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Private rooftop terrace and garden at 415 Leonard Street Private rooftop terrace and garden at 415 Leonard Street
Spring has always been the busiest time of year for nurseries, but last year saw such a large spike in demand for fruit and vegetable seeds that garden centers struggled to keep up. The coronavirus outbreak and efforts to contain it led to anxieties about the food supply chain and a lot of people suddenly at home and in need of ways to fill their time. As a result, "pandemic victory gardens" literally sprouted up all over the country. Joel Flagler, a professor of horticultural therapy at Rutgers University, told MarketWatch, "There are certain, very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain, terrified really. It’s these predictable outcomes, predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now."
New Yorkers got in on the trend as well, doing everything from planting herbs on their windowsills to turning their private terraces into full vegetable gardens. But while some use gardening as a hobby, others see it as a step to improving public health and changing the urban landscape. Mayoral candidate Eric Adams has spoken in favor of using vertical and rooftop farms as a means of bringing nutritious food to low-income communities, creating food-based job opportunities, and promoting environmental awareness. He would achieve these goals by reducing regulatory barriers to urban farming, streamlining city operations, and investing in programs like GrowNYC.
505-West-19th-Street-01 505 West 19th Street via Corcoran
Mr. Adams' rooftop farming plan is not without precedent. In 2009, Singapore introduced an incentive program where the National Parks Board would fund up to 50% of installation costs of rooftop and vertical greenery. Additionally, a public-private partnership between the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore and vertical farm Sky Greens launched a vertical farm for the roofs of the multi-story buildings that ate up much of Singapore's arable land. Years later, the rooftop farms are among the lush greenery that led to Singapore's designation as "the Garden City," and the benefits of the rooftop farms are becoming clear: The public has an opportunity to learn how their food is grown; closer food production cuts down on transportation costs and carbon emissions; and the resulting vegetables are fresher and more delicious.
In New York, it isn't always easy to create a beautiful, functional, or compliant garden. From ensuring the roof can handle the weight of a garden to meeting regulations for railings to selecting plants bound to thrive in the often-extreme environments found on New York City rooftops, it is important to enlist the help of a trained professional in the planning and execution of your project.

The Unique Challenges of Urban Gardening

Spaces in urban, suburban, and rural settings alike pose unique challenges, but urban gardens can still present some especially extreme conditions. Depending on the location of your outdoor space, high wind, intense heat, and excessive shade are all common problems in New York City. Todd Haiman of Todd Haiman Landscape Design is a landscape designer who has helped hundreds of New Yorkers imagine and create urban oases in surprising locations. For Haiman, every project is a new beginning: “There is always something new to learn whether you’re working in an urban or rural space, but urban spaces do pose some unique challenges.”
Haiman has found that since many New Yorkers live in small spaces, they want their gardens to truly serve as extensions of their indoor living spaces. Of course, to do this, one needs to consider factors that many suburban and rural gardeners may be able to more easily ignore, including privacy. As Haiman explains, “Privacy is a major issue for people in New York, but there are restrictions about putting up high fences, so you have to ask yourself, how you can create privacy despite these restrictions? I work with clients to consider various options. Some people use evergreens or ornamental grasses to create a screen, but the choice really depends on your specific situation.”
245-Manhattan-Avenue-01 EWEN via Corcoran

Structural and Legal Limitations

Even if some flowers and shrubs are bound to flourish more than others, owners usually have at least some choice when it comes to selecting plants for the garden. The same is not true when it comes to building structures. Indeed, in New York City, even though you don’t generally require a permit to install a garden, restrictions are the rule of the day.
If you’re hoping to build a rooftop garden, for example, you’ll need to hire a structural engineer to determine how much weight your rooftop can handle and where it will be safest to place planters. NYC building codes also require adequate railings that are at least 42-inches tall and if you want to avoid a fire violation, you’ll need to limit wood coverage to no more than 49% of the rooftop, ensure you have both a water source available, and if your garden exceeds 250 square feet, you’ll also need a fire extinguisher.
Once you’ve troubleshot all the specific requirements imposed by the city, you may find yourself facing a final hurdle: your condo or co-op board. As Haiman emphasizes, “In my experience when the design is finished, tenants nearly always need to present it to their building. The board will want to know that you’re protecting the building itself. In some cases, the building will provide parameters in which to work and this may include weight restrictions. Some buildings will want you to bring the plan back for a second reading. This is something you should expect and factor in when you’re thinking about your timeframe.”
118-East-95th-Street-01 234 East 84th Street

Should You Hire a Landscape Designer or Landscape Architect?

