Friday, June 13, 2014

Lavish Gardens Sprout Up on Penthouse Terraces and Rooftops

David and Henrie Whitcomb's vertical garden redeemed a chunk of unusable space on their
2,500-square-foot wraparound terrace in New York's Greenwich Village. The green
wall must be replanted each spring, 'based on what plants will survive there,
and what plants will hold the soil,' said Emma Decaires, the Whitcombs' horticulturalist.
'I'm guessing that it might have been, by itself, a half-million dollar installation,'
said Mr. Whitcomb.  Photo: Dorothy Hong for WSJ.
View Slideshow 
By Amy Gamerman
WSJ, June 12, 2014

Thirty-five stories above New York Harbor, Fred Rich can stroll through his groves of Japanese maple, spruce and pine trees or sit under a pergola hung with grape vines, where wild strawberries and thyme grow between the paving stones. There is a hidden alpine garden, an orchard of plum, peach and heirloom apple trees, and espaliered pear trees growing on copper screens.

"There is always something in bloom," said Mr. Rich, who will be dining on fresh arugula, spinach and radishes from his vegetable beds this week. "I do my yoga in the morning and the birds sit there and watch."

With landscape architect Mark Morrison and a team of engineers, fabricators and organic farmers, Mr. Rich has created a 2,000-square-foot garden irrigated with recycled building water on the rooftop of his $4.8 million penthouse. Mr. Rich, a 57-year-old partner at the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm, declined to say what he spent on his rooftop retreat, which has views of the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island.

At its most basic, a green roof consists of a carpet of hard-to-kill plants in a thin layer of soil. Luxury homeowners, however, are opting for bespoke greenscapes as carefully curated—and sometimes as costly—as art collections. With the right design, these eco-chic gardens also add insulation, absorb storm water runoff and deflect heat from the sun.

Urban Gardening Taken to New Heights

David and Henrie Whitcomb's vertical garden redeemed a chunk of unusable space on their 2,500-square-foot wraparound terrace in New York's Greenwich Village. Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

Creating the natural look hundreds of feet above the sidewalk demands intricate engineering, sophisticated waterproofing and irrigation systems, custom-designed soil, and occasionally, a crane.

A block in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood is scheduled to be closed to pedestrian traffic later in June while a 150-foot crane lifts 13 species of mature trees onto the roof of Jean-Laurent Casanova's duplex apartment. The big lift is part of a two-year, $200,000 project to create an 1,100-square-foot arboretum reminiscent of the Southern Alps, Normandy and Corsica.

"I love trees. I really want to have shade—almost to have a little forest on both sides of the roof," said Dr. Casanova, a 50-year-old pediatrician and research scientist from Paris who is also a professor at Rockefeller University. Designed by Jacob Lange of Christian Duvernois Landscape, his forest will be set in an undulating landscape of meadow grasses, perennials and creeping thyme, crisscrossed with walking paths.

Michael Gerstner created a dense meadow-scape on the roof of his Tribeca penthouse, inspired by New York City's High Line elevated park. "I like nature and the presence of nature—I don't like a sterile wood deck," said Mr. Gerstner, 39, who works in investments. He bought the duplex in a converted 19th-century industrial building in 2011 for $3.1 million, according to city records, and spent two years remodeling it to "bring the outside in," at a cost he declined to disclose.

Once a caviar warehouse cooled by giant blocks of ice, the structure was strong enough to support 15,000 pounds of plant and soil. Architect Andrew Franz cut out part of the sloping roof to install a large retractable skylight—the roof garden's access point. Because of the roof's severe pitch, a scaffold structure was built to support the plants and trees, which include birch, ginkgo and a black pine Mr. Gerstner prizes for its "sculptural" qualities. Juniper bushes, lavender, bright yellow yarrow and Scotch broom frame an ipe-wood deck. Although the plants have been selected for their hardiness in excessive sun and wind, they still require tending. A gardener makes regular visits to the 1,000-square-foot space, and a drip-irrigation system delivers measured amounts of water to different plant zones.

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