Carroll Gardens Brooklyn Garden Transformation

With spring around the corner, lets take a quick look at one of our SimpleTwig garden projects during the renovation of a Carroll Gardens Brooklyn townhouse.

When purchased the garden was overgrown with fallen fencing, and whatever thrown wherever.  Our first steps were basic cleanup.  The ivy was trimmed back and the trash, fencing and anything not savable removed.  We kept the existing gravel cleaning it up so we could use it as a base for a new slab and tile.

This garden is just 30×40 feet square with buildings on 3 sides.  Because of this we decided to make more of the planting area by raising it, and at the same time provide additional seating for informal gatherings.

Existing Urban Garden

We even saved the discarded slate window sills by incorporating them into our new retaining wall as steps which would eventually tie into a stair up to the Parlor floor.

Retaining wall installed.

With the retaining wall installed, to create a raised garden in this small space, the rear yard was ready to enjoy until the owners could afford a new slab and tile.  Note in this view some of the old slate window sills are placed like stepping stones.  The depth of the soil allowed bulbs to get the right depth for yearly tulips.

The retaining wall has it’s own internal drainage system, and use of masonry so there is a separation from the brick face to prevent moisture from being absorbed.  Although impossible to see in the below photo, below the new fencing is a concrete retaining wall capped with brick. The concrete is formed in a serpentine design for added interest and to provide a place for planting pots.

Tiled urban garden

The garden proper was nearly complete, just an effort at new plants and installation of the final stair to the parlor floor.  Here is shown a temporary stair.

Floor Plan copyright SimpleTwig

Because the lot and garden are so small, it was decided to create a garden that could be enjoyed by both the tenant and owner with the use of a connecting stair.


Exterior stair design.

The parlor floor stair allowed the Owners direct access to the rear yard for their children and dog, without blocking light to the apartment.  Directly below the stair was the door to the cellar, positioned here to ensure the rental apartment would stay as large as possible, thus enabling it to become a full legal one bedroom rather than the studio it was before the renovation.

The stair was designed structurally in a very clever way… in order to avoid expensive footings at the bottom of the stair, it was ‘floated’ on top of the retaining wall, allowing it to move during winter and summer expansion, thus it is only connected at the house.  This made the stair cost only $2000 to fabricate and install it, quite a deal.

Final Stair looking back towards the house.

Easy to maintain, whether sweeping or hosing down, a tiled back yard garden with raised planting makes for a clean and lush place to enjoy year around.  The only thing to do now is clean off a few surface, and start planting seeds.

This entire garden was completed for about $10,000 and some sweat equity.  The brick was installed by a mason, the concrete pour was hand mixed by the same mason who helped set the column posts.

The vinyl fencing had each post filled with concrete to the elevation of the retaining wall, to prevent splitting, their caps sealed to prevent any water from entering once the concrete had set (2 weeks minimum in dry air).

In addition it was decided to remove all of the old ivy as it grew too fast and thus climbed up all the surrounding walls, in an out of control manner.   By removing it early it saved the owners the headache of reaching up several stories in the future for removal, understanding that it can undermine stucco and cause problems.


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