Michelle Hinton

Urban Landscape Designer Shares How to Work with Small Spaces

“Space is at a premium in New York City, so people want to make every aspect of it functional and ornamental,” said Jonathan Yevin, the garden designer and owner of Modern Urban Design Landscaping, a construction business in Brooklyn that specializes in the design and build of small urban gardens.

Yevin has been in the landscape business for 20 years, and has owned M.U.D. Landscaping for 15 years. “I can say I’ve done 500 townhouses at this point,” Yevin said. “We did 46 projects last year — our biggest year yet.”

With a clientbase that mainly consists of townhouse owners, a challenge Yevin has dealt with is moving tons of materials through or over buildings to get them into the client’s backyard. “Last year we had to move a hot tub over a building with a crane,” Yevin said.

In urban landscape design, Yevin described two different types of styles that clients will typically go for — rustic or modern. Different materials and types of planting schemas are used for each approach.

For a rustic, country-looking design, Yevin said that he has used regular stone instead of rectilinear pieces, which have squares and rectangles, so he could implement a mosaic-styled patio with moss grown in between the stones. He said that he also has used big beams to build pergolas, and has raised planters to give the space a more industrial, rugged look.

“In a small space, even what looks country actually has a lot of planning behind it,” Yevin said. “To achieve that look you still have to have proper terracing, proper drainage. You still have to have an irrigation system generally so that everything can still be low maintenance — it’s not going to look like a mess just because it’s country.”

On the other hand, if a client wants a more modern look, Yevin said that he will use more rectilinear stones and will avoid all kinds of pavers and precast concrete materials that would give the space more of a suburban feel.

“We’re doing a lot of craftsmanship,” Yevin said. “A lot of stacked stone walls that are just laborious and involve skilled stone masonry. There’s a lot of custom carpentry, fences and building furniture. A lot of harwoods and clear skeeter.” 

Despite differing preferences on how they want their gardens designed, most clients will seek a garden that is easy to take care of and very low maintenance. However, some clients who are very invested in their gardens want unique water features. Yevin had a client who was a well-known writer for National Geographic and lived in Brooklyn Heights — an old neighborhood that is famous for its promenade that faces Manhattan. Built in the early 19th century, the promenade consists of stacked boulders, and his client lived on the street below the boulders. Using his client’s location along the promenade’s wall as an advantage, Yevin created an iconic guerilla waterfall.

“I pitched the client that we could get some plumbing, that we could snake some hoses into that wall and then creatively hide it by cramming in more matching stone, hide all that plumbing and then have a waterfall basically come from what seems like two stories up and trickle down into a hidden reservoir essentially where we had a hidden pond with a recirculating pump.” 

Yevin said that he aims to make his clients happy with a design that is special to their property, but that he also likes to think in terms of what materials will last the longest.

“A lot of times clients will send me their dream, their mood, their vision board or a bunch of pinterest photos of finished gardens,” Yevin said. “I have to explain to them like this is beautiful but these materials five years down the line are not going to hold up.”

Yevin said that he will look back on projects he worked on 10 or 15 years ago to see how the things he built held up, and will show clients pictures of a project when it was first completed and how it has matured over the years.

Photos courtesy of M.U.D. Landscaping

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