Creating Green Spaces

I hear from a lot of people, particularly in urban/suburban areas, who want to have a "green space" but aren't sure where to start, don't think they have enough space, or worry about maintaining it. Well, worry no more - you'll change your mind about all of those things after reading my interview with Sera Rogue, owner and designer at Red Fern Brooklyn. Red Fern Brooklyn is a garden landscape design and interior plant design studio that helps clients "get their green on." I wanted to learn how Sera goes about planning a green space with her clients in hopes that readers could also start thinking about what kind of green space they'd like to get started. 

Read on to learn more about Sera and Red Fern Brooklyn and how you can create your own green space with excellent tips from Sera below. If you've been thinking about starting or expanding on your green space, now's the time to start.

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brookyn

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brookyn

Sera Rogue, Red Fern Brooklyn

Sera Rogue, Red Fern Brooklyn

Interview with Sera Rogue, Red Fern Brooklyn 

How long have you been doing garden design? 

I have been gardening for as long as I can remember. First with my mother, a florist, in our large edible garden. I always impress upon people with children to explore edibles. It broadens a child's sometimes finicky palate and gives an appreciation of where our food comes from. By the time I picked up gardening later in life, the plants, their structures, how to handle them, were all second nature to me. 

The 2008 recession crippled my rising career as a young commercial director. Scrambling for any job I could find, I ended up at a Brooklyn garden center where I cut my teeth on the basics of urban gardening. From there I went on to work as a garden designer and then opened my own company two years ago. 

What philosophies or ideals guide your designs? 

Utility and character guide my designs. I want my gardens to be inviting and fulfill the needs of my clients. I make sure to honor what the homeowner wants to do in the garden. Entertain? Relax? Grow food? Pets? Kids? I also believe that the garden is an extension of the home, so I take cues from the way the client lives and decorates their home. I want the transition from home to garden feel as seamless as possible. 

Why is creating green spaces in urban areas so important? 

Outdoor space is at a premium in New York City, and greening that space is important to the health and well-being of all of us. For the homeowner, I think looking at the space as an extension of the home and an investment in their property makes sense. For the city at large, the act of planting a garden is revolutionary. They clean the air, supports mental health, and can even feed those in need. When you consider green roofs and renewable energy, it's clear that gardens are the future of our city. 

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

How do you incorporate sustainability into your designs?

Sustainability means many things to me. It means planting natives and supporting the ecology of the Northeast. It means reusing materials in my designs. This season, we built a blue stone patio with stone sourced from an old mansion on Long Island. As a company, we are as ecologically conscious as possible, and the infrastructure of the New York City recycling initiatives support those goals. 

How do you get to know your clients and what they want? 

All my clients are busy people, so it is important to make a long-term plan for the longevity of the garden. I let them know that I am a resource for them, every step of the way. I think this support empowers the client to learn about their garden and take part in its care. 

As a writer and filmmaker, I am innately interested in people. I come to a first meeting with a curiosity about the potential client, how they live, what interests them, and how a garden fits into the picture. I let it unfold organically. It is my favorite part of the process. 

What are some of the challenges in designing for small, urban spaces? 

In New York City, every exterior space is very different - it could be on a rooftop, a court yard, the back yard of a brownstone. There are many different light conditions, temperatures, and soil qualities to take into account. Also, spaces can be small. I try to accommodate all the wishes of the client into a smaller area with solid design. Some part of me likes to work with limitation, as it makes me work the design harder, reaching for utility, efficiency, and beauty. 

What would you say to those who worry about maintaining a garden?

I always tell my clients "There is no such thing as a black thumb." Being a good gardener really comes down to  understanding your specimens and the conditions they thrive in. It also comes down to a commitment to caring for living things. I have coached many clients on in this and saw them develop new respect for the natural world and their place in it. I'm talking investment bankers and lawyers. Anyone can access this connection with a bit of knowledge and meditation on the green space. 

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Gardening & Green Space Tips from Sera

Integrating Edibles into your Ornamental Garden

The winter months can be a great time to make a plan for your spring garden. Creating vision boards, doing your homework on plant companions, and sketching out designs for your garden space are activities that can stave off the winter doldrums.  

It’s also time to think outside of the box as you make your plant wish lists. Why not think about new ways to integrate edible plants into your ornamental plant design, and vice versa? 

Traditionally, edibles and ornamentals have existed in different realms β€” ornamentals as seasonal stunners while edible gardens serving as a practical project. Combining these plants, through complimentary color and texture, unites your garden design into a cohesive visual feast.  

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Container Gardens 

Since urban gardening dominates my practice, I like to add edibles to container displays to give flare to the composition and also ease clients into the notion of growing their own food. A mix of edibles with ornamentals can also be a fun tie-in for my cafe and restaurant clients. 

Go-To Plants: 

  • Nasturtium: These draping annuals give amazing pops of saffron hued blooms and round leaves that can me used in salads for a pepper-y zip
  • Rosemary: Either prostrate or upright, Rosemary gives a hearty green anchor to the design. This plant can also develop into a hearty perennial shrub in full sun and appropriate conditions. 
  • Sweet Wormwood: This stunning herb, used in absinthe, gives height, texture, and amazing scent. I pair it with Cone Flower or ornamental grasses for a wildflower vibe.
  • Berries: Berries are always a hit, especially with families with small kids. I love using cascading strawberries as an edging plant. The flowers are so pretty and the berries a lovely accent.  

    Blueberry bushes have become very popular as an ornamental shrubs. When shopping for a specimen, make plans to buy two of different varieties (for cross-pollination) or opt for a self pollenating shrub. 
Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Photo Credit: Red Fern Brooklyn

Bringing Ornamentals to the Edible Garden 

To have a successful edible plot, there are tried and true rules for spacing and irrigating that bring the most bounty. However, the plot can look rather restricted and spartan. I like to add ornamentals to bring color and texture to the garden.  

At the base of plants like tomatoes or corn, I add colorful annuals and herbs. The roots systems of these plants are rather simple and will not compete for water or nutrition. Fun selections include colorful Lantana, Sedums, or voluminous herbs like Oregano and Thyme. 

Some annuals actually help with the successful production of fruits and veggies. The scent of lavender and marigold have been known to drive away pests. Showy flowers like Sunflower and Cone Flower draw beneficial pollinators to the plot to increase your harvest potential. 

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I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine