Gardening Notes from Brooklyn: A Rose is Coming Tomorrow....
A rose is being delivered from Heirloom Roses, tomorrow, for my Spring Garden. The UPS notification emails keep me informed as to its arrival. Not as exciting as a new baby, but somewhat.
My new rose's name is Veilchenblau. According to the web site, she is
About as blue a rose as you are going to find. Small, semi-double 1 ½" blooms, (petals 9-12) opening purple violet and maturing to lilac-blue and finally fading to lilac on a once blooming plant. Can appear blue at times especially in part shade. Nearly thorn-less, shade tolerant, with a strong orange fragrance. Makes a nice pillar. Outstanding in partial shade or full sun.
She is a rambling rose. I learned about rambling roses through a garden landscaper with whom I have worked, over the years. I have come to love the delicate qualities of the rambling rose, for I already have a few, such as Darlow's Enigma. True to the name of its type, it really does ramble. I am witness to its lacing itself through what ever comes her way, such as a holly in my yard that stands like a stanchion at the head of one of the side beds, midway in the garden.
For my sixtieth birthday, my husband Dan gave me the present of a new garden, to be designed by the professional landscaper of my choice, Ann Brooke. There had been so many versions of our back yard over the years. When we bought our wood frame house, which harks back to the 1890's, the ground in the yard was covered in concrete, there were stockade fences on the sides, and there was a big open air, barn like structure closer to the house than to the back of the yard. The frame of this folly was made out of plumbing pipes that supported a pitched roof that sported a covering of the same asbestos tile, a faux brick look, used to cover the wood planks on the front of the house. The open barn, as I liked to think of it, was actually a sort of a neat structure. It allowed one to sit outside in the warmth of a summer rain and meditatively watch and listen to the rain drops falling down. And we always held our son's birthday celebrations with the family, in June, under the generous shade provided by our open, sloped roof. When he grew older, my son loved to hang and swing from the pipes, as if on a jungle gym, as I hovered about to catch him in case he started to fall from such heights.
Before we lived in our house, we had lived in a floor through apartment in a five story co-op on third street, between fifth and sixth Avenues, in Park Slope. When I lived in Manhattan on Jane Street before I got married, there was a certain snobbism about traveling to Brooklyn. Brooklyn may have been where you came from, as my husband did, but in social circles, it was a place to which you did not return. Little did I know that Brooklyn was one of the best kept secrets in New York.
At the time we bought the co-op, it never occurred to me that for just a little more money, you could actually buy a whole brownstone. It was still the time of the Wild West in Park Slope, where residents felt the dangers of the street life. There were shootings, gangs, drunken bums partying loudly at night from the nearby park, and cars were set on fire, or loaded onto trucks under cover of the night, disappearing completely.
I learned to venture into the lands of Brooklyn, when I dated a stained glass artist. And then too, my brother and his wife moved there, shortly after getting married. So when my husband and I were newly married as well, tired of living in a high rise apartment, and feeling that we were wasting money paying for garage space, we started looking for a new place to live. We ventured back to Brooklyn, the landscape of my husband's youth. He grew up between Avenues M and N. We chose the more up and coming neighborhood of Park Slope. We found an old time Costa Rica real estate broker with a great reputation, Susan Breen. She worked independently, and was not part of the huge, merged, real estate conglomerates that now line the avenues of Park Slope, like vultures in wait of new prey.
The building we fell in love with and recognized as becoming our new home, was still under renovation when we saw it. We were taken for a viewing by flash light, and had to be very careful of where we stepped. Some of the units were already spoken for, and we chose ours from the units that remained. That viewing by flashlight felt like a magical moment in our new lives together. Because we were seeing the landscape of our future home in the dark, the flashlight acting like fireflies in the night, it had the surreal feeling of the night forest of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.
A partial renovation followed our purchase. Always ironic to me, that it is still necessary to renovate, immediately after a recent original renovation. But a wall was taken down, and a new wonderful open kitchen was created. It included a pass through that looked upon the back room of the apartment, which served as the living and dining room areas. My husband's cousin, David Sokol, designed and built that kitchen for us. I have never worked with someone like David, who planned his design of our space so carefully. He asked about, and made an inventory of every kitchen item that we used, and planned spaces for all of it. There was a box like storage structure over the pass way that displayed large bowls, and held some appliances. Everyone who visited with us, would admire our beautiful, light filled, open kitchen, which had a window that gave a view of all the yards of the other houses.
I would work in the kitchen daily, making meals, especially after out son was born. When facing one of the main work counters of the kitchen, making bread or engaging in some such task, I would look out of the window into the backyards of our neighbors. Every day, I would see our next door neighbor Kim, who ran a day care group out of her home. On some days, she would be showing the children her rainbow striped winter gloves. The children were mesmerized by the colors as Kim wiggled her fingers in the air. The children would play on swings and slides, daily. Sometimes they would eat lunch, and have their snacks outdoors, too. And each day, as I watched, a deep longing grew inside of me to have my own garden.
