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Quick Takes With: Brook Klausing

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Quick Takes With: Brook Klausing

June 30, 2024
Brook Klausing

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Brook Klausing and us—we go back. The landscape designer and model (Jenna Lyons famously hired him to redesign her backyard, then put him to work as a J.Crew model) was featured in our book Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces; he served as a judge for our 2018 Considered Design Awards; and his projects have landed on our site again and again (see here, here, and here). 

Known for his low-key but elegant designs that have a distinctively New York vibe, Brook actually grew up in Lexington, KY, in a family of green thumbs. My father worked for Parks and Recreation and was known around town as the tree guy. My brother and I started a lawn care company that incorporated into a landscape management company. By the time we were teenagers, all the best local landscape architects were hiring us to do their installations,” he says. After moving to the Big Apple and working with a few popular rooftop designers, he struck out on his own and founded Brook Landscape, a design-build firm dedicated to creating spaces that get people outdoors. “I would like everyone to spend less time looking at pictures of gardens on their phones and more time connecting with nature and local communities,” says Brook. 

Hear, hear. But before you heed his words and log off, read his thoughts below on the importance of “boring” plants in his designs, the tree that makes him happy, and the color pairing he can’t stand in the garden.

Photography by Douglas Lyle Thompson, courtesy of Brook Klausing, unless otherwise noted.

For more on the landscape designer, check out \10 Things to Know About Brook Klausing.
Above: For more on the landscape designer, check out 10 Things to Know About Brook Klausing.

Your first garden memory:

I spent most of my days as a kid in the backyard. It wasn’t big but my father spent all his time gardening. We had grape hyacinth planted by the front porch. For me, they were mesmerizing. They looked just like food or candy (but you shouldn’t eat them). We had a cherry tree in the front yard that my mom would have us climb every season to pick and then pit them with her on the porch. We had a basic, round brick patio in the backyard that held our grill. Grillouts were the best. The yard wasn’t more than 800 square feet, but my siblings and I played hide and seek every day and always found ways to disappear. It was magical.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

Wendel Berry’s The Unsettling of America. It tells the story of a society that has lost its connection to the land. It details the value of land stewardship and staying in rhythm with Mother Nature. It reminds us that value is often misplaced and peace is a feeling earned from hard work.

Instagram account that inspires you:

If we do our job right, our clients aren’t on IG. They are outside communing with nature, hanging out with friends, or relaxing and sipping tea. My current truth is, stay off the info smack. I’m not interested in AI-generated gardens. I’m not interested in photography or branding. Yes, some photo inspiration is good but get creative, go hiking, see what Mother Nature is doing, and try and recreate that.

Not to say it’s not a tool but if you need alcohol to dance, you should stop drinking.

Describe in three words your garden aesthetic.

Above: A recent Mediterranean-inspired landscape design for Athena Calderone (of Eyeswoon) in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Photograph by William Jess Laird.

Relaxed, refined, and balanced. I’m an artist available for commissions. We try and help our clients get what makes them happy. We will apply the art and our gardens have our mark on them. Similar to the previous question, I’m afraid the housing market and renovation generation have placed too much relevance on objects and space. I like nice things but hate working so hard to maintain an all-white outfit. Mother nature is adaptable. Garden style should be too.

Plant that makes you swoon:

The Tamarisk tree always makes me do a double-take. It’s magical. Like a scotch broom but a tree. So soft-looking, and it just makes you happy.

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

Potato vine. Lime next to burgundy? Now I’m just being snobby. In reality, it’s not about hating things, it’s about loving them.

Favorite go-to plant:

English Ivy—boring but reliable and does a great job of softening hardscaping.
Above: English Ivy—boring but reliable and does a great job of softening hardscaping.

Hornbeam trees. Why? They are boring and don’t do shit. Except, they are tall and can be sculpted. This makes them a great screening tool for small urban gardens. For estates and different rural landscapes, I have different tricks. It’s nice to have some boring, reliable things. Boston ivy is a big winner for city scapes for similar reasons.

