Archive for the ‘Curbside Catastrophe’ Category


Sidewalk sadness

I walked by this narrow raised planter on E. 17th Street the other day and was shocked by the missed opportunity for creating curb appeal for the building. After all, first impressions go a long way! Needless to say, the scattered garbage, orphan Hostas and overgrown weeds aren’t doing any favors to define the value of this real estate.

It wouldn’t take much to spruce this planter up and give residents and passersby something to smile at. Check out some plant ideas below for easy ways to overhaul this planting.

Pieris japonica is a broadleaf evergreen shrub with dark green glossy leaves (bronze color when young) that produces white flowers in spring. It is relatively slow-growing but can reach a height of 6-8′ tall. A bonus is the flowers carry a sweet fragrance which can help mask various odors sometimes present on NYC streets.

Pieris japonica

Pieris japonica

Adding Euonymus alatus (common name: Burning Bush) which has bright red autumnal foliage, could increase visual interest and add a pop of color. Euonymus ‘Compactus’ may be a better suited cultivar for smaller sites since it does not grow as large as the straight species.


Euonymous alatus with Stunning Fall Color

Viburnum plicatum, commonly referred to as Doublefile Viburnum,  is a great shrub which can grow to 8-10′ tall. Deciduous, dark green leaves turn reddish-purple in the autumn while large white flowers cover the plant in late spring/early summer.


Viburnum plicatum with Spring Flowers

Utilize evergreens towards the back of the planter to add green year round and provide a solid foundation for the planting. Think Ilex, Taxus or Buxus. Junipers love sunnier locations and stand up to the abuse that sidewalks dish out.

Once the larger shrubs are in place, add some smaller perennials in the middle section such as: Anemone (spring flowers), Astilbe (blooms in summer/fall depending on cultivar), Spiraea (blooms in summer) and ferns (Ostrich and Painted Ferns are nice varieties) which leaf out in early summer.


Astilbe in Full Bloom

Don’t forget to leave some open pockets towards the front of the planting area for seasonal annuals. Spring bulbs such as Tulips, Daffodils or Snowdrops could be planted in the late Fall in the same area that the annuals are planted in. With a little sweat and a few tears (hopefully of joy) this planter could go from neglected to stunning in no time.

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The Entry Garden at 201 West 70th Street, NYC

201 West 70th Street is unique because the entrance for the building is off of the street and through a courtyard. The courtyard is planted very nicely and there is a private garden for the building adjacent to the entry area. Trees are planted into semi-submerged steel boxes that act as frames throughout the garden beds. I actually like this idea a lot, and the design was executed nicely.

Which does not belong in this planting: Magnolias, Pachysandra or Electrical Outlets?

….That is until I walked further down the sidewalk and noticed these electrical outlets sticking out of each steel frame. It doesn’t seem to make any sense to have them there and that is one detail that shouldn’t have been overlooked. I like the design but I can’t let that one slide. I know that sometimes as a designer, we can’t always control these things, but there has got to be another solution to help disquise them!

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The South Facade of 381 West End Avenue

Frederick B. White was a prolific yet short-lived architect from New York City. Considering his untimely death at the age of 24, it is remarkable to see the amount of work he completed in the short time after graduating from Princeton University. 381 West End Avenue is a shining example of Flemish Renaissance Revival architecture and is one of few private residences White Completed in the city. Though the exquisite brickwork and roofline are still in tact, the curb appeal and landscaping left much to be desired when I passed by the building this week.

Buckets and Garbage Adorn the Front of 381 West 81st Street

One of the biggest influences on perceived value of a home is the level of maintenance. Cosmetics may seem skin deep, but when a potential buyer (renter or otherwise) sees cracks on the surface of a wall, they always wonder what’s going on beneath the surface. This building was originally constructed and completed in 1886 for Henry H. Hewett (supposedly a dry goods clerk), and now stands in a state of disrepair. Buckets, garbage and construction debris filled the fenced area around the front entrance. Overgrown shrubs and lackluster English Ivy provide some greenery, but the overall effect is unkempt.

A Simple Rendering of 381 West End Avenue

I can’t help but imagine the front of this building with more attractive landscaping. An arched gate could mimic the top of the front door and lower hedges would help make the space feel more open and inviting. Wisteria climbing up the southern facade would be magnificent in spring. Additional layers of grasses and an ornamental tree could transform the corner of 78th street and West End Avenue into a sidewalk sensation. Read more about properties in the West End Collegiate Historic District here.

