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The seductive appeal of a makeover is ingrained into our lifestyles. TV shows shower us with instant transformations leaving us drooling and lusting for something new. With buds bursting and spring in full swing, you may be itching for something different in your garden. Here are some easy mini makeover projects that will help spruce up your garden without breaking the bank.

Overgrown Entry Garden in Chelsea

1. PRUNE WHILE BRANCHES ARE BARE

Some homeowners have an aversion to pruning because they are afraid to hurt the plant, or just don’t know where to start. Pruning is a necessary horticultural technique that will help your plants grow with the best form. The townhouse pictured above, in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, has a gorgeous entry garden with a well-designed plant layout. However, the plants appear unkempt and are in need of a good pruning. The Euonymus growing on the fence and on the façade of the house needs trimmed while the Japanese Maple needs corrective pruning for crossing branches. Remember, the first things to look for when pruning include broken branches, crossing branches and competing leaders in trees. Brush up on your pruning skills for trees and ornamental shrubs with these informative guides. It’s such a simple thing to do, yet still often overlooked.

Beach Pebbles Make a Great Filler in a Walkway

Glass Pebbles Can Add Depth to a Walkway

2. FOCUS ON YOUR FEET

Consider adding a gravel walkway in your garden. Walkways add loads of visual interest to landscapes. They can delineate garden beds and offer definitive structure to otherwise large areas of soil or lawn. For a fresh take on a gravel path, consider mixing in a few glass pebbles along with beach pebbles to add luster and depth.  If you already have an established walkway, think about adding a different border. Use the same material as the main walkway but lay it in a different pattern or size for extra emphasis. It’s a simple trick that can add a lot of appeal.

 3. DO A FOLIAGE ASSESSMENT

For a moment, forget the flowers blooming in your garden.  Focus on the foliage instead and ask yourself the following questions. Do the leaves have contrasting shapes and colors? How about the size of the leaves, do they vary in arrangement and texture? The truth is that foliage is just as important as flowers when selecting a plant palette. Flowers bloom for finite periods of time while the foliage is present for the majority of the season. If the leaves of your plants are all hitting the same note, it may be time to add some fresh species to the mix.

Cool Season Planting with Contrasting Foliage

4. ADD A SPRING PLANTING THAT POPS

Avoid the common mistake of adding one of every kind of annual to your garden bed. Choose two colors to work with and repeat them throughout your garden. Foliage plants act as neutrals and add sophistication to seasonal plantings. Above, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Ogon’, Pieris japonica ‘Flaming Silver’ and miniature Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Mop’ were used to complement the yellow Pansies in this cool-season planting.

5. EDIT YOUR PLANT PALETTE

Revamp the layout of your planting bed. Transplant shrubs and divide perennials that feel out of place. You’d be surprised how much of a difference transplanting a few existing plants can make. In general it is a good idea to plant like species in clusters to evoke a more naturalized feel. Plantings repeated throughout the landscape tend to make more impact. Spring is the best time to selectively edit out any plants that didn’t meet your expectations last season.

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Flowering Cherry and Chain-link Fence

As legend has it, the rough neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side became known as Hell’s Kitchen from a nickname given to the area by local police in the 1870s. The name was created when a rookie cop commented to his more seasoned partner, “This place is hell itself.” “Hell’s a mild climate,” his partner replied, “This is hell’s kitchen.”

Cherry Tree Blooming in Hell's Kitchen Park

Though the neighborhood coudn’t be more different today, the name has stuck and the locals have no interest in changing it.  Many things connect the area to its roots and traditions, not the least of which is a lovely little park situated on 10th avenue between 47th and 48th streets bearing the same moniker — Hell’s Kitchen Park.

Spring Japanese Flowering Cherry

Upon first glance the park serves the neighborhood with a sitting area, planting beds maintained by community volunteers, a play area, basketball and even handball courts. But this park also has a secret that bursts into full view for a brief period once a year. The park is lined with beautiful Cherry trees which provide the most beautiful contrast to the urban background.  The blossoms of these trees herald the coming of another spring; albeit this year a slightly early one.

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I had the great fortune to celebrate the start of spring at Brooklyn Botanic Garden this past weekend. It was still too early to see the Cherry Blossoms in the main promenade, but there were more than a few early bloomers offering a dazzling display of Spring color. The Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia) grove outside of the main conservatory was breathtaking. I could go on and on about the sweet fragrance and the heavenly white blossoms floating magically on the bare branches, but you should really go see it for yourself.

One early blooming Cherry tree, Prunus ‘Okame’ also offered spectacular pink blossoms that drew a crowd of admirers. Camellia ‘Bernice Boddy’ gave brilliant pink blossoms along the walk leading into the Japanese garden. In the summer of 2006, when I volunteered at the BBG working with the children’s garden, I fell in love with Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’ commonly referred to as Crepe Myrtle. The bark stands out in the spring garden and is covered in smooth patterns in varying shades of cinnamon and tan. The best specimen I have ever seen of L. ‘Natchez’ is growing outside of the main conservatory.

Daffodil hill was a sight for sore winter eyes while Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry Dogwood) brightened a garden full of Boxwood and Chamaecyparis. One unusual bloom I came across was the pale yellow flower of Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paperbush). Edgeworthia is in the same family as Daphne and is used to manufacture very high quality paper. The summer leaves are arranged in palmate fashion similar to the shape of a Rhododendron.

