Longtime New Yorkers Angela Tiffin and Andrew Nichols bought their first brownstone in South Park Slope in May 2012, and have spent two years renovating—first, their own duplex apartment and, in recent months, a third-floor rental unit—much of it with their own hands. You can read more about the project at their blog, Brownstone Cyclone.
It seems wrong to cut down a tree for any reason in the concrete jungle but we had a fir tree in the backyard that was leaning, with dead branches and was smack in the middle of the yard. Our neighbor did not like it either so he offered to lend us his chain saw. The first step was cutting the top off.
We won’t go into details on this part, just know that it involved a ladder, a chain saw, and some rope (to make sure the top fell where we wanted it to) and a bit of luck.
We cut off the top of the tree leaving about 8 feet of the trunk so we could pull it out later. This left us with a bunch of large tree branches that we now had to deal with. Enter, NYC and its new organics recycling program. Thanks to the new program, we were able to cut up the branches and separate them into tied bundles and then set them out on the curb (a few at a time) to be picked up by the city. We also received two new brown bins where we could put all our garden clippings, leaves and sticks for the program to recycle. Brilliant.
Oh and in case you were wondering, you can’t burn fir tree wood in your fireplace because it has too high a moisture content. If you were cutting down a tree whose wood you could burn, you would have to let it dry out for a significant period of time before you could burn it in a fireplace. You cannot burn wood in a fire pit in your backyard–despite what our neighbor says.
Now, for the trunk. One day, our other neighbor had gardeners in her yard so we asked them how much to remove the trunk and roots. He told us $300 not including taking the stump away. That was not in our budget. In our previous apartment, we had watched a tree stump being removed and they used a large truck and some chains. We could not use this method because our backyard butts up to private property all around. Because we are cheap and always up for a challenge, we purchased a 2 ton cable winch from Harbor Freight for 20 bucks and some chain. The winch works by attaching a chain around the stump and another around a solid object (in this case our other much larger tree) then you crack away on the winch and watch it pull the tree down.
We had to tighten up the chains several times (as the winch only provides about 6 feet of cable) and dig around the root system a bunch but we got the tree down.
Afterwards, there was some more digging and cutting with an axe to get out the roots out but we are now stump-free.
Today seemed like the perfect day to write a blog post about plans for the backyard. After living in a condo for many years our new home brought with it dreams of summer barbecues, lilac bushes, shading trees, tall glasses of lemonade and cool green grass. Our reality is that there is still a lot of work to do to finish the house and get our new certificate of occupancy. Still, a family can dream…
Although we moved into our house months ago, we are still working on the punch list with the contractor. Unfortunately, the GC put us on the back burner, then the weather turned cold and what with the constant rain and freezing temperatures, we could not finish the back deck. Thankfully, the railings and stairs were completed and only the stone deck surface needs to be installed.
In the fall we met with landscape designer, Dan Silverstein, whose services we “won” at our daughter’s school auction last winter. He came out to see our yard and we discussed ideas for the space. He took some measurements and we showed him some photos of backyards we liked. Below is the yard before construction on the house. We hacked down that tree closest to the building but need to remove the stump in the spring.
When looking at outdoor areas we tended to like clean modern spaces but we (I) definitely want an area with some wild flowers and an English garden feel. We already know the design of fence we want but are worried about how much sun it will block out.
The inspiration photos:
And this one is a little on the dreaming side but not impossible (no TV just pool or hot/cold tub).
Our designer came back with a plan that we liked. We were open to completely re-arranging the space but decided that our budget was not so we are planning to keep the basic bones but clean it up.
As weary urban dwellers, we definitely wanted to keep some grass. In the long area with the plantings, we hope we have enough sunlight to have a small kitchen garden and some flowers. In the back, we will probably go with bushes for privacy and to greenify things back there. These plans are a good start and we liked the way Dan blended modern with natural elements like gravel around the tree and green plantings in the brick walkway. When spring finally starts to bloom we will fine tune the plans and hopefully, if the rest of the house is done (remember we still have that rental unit to fix up), we will get to start on it.