New York garden designers often face difficult constraints: too much shade on a narrow terrace, old structures that can’t handle the load. But when creating this Chelsea rooftop green space, Christian Duvernois worked under an unusual one: sense memory. His client, Dr. Jean-Laurent Casanova, had a Proustian requirement — a remembrance of greenery past, if you will. He asked Duvernois to plant several species of tree that he had known as a boy in France, the ones that he remembered from visits to his grandparents in the French Alps and Normandy. And he also envisioned a waterfall over a sculpture to symbolize the many cultures in which he’s lived, including that of the country he made his second home.
Three summers ago, the trees and their planters were lifted atop the house by crane and set in place. Since then, a creeping ground cover of sweet-smelling chamomile flowers, mixed with bugleweed and varieties of sedum, has grown and flourished. The rooftop, planted with wild grasses and edged with an ipe-wood fence, both acts as a noise buffer and conjures up a beach bungalow. The two gardens hum with bees and avian guests, on what were once slabs of concrete.
*This article appears in the Winter 2017 issue of New York Design Hunting.
On this side of the penthouse rooftop, the trees include purple beech, swamp oak, paper birch, blue Atlas cedar, European larch, and Swiss pine. For the fountain, the artist Serge Besançon created this copper relief of two water maidens.The outline of the Alps in the background, lined up precisely with the Empire State Building, evokes the view Dr. Casanova has from his home in Southern France. The pink marble slabs came from the same quarry that supplied Versailles’s Grand Trianon in 1687.
The little white table is a classic by Eero Saarinen for Knoll. The sculpture is by Rudolph Serra.
The trees on this side are willow oak, Corsican black pine, river birch, and male ginkgo. Next year, the edges of the roof garden will be planted with vines, so they can climb and cover the bare masonry.
The glass-topped table is by the artist Ivan Stojakovic; it’s titled Green Stage 1 and contains preserved plants.