Spring is here whether you like it or not. Embrace it and smell the flowers because they won’t last very long in this heat. Though it isn’t my favorite season, I am learning to appreciate spring for its fleeting beauty.

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Dedon SeaX Armchair by Jean-Marie Massaud

Comfort should be at the top of your priority list when shopping for outdoor furniture. Whether you are spending $100 or $1,000 for an exterior dining chair, the price point becomes obsolete if the piece isn’t cozy enough to use. If it doesn’t pass the tush test it isn’t worth it. I spent this gorgeous St. Patrick’s Day afternoon testing out furniture at Dedon and came up with two chairs which are at the top of my list for comfort.

Dedon is about as topnotch as exterior furniture comes. Their new SeaX line designed by Jean-Marie Massaud is impeccably designed. I instantly fell in love with the dining armchair which happens to collapse into what becomes a very modern take on a folding chair. The back is designed to swivel but still provide support. Crafted with wood detailing in the armrests and optional leather or twill fabric (both suitable for outdoors) this chair gets a big thumbs up.

Play Chair by Philippe Starck for Dedon

Philippe Starck married Dedon’s classic woven fiber look with clean design in the Play line of chairs. With a multitude of frame and backrest colors, you can coordinate this chair with a variety of furniture settings. The frame is crafted of durable polypropylene and is both lightweight and sturdy. The backrest is positioned perfectly for dining. Starck made considerable leaps and bounds in the comfort and usability of this piece when compared to the Louis Ghost Chair he designed for Kartell.

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Last year April flowers brought May showers…so I am anxious to see what March flowers will bring this year. Growing up I remember Daffodils blooming at Easter, not before St. Patrick’s day. Everywhere I look something is blooming. From my calculations it seems like plants are operating three to five weeks ahead of schedule, which means if you haven’t  started thinking about your garden you are already behind! Check out these shots of some early blooms in Central Park and around the city.

Hamamaelis vernalis in Central Park, February 4, 2012

Crocus Blooms Covering a Lawn in Quaint Sunnyside Gardens

For all of you wondering how you can join us to get your hands dirty and get your garden on….this is for you! In the end of August 2011 New York City was girding for an evacuation of low-lying areas from fear of flooding due to Hurricane Irene.  For most of us city dwellers the storm was relatively anticlimactic, bringing only a bit of rain and wind.

The Courtyard of Hartley House in Hell's Kitchen

Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design provided a pro bono consultation to our neighborhood community center, Hartley House, one week before Irene’s visit. During that meeting, one of our chief concerns was for a pair of Ailanthus trees growing in the courtyard which had never been pruned properly.  This invasive species, known for being unstable, raised fears for the wellbeing of surrounding historic buildings of Hartley House, and for the children attending afterschool and summer programs in the courtyard.

If you are already a reader of Erbology, you know how this story (and storm) ended, as chronicled in When Heaven Came Crashing Down on September 7, 2011.  Thankfully no one was hurt, and the property damage was minimal.  The courtyard plantings suffered the worst with multiple beds and plantings being demolished and requiring removal.

We are ready to start the next chapter for the courtyard. Alan Klein has taken the initiative as chairman of the newly formed Hartley House Garden Committee. This group is tasked with a fundraising effort to help restore and replant the courtyard between the main building of Hartley House and the original 1800’s carriage house hidden behind.  Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design is donating a new design and installation materials while Alan works closely with Hartley House staff members on fundraising for this effort.

We welcome contributions and support of all shapes and sizes. Volunteers will be needed for our June planting (check back soon for dates and times) and contributions of any amount will be greatly appreciated. Don’t miss this chance to be involved and to give back to an amazing community organization.

The Carriage House Stairway and West Planting Bed

It’s entirely possible to walk down the same street in New York City every day without noticing certain buildings or architectural features. New Yorkers are skillfully taught to tune out their surroundings to maintain sanity. This morning I walked down 44th Street on the south side of the street as opposed to my preferred north side due to a construction project. As I continued down the block I glanced across and noticed the most extraordinary roof garden and pergola perched on top of the New York Yacht Club.

The New York Yacht Club on 44th Street, Manhattan

The New York Yacht Club is a beaux-arts style architectural masterpiece. The architects Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore designed the building in 1899-1900 before their first big commission to work on NYC’s Grand Central Terminal. With plenty of work on early skyscrapers and hotels and private country homes under their belt, Warren & Wetmore developed a prestigious resume of projects.

The Roof Terrace Was an Original Feature to the Yacht Club

As shown in the photograph from 1901, the roof garden was part of the original concept of the building. Today the same pergola design remains with neat rows of boxwood hedges lining the edge of the terrace facing 44th Street. Part of my surprise in seeing this terrace comes from the fact that there are very few roof gardens in this part of midtown. The ornate building features galleon-style windows along the first floor which are dripping with chains, seaweed and various nautical motifs. The garden sits like a little gem set inside a piece of jewelry.

See it in person: The New York Yacht Club is located at 37 West 44th Street between 6th and 5th Avenue on the north side of the street.