While enlisting the help of an expert is evidently advised, this leaves a final question: Should you hire a landscape designer or landscape architect, and if so, what is the difference?
When deciding whether to hire a landscape designer or landscape architect, the first consider the scale of your project. Generally, smaller residential projects can be tackled by designers while larger projects (e.g., a garden occupying the roof of an entire high-rise condo building) will require a landscape architect. Second, consider the complexity of the project. If you need extensive construction carried out, you’ll likely need an architect not a designer, even if they do frequently offer overlapping advice.
If you’re looking for a landscape designer, it can be somewhat tricky since designers don’t technically need a degree nor license to practice. That said, many NYC-based landscape designers have years of training and are credentialed. Haiman, for example, has a master of science in landscape design from Columbia University, training from the New York Botanical Gardens’ School of Professional Horticulture and Landscape Design, and is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and Royal Horticultural Society. If you need to hire a landscape architect, however, they must hold an architecture degree from a recognized school of architecture and hold a state license to practice.
Beyond credentials and licenses, however, Haiman emphasizes that it is still important to find someone whose work matches your own aesthetic. Of course, sometimes clients know they want a garden but are still unclear about the possibilities. As a result, he says part of his job is about helping clients gain a better understanding their needs, wants, and the potential of their available space: “Part of my job is understanding who the users are and how they want to use the space and how long they want to use the space for. If someone only wants to use the space for five years, they will make different decisions about how to landscape. Basically, I’m the car who brings you where they are going.” While Haiman emphasizes aesthetics in choosing a designer, it is important to note that most landscape designers have many years of formal training.
125-East-95th-Street-01 Private garden at 125 East 95th Street

The Process of Working with a Landscape Designer or Architect

Whether you’re working with a landscape designer or landscape architect, you should expect to have an on-site meeting to discuss your needs. During this meeting, the designer or architect will start to draft a creative plan for the project and may recommend that you call in an outside structural engineer. This will likely be followed up by another on-site meeting at which time a more thorough on-site inventory will be carried out to determine the best way to make your outdoor space functional and compliant. Once you’ve dealt with the structural issues and have a clear plan in place, however, what happens next is up to you. As Haiman emphasizes, “I try to emphasize to clients that they have the ability to define nature and when you bring nature in, you’re also bringing in entertainment. You can do all sorts of things to attract butterflies and birds to your garden—planning a garden is about much more than simply selecting plants.”

188-Sullivan-Street-01 All images of 188 Sullivan Street via Sotheby's International Realty
This 1850 Greek Revival home provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to own one of only 22 homes that create the landmarked and coveted MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens. The MacDougal-Sullivan houses were built with the specific intent of attracting artists and musicians as a means to improving the quality and character of the neighborhood; past and present residents include Anna Wintour, Bob Dylan, Richard Gere, Baz Luhrmann, Francesco Carrozzini, and Francesco and Alba Clemente.

188 Sullivan was purchased in 1923 by Edgard Varese, considered one of the true pioneers in contemporary music. From 1923 to 1965, 188 Sullivan Street served as a salon and meeting place for many famous artists and musicians from both Europe and the US, including Marcel Duchamp, Dizzy Gillespie, and Alexander Calder. The property's subsequent and most recent owner was Varese's protégé, Chou Wen-chung, one of the most celebrated Asian-American composers of the twentieth century. The house, potentially a 5 bedroom with possible potential for expansion is in need of a full renovation so bring your architect and prepare to truly make this home your own.

Each home comes with its own small backyard that borders a private, secret garden shared by all homes in the MacDougal-Sullivan Houses. They are shaded by maples, sycamores, and elms, and surrounded by an English-style hedgerow. The concept of a private garden in Greenwich Village combined with the original and important architectural elements of the houses themselves led the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the houses and their gardens as a Historic District. See floor plan and full details here.

Listings with Great Gardens
129-West-118th-Street-01 All images of 129 West 118th Street via Warburg Realty
From the listing: A classic stoop welcomes you into this elegant, historic brownstone. Enter then into this floor-through apartment with soaring 12' ceiling heights, dark wood plank floors and beautiful detailing throughout. A bright and lovely secondary bedroom leads you out onto a staircase that brings you to your very own landscaped, 290-square-foot garden. Grill and relax all summer long! See floor plan and full details here.

148-West-80th-Street-01 All images of 148 West 80th Street via Douglas Elliman
From the listing: This stunning triplex penthouse offers a lovely living space with three oversized windows adorned with original moldings and hideaway shutters from the turn of the century. The 9'6" ceilings, wood-burning fireplace, exposed brick, and open kitchen lend an old world ambiance and comfort that only a home of this vintage could offer. The topper (literally) is the amazing private roof terrace, incredibly serene and quiet with lovely views east, north, and south, perfectly suited to bring out the gardener and entertainer in most anyone. See floor plan and full details here.

