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Landscape Designer Visit: A Small Brooklyn Backyard Where ‘Every Detail, Every Inch’ Is Important

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Landscape Designer Visit: A Small Brooklyn Backyard Where ‘Every Detail, Every Inch’ Is Important

April 1, 2022

Serene but child-friendly. Wild but modern. Sophisticated but hardwearing. Landscape designer Julie Farris‘s clients wanted it all when they approached her to tame and transform the overgrown backyard of their Carroll Gardens brownstone. Luckily, she had the perfect plan to marry the seemingly contradictory requests.

Julie, working in tandem with Khanna-Schultz Architects and Deborah Berke Partners, chose loose, soft, low-maintenance plants but contained them to the borders for a tidy, streamlined effect. She selected a refined materials palette of ipe wood, porcelain pavers, gravel, and COR-TEN steel but paired it with a synthetic lawn so that the clients’ two young kids would have space for cartwheels and shenanigans. (“As with most townhouses, the mix of sun and shade is always an iffy proposition when it comes to lawns,” says Julie, by way of explaining why they chose synthetic over real grass.)

And while the resulting outdoor space makes a strong case for the less-is-more approach, the project was far from an easy one. “This garden looks like it could have been built in very short amount of time, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. This was due in part to the disruption caused by the pandemic. But it was also that the design, while seemingly simple looking, was actually more complex that it would seem to build,” says Julie. “Because the design is so minimal, every detail needed to be done just right, and every inch was important for it to work, both compositionally and functionally.”

Join us for a tour.

Photography by Matthew Williams, courtesy of Julie’s firm, XS Space.

Ipe wood was used for the horizontal fencing and the graduated walkway. &#8\2\20;The dimension of the ipe used is narrower than usual, which lends a lightness to that normally darker and weightier-looking material—and to the space overall.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Ipe wood was used for the horizontal fencing and the graduated walkway. “The dimension of the ipe used is narrower than usual, which lends a lightness to that normally darker and weightier-looking material—and to the space overall.”
Porcelain pavers closer to the house add to the textural palette. Panicum viginatum and Russian sage are planted in a single, long COR-TEN border that lines one side of the yard.
Above: Porcelain pavers closer to the house add to the textural palette. Panicum viginatum and Russian sage are planted in a single, long COR-TEN border that lines one side of the yard.
In the bed just behind this built-in bench are an effusive mix of Mexican feathergrass, fountain grass, swamp milkweed, Corepsis ‘Moonbeam’, hyssop, Gaura lindheimeri.
Above: In the bed just behind this built-in bench are an effusive mix of Mexican feathergrass, fountain grass, swamp milkweed, Corepsis ‘Moonbeam’, hyssop, Gaura lindheimeri.
The view from the top terrace. &#8\2\20;The most challenging aspect of the design was getting the layout and grading to work in a small space,&#8\2\2\1; says Julie. &#8\2\20;The walkway is supported by a structure that has concrete footers, and they needed to clear the roots of the giant Spruce, and the grading needed to cover the footers at a consistent pitch, and also meet the existing patio. Additional soil  had to be blown from a pipe onto the site from the street through the lower level of the house.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The view from the top terrace. “The most challenging aspect of the design was getting the layout and grading to work in a small space,” says Julie. “The walkway is supported by a structure that has concrete footers, and they needed to clear the roots of the giant Spruce, and the grading needed to cover the footers at a consistent pitch, and also meet the existing patio. Additional soil  had to be blown from a pipe onto the site from the street through the lower level of the house.”
The terrace just off the kitchen on the parlor floor. A fragrant crowd of Solidago ordera, echinacea, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, and Pennisetum orientale ‘Karly Rose’ fill the planters here.
Above: The terrace just off the kitchen on the parlor floor. A fragrant crowd of Solidago ordera, echinacea, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, and Pennisetum orientale ‘Karly Rose’ fill the planters here.
The view from the kitchen.
Above: The view from the kitchen.
The upper terrace has a Zen feel. In the planters are feather reed grass, Tennessee coneflower, fountain grass, hyssop, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam&#8\2\17;, Mexican feathergrass, Gaura lindheimeri, Virginia creeper, and honeysuckle.
Above: The upper terrace has a Zen feel. In the planters are feather reed grass, Tennessee coneflower, fountain grass, hyssop, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Mexican feathergrass, Gaura lindheimeri, Virginia creeper, and honeysuckle.

Before

Prior to the remodel, &#8\2\20;this site was an overgrown, mosquito-y backyard with the typical urban issues: questions of how to to tie into neighboring grades gracefully, how to remove a random metal ladder in the middle of the rear view, a falling down concrete wall, falling down fences between neighbors, old wires with questionable functionality and ownership. The usual.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Prior to the remodel, “this site was an overgrown, mosquito-y backyard with the typical urban issues: questions of how to to tie into neighboring grades gracefully, how to remove a random metal ladder in the middle of the rear view, a falling down concrete wall, falling down fences between neighbors, old wires with questionable functionality and ownership. The usual.”

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