trashy lot to tiny park
March 18, 2010 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Advise for renovating/landscaping the trashed up corner lot out my window.

I recently got permission from my property manager to go ahead and put together a scheme to fix up the trashed up area that is on the corner of my block (The small green patch at the corner of Classon Ave & St. Marks in Prospect Height/Crown Heights Brooklyn)

It is about 20' by 20', full of trash, weeds, some large rocks, and asphalt chunks. At the South edge of the area is a ramp that leads to the basement and utility stuff for our apartment complex, the east side has a nasty brick building (as you can see in the google maps street view, its not covered in tags any more though) The west edge has a fence that is falling down and will need to be removed, and the north edge is open to the side walk.

Anyway, I would like to plant some plants/flowers/grass etc. maybe add a bench, and also add some stones or rocks in an area that could be used for what the space is used most often for currently, dog use. I would like to put up a plastic bag dispenser though since there is a big problem in the area with people not cleaning up after their dog.

I have a group of about 10-15 people who are interested in helping, but I thought I would just post it here to get some advise on where to get materials/plants/rocks or any advise on the project in general. Tips for gardening, bringing in top soil, estimating a budget... anything you think would be helpful.

Thanks a bunch!!
posted by LZel to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Two things, to start off:
1) I think it is awesome that you are considering doing this, it will be a boon to your neighborhood and hopefully also a joy for you.
2) Prepare to get your heart broken, time and again.
The links go to entries on the blog of Gayla Trail (You Grow, Girl). She has, among other gardens, a street garden which looks even less protected than yours will be.
But don't let the heartbreak stop you!
General gardening advice: you say the lot is right outside your window; start keeping an eye on it during the day and evaluating which parts get sun. Planting sun-loving plants in sunny areas and shade-loving plants in shady areas is vital for avoiding extra work. The sun will shine where it shines, I would not try to fight it by planting sun-loving plants in the shade. They will only be sad and stunted.
Good luck, this looks like a great project!
posted by Adridne at 3:11 PM on March 18, 2010

The world of guerrilla gardening (which, even though you've got permission, is pretty much what you're doing) is rife with information. In particular I like the Clean, Green, and Glean method, used to great effect here in LA with succulents. (Clean the plot. Plant green things in the ground. Then go back later and glean seedlings and plants for your next project.)
posted by carsonb at 3:28 PM on March 18, 2010

If you can, start immediately to get stuff planted while it's still dormant so it can establish this spring. It sounds like you need to initially haul off a bit of garbage and do some soil prep (where there is soil). Take a look before you start on a day with heavy rain and see if you're going to need to deal with low spots or poor drainage. The soil is probably pretty rough and devoid of organic matter. If you're really just wanting to make a dog pooping spot, don't fill it with a bunch of perennials and stuff, you may just want to have a few shrubs and a small tree or two with some kind of tough grass. Keeping ground cover will be tough, but establishing it would be really tough. If there's any way to fence it off for a month or so it would help you. You would probably do better to just mulch it, which is nice and low-maintenance, and it will build up the soil over time, and it's easy to pick poop off of it. Redbuds are tough, or maybe a Carpinus. If you want to say "screw it" and plant a tree that will get big pretty quick on shitty soil, I suggest a sycamore stuck somewhere near the middle (but get the utilities marked before you dig by calling 1-800-272-4480). Against that north-facing wall it's going to be pretty shady all the time, maybe you could plant a few shade-loving perennials against the wall where they won't get too fucked up. Do you know what the tree-looking thing is close to the sidewalk?
But yes, it's great that you're going to do something.
posted by Red Loop at 3:40 PM on March 18, 2010

Best answer: Since you have permission, you don't have to be sneaky about it, and publicity will be your friend. The clean-up stage will be labor-intensive, and the improvements stage will be costly - but if you post signs advertizing work-days, and ask around local shops for plant donations, you might get some great returns. I almost hate to say it, because I say "Craigslist" in almost every reply I make, and I don't know what the Brooklyn community is like - BUT, one common thing for somebody who's planning a landscape remodel is to advertize the current plantings free to anybody who'll go to the trouble of digging it out. You could also post a "wanted" ad, and see what you're offered.

Red Loop and Adridne are really right about evaluating your spot - you're making a mental (or physical) map of where the sun/shade is, where the puddles/dry spots are, and where the traffic is (yes, the presence of a tree will change traffic patterns, but if there's a mentally established dog-run down the center of the space, may as well just mulch it, there's no point in planting anything on the runway). Another thing to pay attention to is the size of plants - always think about mature sizes, not the size they are in the little pots or the size you could keep them to with regular pruning. Most gardening books give advice on how to plan in 3D, thinking about relative heights of plants - for example, do you want to set your plants so that you can see everything from the sidewalk (small things in front), set up a visual screen (tall things by the sidewalk), or leave a good view while blocking off dog/foot traffic (3-foot high plants)?

The two cheapest times to buy plants are (a) right now, looking at "bare-roots" dormant plants that need to get in the ground by ~mid-April, and (b) the end of spring, when all the retailers are doing their "holy crap if we don't sell this now we'll have to kill it or take care of it till next year" sales. Notice that there's a peak-season pricing for late April and May. So, start talking to your local stores, and be open to asking not only "do you have any plants you could donate?" but also "is there an end-of-season time that you might have plants to donate?" and "could you call me when you're thinning out unhealthy stock?" (assuming you think you can keep an imperfect plant alive - it would probably be root-bound or have a branch broken off)

One thing that I personally love is the box of mixed wild-flower seeds. Spring and summer are glorious, though it gets a bit weedy in the fall, and if there's a slope, the seeds from ths year's flowers will germinate way outside their original planting. In any case, it's a cheap idea for a low-maintenance zone, about 3-ft high.
posted by aimedwander at 6:30 AM on March 19, 2010

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