Outdoor design: Garden rooms with a view
PATRICIA CONOVER/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local
When Kris Bromley and her husband James bought their Tudor-style house in Verona 15 years ago, their backyard didn’t impress.
“It was a small lawn enclosed by a line of spruce trees. We could see that it had a lot of potential,” Kris said. “We knew that if we could buy the property beyond it, we would have an unbelievable view of Manhattan. It also offered plenty of room for barbeques and parties. And you could walk to Eagle Rock Reservation on the trail there. But it wasn’t for sale.”
They created a haven consisting of a wrap-around deck, a pool and lush plantings that made their small slice of heaven private and cozy. The informal garden just outside the back door overflowed with wisteria, hydrangea, peonies, geraniums, roses and foxgloves.
Fast forward several years to 2014 and that tract of land with the incredible view finally went up for sale. The Bromleys scooped it up and created the sweeping, verdant oasis they had dreamed about all that time.
The storms that have rocked the area in recent years took out several old growth trees and damaged others on the property. Kris hired an arborist to access the health of the trees still standing and to take out any that were in danger of falling. After several trees were removed the now more-open landscape enabled her to create a welcoming outdoor environment for family and friends.
She worked with Carlo Guarente of Guarente Brothers Landscape Associates to prepare the landscape for the outdoor room vibe she sought. They planned the different sites together and their ideas evolved to fit the space. They planted many new trees. In fact, they planted at least one new tree for every one that had to be removed. They also installed a patio and a fire pit.
The stylish stone patio has a view of Manhattan.
“The city lights are absolutely beautiful at night,” she said. “The view still takes my breath away.”
SECLUDED, INVITING, BREATHTAKING VIEW
The fire pit features comfortable seating. It’s in a separate enclosure that offers an extra dose of privacy on the side of the property.
“We have two sons. We wanted to create a secluded area that would be inviting to them so that they could really enjoy the beauty of this place, too,” Kris said.
The plan worked. The boys, who are both in college now, bring their friends home. Their favorite spot is the fire pit.
“It’s a wonderful place,” she said. “The boys and sit and talk to their friends there. The area, surrounded by trees, is perfect for that — and exactly what I hoped it would be.”
Red Adirondack chairs are arranged in groups on the lawn, emphasizing the impression of casual luxury. Although it looks complete, the Bromleys’ idea of creating different rooms in an outdoor “house” on the extended sloped scape isn’t quite finished.
“It’s a work in progress,” Kris said. “I continue to imagine new ways to create inviting spaces for the people I love.”
Kris Bromley grew up in Point Pleasant, and is deeply rooted in New Jersey, with an appreciation for nature and the environment.
"Growing up, I was surrounded by beauty. The light and the water were gorgeous. I’ve carried an awareness of the landscape and the seasons and their unique beauty with me all my life. Like the beach, my garden is informal, natural and peaceful,” she said.
Her commitment to her garden and the landscape beyond it is matched by a lifetime of adapting when mother nature displays her power. After some harsh storms in 2017 and 2018, she had her work cut out for her to put her garden back together.
“I put lots hard work and energy into the garden throughout the whole year,” she said. “Then, the storms did so much damage that I had to replant almost everything. I spend a lot of time working out here already so it was a labor of love.”
Luckily, her peonies survived.
“My mother loves flowers and gardens,” she said. “And my grandmother cultivated peonies. The peonies in my garden are about 75 years old. My mom dug them up from my grandmother’s garden and we planted them together. Every time I’ve moved, I’ve brought them with me.
“That’s the permanence of the garden. Storms come and go but the continuity of the garden supports the connections between people and between generations.”
All of the Bromleys’ garden additions evolve from an enhanced appreciation of the environment and an awareness of the preservation of the native trees that are in abundance both in her yard and the adjacent Eagle Rock Reservation.
“Just before our son was born, I found this piece,” she said, pointing out a sculpture of an ancient face looking out from a broad leaf and keeping watch over the house and garden.
“It’s called ‘The Spirit of the Forest.’”
He’s an appropriate guardian for a gardener who honors the past, creates lovely spaces to enjoy in the present, and acts as a good steward of the environment for the future.