Ulster Magazine: The Hidden Gardens of Kingston
Amid urban streets, a trove of backyard oasis'
Form and function:
What happens when a “certified master composter” meets a boarded-up house with a yard the texture of bricks? Julian Lesser and Philippe Trinh saw opportunity knocking and the word “remediation” is their battle cry.
The house, distinguished as the last Social
Rosemarie Maresca’s garden features 400 feet of boxwood with a continual flower display from spring through autumn.
Services dwelling owned by the city before it got out of low-income housing, was vacant and vandalized for two years. The dirt driveway was a rutted pit and tracks cut through the yard by impatient pedestrians was the only thing beating back the unmown grass. On May 11, 2012, as a scraggly rose in the front yard optimistically put out imploring buds, Lesser and Trinh took ownership of the house that is now a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast called The St. James, which houses visiting film stars on location shoots.
How did they begin? The soil was hard packed and infertile. When they dug post holes for the fences they found garbage: plastic bags, medicine bottles, broken glass, siding and bricks. Lots and lots of bricks.
“We planted 100 trees and swore there must have been a brick road behind our house,” Trinh said.
Today the picket-fenced front yard is landscaped with benches, flowers and fruit trees. The roses have been tended. The back yard has a full perimeter garden of hostas, flowers and a koi pond with little toad houses tucked into the mulch. There are two large raised-bed organic vegetable gardens. Where a dirt pit once was is now a riverstone sitting area with a bluestone patio.
“Our goal was remediation of the land, so for every hole we dug, we’d make it two to three times larger than it would normally have to be so we could backfill it with rich soil to benefit the roots of our plants. What we didn’t create from our own compost, we’d buy from locally sourced compost materials, like Croswell’s,” Lesser said.
Their own land remediation led to noticing that there was room for local businesses and residents to hire a hauler to take away home and business food waste and give back composted “shares,” similar to the local CSA model.
“There’s a lot of focus on local farm-to-table, so we wanted to create a business that was from table back to local farm/gardens,” Lesser said. The two formed the company Compost Valley (compostvalley.com) and partnered with Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency to develop pickup routes through New Paltz, Rosendale, Kingston and Woodstock as well as exploring options in Dutchess County.