When garden designer Brook Klausing first saw his clients’ townhouse backyard in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, it looked bleak: a chain-link fence, an old concrete patio, and a patch of hard-packed dirt.
But the garden’s sad state wasn’t the problem. “Making a garden beautiful, that’s easy,” Klausing says. The challenge was the clients wanted to build a new deck. Attached to the house. And that required building permits.
“My approach with a project like this is to say upfront to the clients, ‘look, if you want this deck, the city is not going to make this easy,'” says Klausing. “‘It takes a long time to get permits, it costs a lot of money to build to their code, and it can hold up a project. Are you ready for that?'”
The clients were ready for that:
Photography via Brook Landscape.
Above: Klausing designed a new deck and staircase made of steel with ipe decking and stair treads. “We had to put in a concrete pillar big enough to support a four-story building,” says Klausing. “Literally when we were digging the holes for the foundation, the city required an engineer be there to supervise.”
All the construction materials were carried by hand to the backyard. “Everything—the steel, the pavers—goes through the house, that’s a given with a site like this,” says Klausing.
Above: At the bottom of the staircase, things take a turn. The landing and bottom steps are stacked limestone, with one ipe tread overlapping the stone; the wooden planks is elongated to stretch along the length of the garden like an elevated path—at the right height to double as bench seating.
“One of the reasons we did it was for this idea of being able to walk around at different elevations and on obscure paths, that aspect is fun,” says Klausing.
Above: The patio and pathway pavers are limestone, as well, edged by crushed limestone dust mixed with gravel. “It’s a very modern look, but I tried to soften it with the gravel and plantings, like the ferns in the gravel,” says Klausing. “There was not a lot of light in the garden, so most of the stuff we planted is all-shade.”
Visible on the left, along the fence line, is a magnolia tree that belongs to neighbors and hangs over the clients’ garden. “We limbed it up and made it pretty,” says Klausing. “It good to have it be in the neighbor’s yard, where it doesn’t take up space but you get the rewards.”
In the back of the garden is a “giant oak tree” that Klausing designed around.
Above: Klausing designed a cedar fence of thin vertical slats. “I like the prettiness of the thing,” he says. “I went with a vertical fence because I’m just kind of getting bored with horizontal. And vertical is easier to produce. You just cut them all and show up with panels all the same height. With horizontal slats, you create panels, but then they still can be finicky and add a lot more time to a project.”
Against the fence he planted a wisteria vine alongside the staircase. “It’s really pretty in spring,” he says.
Above: Instead of balusters, the stairway and balcony have galvanized steel cable railing. Says Klausing, “That’s for code.”
See more of our favorite garden designs for Brooklyn backyards:
- A Low-Maintenance Brooklyn Backyard by New Eco Landscapes.
- Before & After: A Modern Townhouse Garden in Brooklyn.
- A Brooklyn Townhouse with a Double-Wide Garden.