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Best Professional Landscape 2018: Liz Pulver Design’s Room to Breathe in Brooklyn

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Best Professional Landscape 2018: Liz Pulver Design’s Room to Breathe in Brooklyn

August 15, 2018

The winner of the 2018 Gardenista Considered Design Awards Best Professional Landscape is Liz Pulver Design for her Room to Breathe in Brooklyn project.

The project was chosen as a finalist by Gardenista editor Michelle Slatalla, who noted how the “roof garden and velvety green backyard create a remarkable respite from the noise and grit of New York City. A rooftop turned into a garden is an investment in the future, creating habitats for birds and a bonus layer of insulation for a house.”

N.B.: This is the third of six posts spotlighting the winners of the 2018 Gardenista Considered Design Awards. Go to this year’s Considered Design Awards page to see all the entries, finalists, and winners, and have a look at the Remodelista Considered Design Awards.

Photography by Oresti Tsonopoulos.

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Above: “From the balcony above, you’re drawn downward, toward an inviting lawn and garden.”

Liz Pulver Design’s Design Statement: “On a tree-lined street in Brooklyn Heights, a family dreamt of a lush, green garden to come home to—a refuge from the city.”

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Above: “From the kitchen balcony, generous stairs bring you down to the garden.”

Gardenista: What does your firm specialize in?
Liz Pulver Design: We specialize in designing unique, customized gardens and outdoor spaces that make you sigh in relief as you walk out the door.

GD: Who worked on the winning project?
LPD: Liz Pulver was the landscape architect and lead designer for the gardens and green roof. Town & Gardens Ltd. was the landscape contractor responsible for the landscape installation. They are involved in ongoing care as well. Kevin Dakan Architect was the architect for the townhouse and new kitchen addition, over which the green roof happily lives. Oresti Tsonopoulos was the photographer.

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Above: “Window boxes filled with elephant ears and trailing helichrysum greet you from the sidewalk. A Japanese stewartia tree settles in, pushing upward into dappled light. Once you go up the steps and through the front door, you leave your day behind.”

GD: What were your practical goals for the project?
LPD: In the front, we wanted to create a welcoming garden—for the clients as they arrived home, for their guests, and for the neighborhood. As you know, the gardens and window boxes of Brooklyn Heights are pretty amazing to behold, and our client wanted to contribute to that neighborhood experience.

From inside the house, we wanted to maximize views to the garden and green roof wherever possible. It’s so important to connect the inside and outside visually. This makes the interior spaces feel larger and more connected to nature.

In the rear yard, we wanted to create a lush, restful garden, include space for outdoor living, and a lawn for play. With a new balcony and staircase being added off of the back of the townhouse, space was at a premium. The green roof idea evolved with the project and sits over the kitchen addition, just outside the baby’s bedroom windows.

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Above: “This unexpected patch of rooftop garden provides a much needed buffer from the city beyond.”

GD: What solutions did you find to your design problems?
LPD: One challenge was that the client wanted a lawn in the rear yard design. We knew that would be difficult to accomplish, because lawns don’t always thrive in townhouse gardens in the city. Frequently, lawns get “shaded out” by all the surrounding buildings. Lawns also need frequent mowing, and a lawn mower takes up valuable storage space in a small garden! So, as an alternative, we recommended using synthetic turf for the lawn. Synthetic turf (aka “Astroturf”) has come a long way and looks very convincing as a lawn; no mowing required! The client was willing to try it and, so far, it has been a great solution for them.

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Above: “The foliage and textures are constantly changing with the seasons, bringing year-round variation.”

Q: What are your favorite features of the project?
LPD: The green roof is a favorite. It’s such an unexpected surprise to catch sight of a rooftop meadow from inside the house. It’s a great buffer to the city beyond.

The simple stone seat wall and lawn are a soft, curving contrast to the boxy angles all around you. Wrapped with ferns and plantings, it makes for an inviting space.

There is a large azalea shrub in the garden and when we first got involved with the project, the client told us how much they loved it. They really wanted to keep it in their future garden. We knew it would be very hard to guarantee its success if we left it there during construction, so the landscape contractor suggested temporarily transplanting it and maintaining it off-site. When the garden was finally ready for planting—nearly a year later—the azalea was brought in and planted. It has thrived in the garden and having such a mature specimen amid newer plantings helped the garden feel established quickly and it was very meaningful to the client.

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Above: “Mounds of gray-green catmint, scented thyme, and tufts of purple heuchera fill your view. Birds and bugs flit and fly. Mexican feather grass sways in the breeze. Things feel calmer and quieter. The sounds of the city become muffled.”

GD: What were the hardest lessons you learned along the way?
LPD: Building gardens in NYC is always a feat! You are essentially bringing an entire landscape and all its components through a home and up and down a lot of stairs. The green roof on this project was located up three flights of stairs and only accessible through a bedroom window! So all of the soils, plants, tools, and materials were bagged, wrapped, and brought up the stairs and out the window. The install team climbed through the window too! There are inherently issues along the way and these sorts of installations are a reminder of how critical good planning with a team of experienced professionals is to the success of a project.

GD: What advice do you have for someone else undertaking a similar project?
LPD: Investing in your garden and outdoor spaces can vastly improve your outlook on life! But the process of getting there can be daunting. Put together a great team of people to help you navigate it including qualified design professionals, contractors, and installers. Alternatively, if you prefer to take on a project yourself or tackle it in phases, consider consulting with a design professional for an overview of the typical process on a project like yours, any local guidelines or requirements, and recommendations for the best approach. They can also be a resource for qualified installers. As you get started, take the time to meet and interview your team, check references, and find the right fit for your project and budget. You’re making a substantial investment in your property and your well being, and you want it to be right.

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Above: “Upstairs in the baby’s room, you glimpse another patch of green through the window.”

GD: What is your favorite local shop or garden nursery?
LPD: When I’m in the city, I’ll head to the Flower District on 28th Street, just to see what plants are on display there. I love the mix of exterior and interior plants, cut flowers, and the Hollywood-esque characters roaming the streets. In Brooklyn, I enjoy local spots like Gardel’s Garden in Fort Greene and the Natty Garden. Both have great go-to plants for city conditions and very knowledgeable staff. Gowanus Nursery in Red Hook has provocative perennials and pots. And the gift shop at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is fun too—lots of little interior plants to take home, products by local artisans, something for everyone.

GD: Where do you get your design inspiration?
LPD: Day to day, my sources for design inspiration are garden and design magazines, books, Instagram, and a daily dose of Gardenista in the morning. But, for a full reboot and complete design refresh, I need to travel. I love to visit parks, gardens, nurseries, garden stores, museums, and galleries; eat, drink, wander, fully immerse myself, and talk to lots of people in new places. It’s fascinating to see how people live and garden in Mexico City, what pots and products they’re using in Barcelona, and what plants they’re excited about in San Francisco.

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