that tends to stick).

Well, no more of those hassles. Now you can simply go to Rejuvenation Lighting’s online catalogue and pick and choose from reproduction retro-inspired lighting of all eras. The offerings start in the Victorian age, and move up from there through Arts & Crafts and Art Deco into the 1960s. You get to choose the finish, the shade, the projection from the wall (in inches), and so on. They’ll custom-build it for you, and ship it out in 2-3 weeks.

I’ve just done that. I was in search of a fixture for my East Hampton cottage bathroom, and under a mini-gun, since my contractor said he would throw in the installation if I got it to him at the right time — in about two weeks — and centered it above the sink, exactly where the previous one was.

Here’s the ‘before’…

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I’m replacing something ugly but effective, above. I always felt four bulbs was overkill. It’s going, along with the inset medicine cabinet, both remnants of the bathroom’s last re-do in the 1970s. Staying, however, is the white-painted carved mirror at left, which I bought at a yard sale last summer for $20 <yay>.Z006063

Here’s where I initially thought I might go — something like this frilled fixture, right. It reminds me of Paris, somehow, and would have been fun.

But ultimately I chose the good old American-style chrome fixture with an 8″ white satin glass shade, below (boring, I’m afraid), for about $100.

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I like that it can also be used facing up, if it’s too busy with the carved mirror, or if I decide I prefer more flattering (i.e. less illuminating) indirect lighting.

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Do check out Rejuvenation’s catalogue. It’s fun to browse, and has the potential to solve a whole lot of problems.

Fall Plant Shopping

rhamnus_frang_fineline_lrgHAVING BOTH DEER AND SHADE to contend with is kind of like being a vegan. It’s doable, but your choices are awfully limited.

I wanted to do some planting this first fall on my woodsy property in Springs, but I haven’t put up a deer fence yet. It’s fallen off my list of priorities, behind a new roof, fireplace, bathroom, etc.

I spent a recent evening looking over the offerings from several online nurseries, including Deer-Resistant Landscape and Wayside Gardens, and drove myself a little crazy trying to determine whether a plant in a 5″ plant from one nursery for $12 is a better or worse deal than the same plant in a gallon pot for $23 from another nursery.

I ended up ordering from good ol’ White Flower Farm, which is probably the most expensive, but I know from experience that their products are reliable. I chose an alder buckthorn (rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’, above) – five of them in fact, to reinforce the straggly privet hedge between myself and my next door neighbors – and three of an ornamental grass that is among the few that don’t require full sun: panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire,’ below. They arrived in just a couple of days, disappointingly tiny (these pictures show what they’ll look like, God willing, in a few years’ time).

30074I planted them all yesterday, which first required hacking down five leggy old lilac bushes – rejuvenation pruning, they call it – which you’re supposed to do in spring after flowering, but these didn’t flower last May anyway, so shaded out are they by enormous trees.

Then I spent many hours digging, pulling, cutting, and – with surgical precision – dabbing the cut ends of the evil, never-ending wisteria with Round-Up. (Professionals have repeatedly said it’s the only way.)

I’ve never been a patient sort of person, and I’m generally lousy at long-range planning. My next plant purchase will be something BIG.