In those days, there were no computers, no internet, and the New York Times still ran classified ads. I would ritualistically look at the Sunday Times housing ads, despite the fact that prices had already gone too high. I did not believe we could ever afford to buy a house in the neighborhood. The longer I looked, the higher the prices rose, and real estate agents were now in control of the game. Until one day, like magic, I saw an ad. It was all of one quarter inch high and about one and one-half inches wide. It was for an 1890's wood frame house located in the South Slope. At this time, most people did not live in the South Slope and felt that the Park Slope neighborhood ended at ninth street. I telephoned the number on the ad and made an appointment to see it.
What I remember most about the house is that it had a big warm country kitchen with an antique round oak table with claw feet, and a set of press-back wood chairs to go with it. And there was a black cat. The owner ran a flotation center out of the house to make money, and the tank was smack in the center of the middle parlor of the ground floor, along with a shower in which to wash before floating in the tank. The owner, Ann, was a real Park Slope do it your self-er, and it did not hurt that her boyfriend did construction work. She had mud laid the kitchen tile floor, all by herself. Ann worked as a house painter on the side, but actually was also a fine artist. The house was filled with large canvas portraits of her friends and her oil paintings were very good. A bit like Alice Neel paintings, except that Ann's subjects all wore clothes. Ann liked the idea of selling her house to this new family of three. She accepted our offer, and then rescinded, as her tenant had the first right of refusal. It turned out that the tenant could not afford the house, and months later, Ann came back to us, as she had promised. We were lucky. This was not yet the days of holding out for the highest offer, or of real estate bidding wars. We bought ourselves a house with a backyard, and I would finally have an outdoor space of my own, in which to create a garden.
Some of the happiest moments of the garden included setting up a sprinkler for my son and his best friend, Andrew, to run through, dressed in swimming shorts, during the heat of the summers' days. There was also the time we tried setting up a badminton net, but when we finally played, the shuttle cock inevitably landed in the neighbors' yards, so our games were short-lived. What I liked best was learning what would grow, planting different combinations of plants, and watching what came up and what thrived. I began to have my favorites. One year, I purchased long bamboo poles which I found while wandering around Ikea one day. I rigged them up into a rectangular pergola, giving the effect of one of the arches in Monet's garden, but in a ninety degree interpretation. A bower of morning glories grew and trailed up and across the top of the structure. You had to duck your head a little when passing through, but the visual was wonderful. To this day, I always love looking out of my kitchen windows to the backyard garden, no matter what time of year it is.
My biggest back yard accomplishment was renting a jack hammer and breaking up all of the concrete in the backyard. In concert with this task, I also rented containers, hauled the concrete pieces through the house, and dumped the pieces into the containers which were then carted away. It took years of persistently planting grass seed, and laying down sod, to realize that grass did not really grow in the backyards of Brooklyn. And that is how I came to hire Ann Brooke, to redesign our back yard. I needed the help of an expert to take the garden to a new level.
I found this photo on the internet, at a site for a rock quarry called Monterey Masonry. For I dreamed of rocks and stone as part of my outdoor landscape, and this photo of a circular stone design integrated into the grassy ground, with a star shape in the center to boot, is what made me fall in love the landscape design of Ann Brooke before meeting her in person.
What I remember most about our first meeting, was how flattered I felt, when Ann looked around at our back yard, and commented by saying something like, "well, what do you need me for? This is perfectly lovely." After the initial design and hardscaping, which involved workers carrying multiple pieces of stone weighing a few hundred pounds apiece, through the narrow hallway of our ground floor, as well as the actual landscaping, I would continue to contact Ann for additional consultations and services. She designed a fence that was installed at the top of the brick wall in the back of the garden, to hide the large chicken coop our neighbors built at the property line of their back yard, when they decided to become urban farmers. Ann also chose the perfect trellis to face the wall of the extension that new neighbors to the left of our house, built. She helped advise on the choice of outdoor furniture purchased from Maine Cottage. And she decided on the stain color for the fencing, which would coordinate all of the elements. I learned the importance of keeping the color of the fencing in a neutral blue/gray color so it all receded in the background, bringing the color of the plantings to the foreground, where they belonged. And least I forget, years later, she designed our front yard as well, which included a Stewartia tree. Trees are always the bones of any garden.
Ann Brooke's original design for my yard has morphed over the years, as it probably should. A living garden will always be changing. And I believe that she, knowing that I was a "real gardener," left some such spaces in which I might play. Sometimes, in my mind, I think of planting in such spots, and arranging pots in the garden, as painting the landscape.
And so when my new rose arrives, I will use a small pick-ax to dig a hole in the dirt, a pick-ax being so much better than a shovel sometimes. I will plant anew. To me, this is such a symbol of hope for the future. What a miracle of life to see the plants unfurl, and emerge from the earth, again and again in this season of spring.
April is right on schedule today. It is raining outside, so good for the garden, and perfect planting weather.
April, come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May, she will stay
Resting in my arms again
June, she’ll change her tune
In restless walks, she’ll prowl the night
July, she will fly
And give no warning of her flight
August, die she must
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I’ll remember
A love once new has now grown old
© 1965 Words and Music by Paul Simon