245-Manhattan-Avenue-01 All images of EWEN via Corcoran
From the listing: This 1,494-square-foot townhouse-like duplex is currently being used as a two bedroom, with two full bath and has over 1,100 square feet of private outdoor space! The garden pergola has New Dawn climbing Roses, artic kiwi, two concord grape vines and one Muscat grape vine. The vegetable garden is complete with organic soil and organic fertilizers. The first floor of the apartment has a large open kitchen and living room which allows for access straight to the backyard. See floor plan and full details here.

From the listing: With a newly renovated and secluded outdoor sitting, dining area, and vegetable garden, this pin-drop quiet 1-bedroom penthouse is perfect for private gatherings and the last gem in the highly coveted area of Brooklyn Heights. Each room boasts high ceilings and architectural beams that you only get in a pre-war building. A spacious bedroom, dining, and living area with views of the Verrazano, Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges complete this perfect rooftop oasis. See floor plan and full details here.
155-Henry-Street-01 All images of 155 Henry Street via Nest Seekers

245-West-24th-Street-01 All images of 245 West 24th Street via Singer Real Estate
From the listing: Charming Chelsea co-op has been updated with new security and entertainment systems, multi-zone air conditioning units, built-in air purification system and humidifier, and voice-controlled smart home technology. The gourmet kitchen is outfitted with an expansive island, state-of-the-art appliances, and endless cabinetry. The landscaped private garden comes with built-in seating, electricity, speakers, heat, water, plumbing in place to allow for a hot tub, and enough room for an extra-large grill. See floor plan and full details here.

415-Leonard-Street-01 All images of 415 Leonard Street via MNS
From the listing: Elegant two-bedroom corner penthouse features an expansive 538-square-foot private terrace and lush garden sanctuary with iconic, awe-inspiring Manhattan views. The chic living area, with soft white-painted walls and bright white ceiling, features rustic-feel hardwood flooring and five floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as a glass door beckoning to the exquisite outdoor terrace. The pristine kitchen, complete with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances, opens to the living space to provide for all-inclusive entertaining. See floor plan and full details here.

71-Carroll-Street-01 All images of 71 Carroll via Compass
From the listing: As you pass the 'Amazing Garden' on this quiet tree-lined street on the Columbia Street Waterfront, you will discover this sundrenched, boutique 3 bed, 2.5 bath duplex condo home, complete with your own parking spot! There is a south-facing 750sqft terrace for your urban gardening passions, entertaining under the stars, or creating a culinary masterpiece on the grill. See floor plan and full details here.

555-Park-Avenue-01 All images of 555 Park Avenue via Nest Seekers
From the listing: This loft-like 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom home is an exciting opportunity to create a dream indoor/outdoor living sanctuary. Soaked with light, the north terrace is an unheard of 83-ft in length with high walls for a rare sense of privacy, perfect for dining alfresco, entertaining or creating a lush garden. The south roof terrace has stunning city views and also drenched in light. See floor plan and full details here.

234-East-84th-Street-01 All images of 234 East 84th Street via Corcoran
From the listing: A sleek and contemporary elan greets the visitor, welcoming them into a dramatic, sunken great room with 12’ ceilings leading to the large planted outdoor area framed by glass panels and skylights. The living area is centered by a gas-burning fireplace, flanked on one side by a cozy sitting area with banquette and the other by a home work area. Supplementing both the indoor kitchen and dining areas is the piece de resistance of this special home – more than 700 square feet of prime outdoor space equipped with gas grill and gas fireplace, the perfect place to entertain lavishly, to escape with a cold drink and good book, or to work on your gardening skills! See floor plan and full details here.

505-West-19th-Street-01 All images of 505 West 19th Street via Corcoran
From the listing: As you enter the home off the private key-locked elevator, you will find no detail was overlooked in the customization of this 2,117 square-foot showplace. The double-height great room with soaring, 22' ceilings creates a dramatic setting for grand entertaining and floor-to-ceiling casement windows illuminate the space with golden western sunlight. Just outside is a lush garden oasis spanning almost 1,000 square feet and surrounded by tall trees and beautifully landscaped planter boxes illuminated by an outdoor lighting system. Prepare delicious meals at the custom marble island with gas grill, fridge and kitchen sink and enjoy dining al fresco at the large outdoor dining table. See floor plan and full details here.

