About Town | Creating Your Outdoor Escape
Written by: Elyse O'Dwyer
Photography by: Megan Maloy
A proud institution of urban Jersey homes, Emma Lam jokes that she was bullied into her second career in horticulture. After fifteen years working in performance art, Emma wanted to start a family and needed a career change. She and her husband moved into a Jersey City brownstone, “I had a kid, and I joined the infamous Jersey City Moms Meetup group.” Emma renovated her home and garden herself and loved entertaining and hosting the other moms. Suddenly, her guests started demanding, “you do not have a choice, you have to do my garden!”
She relented, completed her Certificate of Horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and got to work. It was not glamorous in the early days; her husband was building fences and decks while she dug holes. She fondly remembers a time she was laying a rock path and it started pouring rain. Not easily deterred, Emma walked soaking wet to the hardware store to buy another bag of rocks. Now she has a talented team of architects, gardeners and builders to help bring her hand-rendered visions to life.
The headaches are no match for Emma’s love of an urban garden.
Urban landscaping has its challenges; you cannot use large machinery, all your materials and equipment have to be carried through the house, and every inch of limited space has to be used to the greatest advantage. But the headaches are no match for Emma’s love of an urban garden. Born in England, the urban plots remind her of the small, but gorgeous outdoor spaces she fell in love with as a child. When her family first moved to the US, they lived in Massachusetts where people had large yards, which came with a lot of maintenance, which she disliked.
A multifunctional design is one of the greatest assets a small green space brings to their clients. People think they need to choose between creating a space for their kids, their dog or for entertaining, when they can really have it all. Sometimes people don’t like their view, “Clients will say, we need to screen so I don’t have to look at my neighbor’s building, but what we really need is more here to bring your attention down. Our eye always goes to the most interesting thing in the room, so if there’s nothing in your space that’s engaging, your attention will be drawn to the neighbor’s building.”
There’s an ease to a small green space’s designs with the seamless addition of creature comforts outside. With easy solutions like fake grass with a stabilizing paver base installed underneath, irrigation and drainage systems, and optional maintenance services, it doesn’t matter if you have a “black thumb.”
Emma’s favorite thing to hear from her clients is that they are using their yard or patio more than ever before. She had a skeptical client who recently gushed to Emma that he’s using the space about 75% more often now. One couple had a tiny, seemingly unusable space that was overtaken by a telephone pole with exposed wires. They love to contact Emma saying “we’re sitting in our yard as we do every night.”
“We love working in urban jersey. I think people need to take pride in that more, I’m really proud to be an urban jersey company and I shout that from rooftops.”
This year, a Hoboken property won A Small Green Space an award from The Association of Professional Landscape Designers for the second year in a row. And it’s no surprise, urban spaces in New Jersey are their bread and butter. While they get requests for work in New York, they tend to keep their focus local.