My number one complaint/issue about city living over the past 8+ years has been about not having enough nature in my life. When I first moved to Brooklyn, it was into Jeff’s apartment in Bushwick/East Williamsburg, an up and coming hipster ‘hood with more rats than blades of grass. The continuous palette of grey cement, red brick, and blacktop sucked my soul. Jeff, being the smart man that he is, knew he had to get me out of that place if he had any chance of keeping me from leaving him and the city.
|Who gardens after dark? Jeff, the Secret Gardener|
After living there together for three years we headed several miles south to the tree-lined streets of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. I was no longer dodging rats on my way to the train, but instead, kids on scooters and triple-wide strollers. Our apartment, was walking distance to Prospect Park, Mount Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It changed our lives. We use those parks weekly, if not daily for morning runs (well, not at the moment, but I’m looking forward to it once again), evening concerts, family play dates and picnics, fireworks, farmers market, etc.
Over time the amount and type of outside space I’ve wanted and needed has changed. Having grown up in Connecticut suburbs and attended college in outdoorsy Vermont, I used to think that a private large backyard with an in-ground pool was the minimum requirement I would need to feel human. But now, that seems a little over-the-top and the thought of spending a Saturday (or every Saturday for that matter) pulling weeds or mowing a lawn is daunting. So I’ve lowered my standards just a bit. Ideally, I need a place to sit in private, drink a glass of wine, and connect with nature. Um, oh yeah, and place for the kids to play outside would be great too...so a fire-escape converted into a balcony is never going to suffice.
Well, Jeff’s still a smart man, and he still doesn’t want me to leave him or the city. So earlier this summer he got to thinking and then he got to working. Let me give you some background info first…we live on the first floor of a 4-story apartment building and we are the only tenants with access to a small, private weed/cement garden. However, even though we could access this space though the sliding door in our dining room, it wasn’t safe (no stairs from the door), attractive or included in our lease. So yes, it was there, but only to look at, but it was hideous, so we barely did that. Earlier this summer, during a rare glance out back, Jeff and I both agreed it was such an eyesore we should just clean it up, even if we couldn’t use it.
|Death trap exit from our dining room|
We asked our landlord, whom we’ve become friendly with over the past year, if he would mind if we cleaned it up. At the very least we would make it safer and more attractive…and we would incur all costs. It took him over a month to give us the go-ahead, but as summer passed us by, Jeff was anxious to get working on it, and secretly started doing yard work when I wasn’t home to notice. It became his garage, his man-cave, and his hobby. He kept the curtains closed, so except for muddied boots drying in the hallway, I was clueless to the amount of time he was spending out there and progress he was making.
When our landlord came over to give us his approval to do with it as we pleased, he was just as shocked as I was to see Jeff’s work. Over the course of a month, Jeff had removed tree-sized weeds, snails, hundreds of pounds of cement, metal debris, garbage, and filled holes. I was amazed and wanted in on his man-cave and defiantly saw the potential of this becoming an awesome space for a growing family.
In a race against the end of summer, my incredibly talented Dad built us the steps needed to prevent us from falling to our death every time we opened the slider, we hired a landscaper to install mulch, a few vines and high-quality, super soft turf (best thing ever!). We also bought/borrowed some lawn furniture, added electricity, and accessed the basement for water. The final touches include the playhouse we just ordered for Colette and a projector to watch movies outside.
|My Dad building steps. Made it look way to easy.|
|Post sand, pre turf|
It’s a beautiful, petite, private oasis in the city and I can’t believe it’s ours to use. Like magic, every time I find something to complain about in regards to city living, Jeff comes to my rescue, or perhaps, his own.
|Didn't take long for us to fill it up!|