Hardest gardening lesson you’ve learned:

Removing trees I wish had kept. Not sure if that’s a garden lesson or just a tough call. Gardening is a curation of Mother Nature. I think that’s why trees have extra importance in gardens. You can build a whole shade garden under a white mulberry tree, but if it will damage your house, you might be better off removing it and planting a sun garden.

Unpopular gardening opinion:

Gardening does not make you an environmentalist. As a firm, we do our best to create good messaging and make smart conscious choices. This doesn’t mean we don’t renovate spaces that are perfectly fine before we arrive. We garden for human consumption, not for Mother Nature’s needs. The best move you can make is one that respects the land and has lasting value beyond a trend. Invest in things that should last and would preferably be desired beyond the project owner’s hands. That said, we are based in a city where ownership is constantly changing. Everything in this life is borrowed. Build something that someone else will want to borrow.

Gardening or design trend that needs to go:

For the redesign of the landscape at Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brook had swathes of lawn replaced with wildflowers and grasses. See 8 Ideas to Steal from the Brooklyn Museum’s Lawn-Turned-Meadow.
Above: For the redesign of the landscape at Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brook had swathes of lawn replaced with wildflowers and grasses. See 8 Ideas to Steal from the Brooklyn Museum’s Lawn-Turned-Meadow.

Lawns and overly structured landscapes that require constant care. Growing up in the industry from a management perspective showed me what goes into designers’ decisions. This is also a zoning and code policy issue. I’m not a fan of the uptight garden or perfect lawns with houses in the middle.

Old wives’ tale gardening trick that actually works:

Deep watering immediately after planting. Don’t mess around and hope it rains.

Favorite gardening hack:

Plant perennials in groupings of 3 and 5. Use one plant for almost 40 percent of beds or boards to create a visual glue connecting space.

Favorite way to bring the outdoors in.

Plant an editable/herb garden. Pick them, cut them, and bring them inside for culinary use. Grow your own farmers market if you can. I just got a blueberry bush. Yum!

Every garden needs a…

Above: Woven willow fencing in a shady Clinton Hill yard designed by Brook.

A good seat in the shade. It’s nice to be outside but if you want to stay out very long in the growing season, you’ll need a place to rest and hide from the sun.

Favorite hardscaping material:

Stone. When we design a garden, stones, and pavers provide everlasting structure and a sense of space offering engagement and refinement. Playing with materials is one of my favorite parts of the job. The materials and energy we use today should be able to last for generations.

Tool you can’t live without:

Felco’s and my mini shovel. Pruning is my favorite chore. It’s like a fresh haircut and sets you up for success. I love the mini shovel as well. It’s bigger than a spade but it’s smaller than a long handle. It reaches those hard-to-maneuver places and still can move volume, making your efforts efficient.

Go-to gardening outfit:

Khakis, a long sleeve, slip-on boots, and a pair of rubber-coated gloves. I like to look good but dress to get the job done. Gardening is messy, if you’re afraid to get dirty, you’ll be less effective. Find something you don’t mind getting ripped by roses and dirt stains on.

Favorite nursery, plant shop, or seed company:

Atlantic Nursery out in Long Island. They stock unique plants that most garden centers don’t carry. It makes shopping fun. They’re like that friend that introduces you to new music—I appreciate them.

On your wishlist:

Travel! I was lucky enough to spend three weeks hiking around Patagonia this spring. Landscapes tell a story of regions. It’s inspiring to witness the raw beauty of Mother Nature and absorb how sophisticated ecosystems are. Sometimes the hardest thing to do to an estate is nothing. Take me back to the wilderness.

Not-to-be-missed public garden/park/botanical garden:

Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The REAL reason you garden:

I grew up in the yard. The garden was my family’s playground. I believe gardens provide opportunities for people to gather.

Thanks so much, Brook! Find him on Instagram @brooklandscape.

See also:

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