The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation proudly, and quite rightly, boasts about the many film scenes that have been set in the numerous parks and green spaces in the five boroughs. From Washington Square Park in When Harry Met Sally to Central Park in Manhattan, the Big Apple's flora looks great on film. And whether your popcorn-butter-covered green thumb was inspired by the movies, or you’re a city transplant who grew up around gardens, many of us feel the desire to dig our fingers into some dirt, plant a few seeds and watch them grow because, along with the coming warm weather, live flowers and greenery have serious mood-boosting power.
Flowers also have the ability to liven up almost any façade, and add appeal (and potentially value) to both urban and suburban properties. But, you can’t just slap a fern on your frontage and call it a day. Climate, placement, species, and, you know, how to actually keep the things alive all matter when considering landscaping and planting in urban settings.
What, and Where?
First things first, you’ve got to figure out what is best to plant, says Jeanette Dragonetti, ASLA, a landscape designer at Dragonetti Brothers in Brooklyn. “The biggest challenge is selecting the right plant for your space.” As much as you like roses, your desire for them to grow doesn’t mean they are going to grow, let alone thrive, on your small balcony space that gets very little sun but lots of brownish water dripping from the drain pipe above.
“Because of so many tall buildings in New York, bright, open sunlight is a rarity, as is easy water access,” says Rebecca Bullene, founder of Greenery NYC. “We see many spaces in our work that are closed-in, shady courtyard spaces that building residents would like to make lush gardens, but because there is little light and no reliable water access, it can be a challenge to meet those goals.”
Luckily, that doesn’t mean that entire genus and species are out of consideration. “I think any plants that need a tremendous amount of sun and water—like most tropical plants—aren't a good choice,” continues Bullene. “I tend to steer clients away from using too many annual plants as well, as they have to be replaced every year. You'll see much better long term results choosing the right plant for the right place, planting it once, and watching it grow for years to come.”