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Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design

A stranded car caused by a fallen tree

The freak snowstorm that hit Northeastern U.S. last weekend was a brutal combination of heavy, wet snow and leaves still on deciduous trees which resulted in massive amounts of breakage. Falling limbs and entire trees destroyed cars, houses and power lines alike. While the damage of this storm could not be avoided, there are a few things you can do to help lessen the consequences of these situations.

Choosing correct tree species is a huge factor in reducing fallen and broken branches.  Bradford Pear trees have notoriously weak joints that often split without provocation.  Fast-growing trees, while beneficial for filling a large space in a short amount of time, have weak wood.  These trees also have a higher tendency for breaking than slow-growing trees such as Sycamores which have stronger structures. If you have an Ailanthus tree growing anywhere near your home or personal property, you should consider removing it (see our post on these weak-limbed trees).

Jeffery Erb Landscape Design

Heavy snow and leaves didn't mix for this mature Oak

Advanced planning and proper pruning can save you a huge headache later on.  Having a certified arborist inspect older trees on a regular basis is a worthwhile investment.  They can clear out old, dead wood and identify and treat any prevalent diseases before they become a problem.  This is especially important for mature trees.  Let’s face it, nobody wants a branch sticking their roof or draped across power lines.

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Halloween Decorations on West 75th Street Gets A+ For Effort But D- For Execution

Yesterday I hit the streets for several appointments. On West 75th Street I passed this beautiful house with the tackiest Halloween Decorations. Though it looked like they had fun adorning their entryway with cobwebs, rats and pumpkins I think the fake cockroaches were a little too close to home here in NYC. Too many different elements used and too little focus on composition and balance resulted in a mediocre display. The straw bale and bunch of field corn looked lost and forlorn in the corner. If everything was brought closer to the stairs and doorway, it would have had more impact.

A Few Too Many Elements Look Thrown Together

Poor Composition Took the Spook Out of This Halloween Display

Then when I strolled down West 43rd Street I passed this building that had a homemade cobweb and fall plantings in their front entryway. The display was very simple but impactful. The plants complemented  the cobweb while providing a nice green contrasting background. When decorating your entryway for Halloween follow these rules of thumb:

1. Keep it clean: Save the blood and gore for your backyard or indoor party

2.Keep it simple: pick 2 or 3 elements that you like and repeat them in different ways, make your own decor and go easy on the bank!

3. Lighting Lighting Lighting! – your carved pumpkins may not be enough so make sure to put some extra pillar candles in hurricane vases or lanterns outside for the safety of your visitors.

Homemade Cobwebs and Fall plantings Work in this West 43rd Street Planting

The Fall Plantings Complement and Enhance Halloween Decorations

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This plaza serves as an entry to the stately 48 story building at 1633 Broadway. Located in the heart of the theater district, Paramount Plaza gets tons of foot traffic which is all the more reason for my disappointment when I saw their fall planting.

Paramount Plaza Looking East Towards Broadway

One large Chrysanthemum was plunked in the middle of each planter. The plantings don’t have any imagination or whimsy and because of the intermixed colors it looks like an afterthought.  There are so many better options for fall annuals and foliage displays that Chrysanthemums are obsolete from a design perspective.

Paramount Plaza Fall Plantings

This planting was a missed opportunity to wow visitors and draw attention to Paramount Plaza’s real estate. The planters are screaming for something with height to match the scale of the surrounding street trees. What if they used Pennisetum rubrum for its tall deep red leaves, or even ‘Purple Majesty’ Ornamental Millet. That would set the stage for a whole new classy feel with lots of contrast in height and color.

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Ailanthus Tree Came Down Due to Heavy Rains

Ailanthus altissima (commonly referred to as Tree of Heaven) is a sneaky tree. It is a fast-growing invasive plant that grows well in disturbed sites and poor soils. Ailanthus loves New York City. There are more than a few in the neighbor’s backyard beside my own building. Because of all the rainfall we’ve recently received, mature street trees and Ailanthus alike have become unstable due to restricted root systems.

Exposed Roots of Ailanthus altissima

 Soaring as high as 40-60′ tall at maturity, Ailanthus can grow up to 5′ in a single year. This rapid growth forms weak wood which can break easily in storms. It seems that any tree or shrub that can find a way to survive in a city backyard should be loved, but this little piece of heaven can be dangerous. The above pictures were taken just this week. Hurricane Irene caused other Ailanthus trees to fall in Hell’s Kitchen as well. If you are unsure about a tree on or around your property, get a certified arborist to come and check it out. We recommend Arborpolitan for tree care in New York City.

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