New York City boasts 944 million square feet of rooftops — prime surfaces upon which to create sky-high gardens, far from frenetic streets and the squeeze of cramped flats.
Bravo’s “Backyard Envy” covers those heights as city dwellers increasingly stake out whatever personal green space they can. The show, which premiered Jan. 17, also revives a few suburban backyards, all in and around New York.
Hosting the show are business partners and best friends James DeSantis, Garrett Magee and Melissa Brasier, who run Brooklyn-based Manscapers, an exterior design and landscaping firm.
Episodes transform ragtag rooftops and terraces into elite leafy perches where yoga mats reign. We pulled up a zafu cushion for a chat.
What’s been your most expensive project?
James: A five-story townhouse in the West Village — about $75,000. We did a garden-level backyard, a second-floor kitchen terrace, a third-floor hot-tub terrace, and on the fourth floor we built an entire greenhouse.
Melissa: It’s a lean-to built of redwood from Sonoma, a nod to the client’s home state. We installed a hydroponic system, amazing and efficient for growing cooking herbs and tomatoes.
The rooftop meadow you devised for a Brooklyn couple was remarkable — irregularly shaped cedar planters bursting with Mexican feather, fountain and maidenhair grasses.
Garrett: It worked well because the grasses have fairly shallow roots, and they love tons of sun. We created cutout areas for seating and used lots of color: verbena, Achillea, butterfly bushes. It was an array of color and texture, creating this vista view of a meadow above Brooklyn.
You torched the cedar planter boxes for that project. Why?
Mel: We wanted something that had a lot of depth, and burning is so much nicer than painting because you maintain all the wood grain. The first round of firing gives you a very light dusting of black, and then you can go as heavy as you like.
The popular practices of mindfulness and meditation pair well with outdoor spaces. How do you encourage reflection and inspiration through design?
Melissa: For a yoga client, we used custom-built white oak furniture chosen for the brightness of the wood. We added a bleach to whiten it even more –– a very minimal aesthetic. White oak is also water- and rot-resistant.
James: The furniture itself had a calming effect with its horizontal lines. We also created a backdrop of soothing grasses that rustled in the wind. We keep the palette very specific. So, if you’re looking to relax and calm your mind, you’re not overwhelmed.
New York City is known for its meager living spaces. But just a simple spot of green can soothe, right?
Melissa: We always encourage our clients to use any outdoor space, whether it be a fire escape or a 10-square-foot Juliet balcony. Any of those spaces can handle a potted plant. Seeing that bit of life and having something to care for really does enhance your quality of living.
Name some favorite gardening tips.
Melissa: We encourage composting at home, using that as fertilizer. It’s a sustainable way to grow your garden, and it’s so rich in nutrients. Kits can be ordered online.
Garrett: Eggshells mixed into the soil are great. They keep bugs away, like snails.
Can a thumb be greened?
Garrett: Everyone has a green thumb; it’s a matter of picking the right plants for your thumb. For a client who told us he had a black thumb, we used a more mature Japanese maple –– harder to kill — along with boxwood, cherry laurels and Astilbe, a very hearty perennial.