United States of America, New York, Kings, Brooklyn
Urban Oasis in Vinegar Hill (Brooklyn, New York)
In 1979 this 25- by 60-foot urban garden was a dump filled with rubbish and rubble located behind a nearly derelict formerly commercial brick building. The invasive eight-foot tall Japanese knotweed that grew here was hacked down and hauled away along with 20 cubic yards of trash; a venerable privet was maintained. The owner dug down 18 inches, brought in 40 cubic yards of topsoil and five yards of manure and started a vegetable garden. Some of the bricks and rocks he had excavated were used to build a rock garden, waterfall and pool at the shady rear of the yard. Its higher elevation allowed water to run off into irrigation channels for the vegetables. Paving stones found on the property were laid creating five tiers connected by brick or plank steps. The first garden was finished by 1982 but had to be redesigned and rebuilt in 1988. New construction next door had shaded out this garden, and a lawn, except for a small patch of grass in the sunniest spot, was not feasible. Starting behind the house there is a private outdoor shower, ascending to a garden room for dining and entertaining with a brick built-in barbeque, table and chairs. At the next level the former vegetable garden was turned into a more formal ornamental garden with L-shaped beds planted with perennials anchored by a dwarf Japanese maple in the central bed. The irrigation pool was converted to a fish pond and small water garden that drains into an artificial rock-lined creek from which the water recirculates.
Since the site receives very little direct sun and is subject to urban air pollution the owner has found that woodland plants are the most successful. Ground covers have reduced the need for weeding and if it rains once a week the garden does not have to be watered. Ephemeral bulbs start the blooming season in March and the garden remains in bloom for eight or nine months of the year. Flowering ground covers including partridgeberry, wintergreen, bunchberry and myrtle form a tapestry in raised borders filled with topsoil enriched with manure. Wild flowers in the rock garden include trilliums, violets, bloodroot, and Solomon's seal. Shade-tolerant perennials and shrubs, notably hostas, ferns, yews and specimen hemlocks, other hardy perennials including purple coneflowers, bleeding hearts, daylilies, pinks, loosestrife, catmint and Russian sage, and self-sowing cleome and foxglove thrive in this Brooklyn garden.
The folder includes worksheets and other information.
This property is featured in "Big-City Haven" by Ken Druse, published in Horticulture, December 1991, pp. 22-24; "Woodland Plants Adapt to a New Life in Brooklyn" by Eric Rosenthal, published in The New York Times, June 23, 1985, p. 28