1004-Bergen-Street-01 All images of 1004 Bergen Street via Compass
From the listing: The property has been renovated over the last few years and is currently laid out as 4 Units that are fully leased out. Features include a new roof, luxurious hardwood floors throughout, a high-end video intercom, and a beautifully secluded landscaped backyard. On the second floor, French doors open up to a private balcony. See floor plan and full details here.

310-West-137th-Street-01 All images of 310 West 137th Street via Halstead
From the listing:No detail was left to chance in this meticulously renovated four story townhouse which consists of a triplex 4-bedroom over a lovely 1-bedroom income-producing apartment situated in a protected landmark historic district. With a massive private garden and large patio off the kitchen, there is not only perfection on the inside but also an outdoor lifestyle paradise! See floor plan and full details here.

103-Kent-Street-01 All images of 103 Kent Street via Corcoran
From the listing: Offered for the first time in more than forty years, 103 Kent Street is the home you've been waiting for! Lovingly restored and maintained by its current owners, this home in the Greenpoint Historic District has been continually upgraded along the way, most recently with the addition of Mitsubishi split systems on the top two floors. A modern kitchen is conveniently located on the parlor level and has direct access to a large deck with stairs leading down to a lush garden. See floor plan and full details here.

125-East-95th-Street-01 All images of 125 East 95th Street via Sotheby's International Realty
From the listing: Published in Architectural Digest, the home was gut renovated to a high standard by its current owners and has been meticulously maintained since. Down the stairs, past the African mahogany paneled dining room, awaits a large and fully appointed eat in chef's kitchen with floor to ceiling glass doors opening onto the stunning tiered garden. This serene space is an entertainer's dream offering the joys of the country without the drive. See floor plan and full details here.

118-East-95th-Street-01 All images of 118 East 95th Street via Compass
From the listing: The impeccably maintained features of this home formerly owned by Mark Rothko, include a charming brick facade, large bay window, multiple working & decorative fireplaces, elegant built-ins, original hardwood floors, beautiful moldings throughout, and a 50-foot private garden retreat. Enter on the garden level to your enormous eat-in chef's kitchen with Viking, Bosch and Subzero appliances, overlooking French doors out to your beautifully landscaped 50ft lush garden with mature plantings, ivy covered walls, gorgeous stonework, and fully operable antique fountain. See floor plan and full details here.

32-1st-Place-01 All images of 32 1st Place via Engel & Volkers
From the listing: Located in one of Brooklyn's most desirable historic neighborhoods, this immaculate Italianate style brownstone was fully rebuilt to a rare standard of luxury and convenience with all new plumbing, electric, state of the art heating and cooling systems, built-in sound system, central vacuum, custom lighting and all custom cabinetry. A rooftop lounge, and landscaped rear and front gardens, contain another 2,000 square feet of private outdoor living space. See floor plan and full details here.

9-East-92nd-Street-01 All images of 9 East 92nd Street via Brown Harris Stevens
From the listing: Located on Fifth Avenue at the north corner of East 92 Street, this extraordinary house built in 1908 at the height of the Beaux Arts period by C.P.H Gilbert was modeled after the Chateaux of the Loire valley of France. The parlor floor is distinguished by a wide gallery landing, high ceilinged living room with wood-burning fireplace, formal dining room with wood-burning fireplace and butler's pantry with stair from the kitchen below and a deck with stair descending to the garden, which has an orange tree bearing fruit all year long. See floor plan and full details here.

79-Horatio-Street-01 All images of 79 Horatio Street via Sotheby's International Realty
From the listing: This landmarked West Village townhouse was built in 1901, completely rebuilt in 2014 and recently renovated by the current owner. Enter past a powder room and sweeping staircase to a large square living room with gas fireplace and floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto Juliette balcony overlooking landscaped private garden. A large gas fireplace completes this perfectly proportioned room. The garden level, with its own entrance, has the dream eat-in kitchen with custom built-ins, chef appliances and wall-to-wall accordion doors into lush garden - enjoy the indoor/ outdoor lifestyle with irrigation, lighting, cooking and sound system. See floor plan and full details here.

20-East-73rd-Street-01 All images of 20 East 73rd Street via Brown Harris Stevens
From the listing: Built in 1911, the Blum Mansion is clad in limestone, and this opulent Beaux Arts home harmonizes perfectly with the Edward Herzog home next door. The generous proportions of the house are imminently livable and welcoming, yet the architectural grandeur of the residence remains very much intact due to the masterful renovation. The home is topped with an incredible roof garden and terraces with wonderful views of Central Park. See floor plan and full details here.

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