A Pastoral Spot in the City

Country and rural dwellers are not the only people to seek the pleasures of the outdoors. The world abounds with lovely city gardens as well as the ones we are more familiar with that have vast plots of land at their disposal. Indeed, a successful urban garden makes a more intensive and deliberate use of the  space that is available. The garden we see here belongs to the Bussmann Family; Barbara, a Pesso therapist and music teacher, her husband Rafael, a clinical psychologist, and their two daughters aged 14 and 16. 

Barbara has been living in the apartment for the past 28 years, and upon her arrival the space behind the house still resembled a 1920’s city block house plot. The gardens associated with the houses along their street were all “Nutzgärten” or utility gardens, where each dwelling was assigned a plot of ground where they would plant vegetables. Up until Barbara took up residence, the paths were packed down with decades of coal from the house’s original coal stoves. The only planting at this point was a lone cherry tree, which still bears a great volume of succulent and delicious fruit, that provides nourishment and pleasure for residents and the local bird population alike. 

The first thing that Barbara did upon moving into her new home was to adorn the front entrance with great peach and pink rose shrubs, which have, over the decades, flourished into magnificent bushes that are tall enough to be seen through the large front windows and bloom from June through the late fall and even, on occasion, early winter. 

Through the years, the family has taken on new projects to make the most of their roughly 600 square foot garden. The first of these was the small garden shed, which Barbara’s father built himself for the property. Until recently one corner of the garden was dominated by a swing set and a sandbox. “It was the ultimate children’s paradise, we always had a band of local kids visiting us.” Said Barbara, speaking fondly of her memories as the children were younger in their “Pippy Long Stocking Adventure Garden”. Just last year, this area was replaced with a more age-appropriate reading nook covered by a canvas canopy that lets in a soft warm light on sunny days. “We never really had a concrete plan for the garden, it really changed shape and grew as our family did.” emphasizes Barbara while describing the different iterations of their outdoor space. 

The couple followed the ancient tradition of planting a tree to celebrate the birth of each of their daughters. As a result, the far end of the garden is dappled in the shade of a sweet chestnut and an apple tree each of which carries great sentimental significance. These, along with the original cherry tree and the surrounding privet hedge are really the only large plantings in the space. 

While spending a sunny afternoon sitting in the garden, enjoying a meal with the family, one cannot help but notice the incredible detail that has gone into every single inch of this outdoor space. One’s eye travels from the various hand-sewn patchwork quilts nestled into outdoor furniture, over the collection of antique crockery, planted with herbs and flowers, to the elephant stool from an early traveling circus. Each item has been selected for its beauty, charm and practicality. 

Barbara is a great collector of all things vintage and cottage in style. Much of her vintage garden furniture, trimmed with home made or antique patchwork quilts, is what makes this garden so cozy. She loves to meander through flea markets, and frequently travels to the Netherlands and Denmark to their vintage shops and markets. This pairs well with her husband’s handyness and creativity. He was originally trained as a goldsmith and jeweler, hence Rafael is excellent at meticulously restoring Barbara’s finds and transforming her budding ideas into practical solutions. 

Living in a city, one is obliged to share spaces with others, and the Bussman Family shares one half of the garden space with a neighbor. Through the last 28 years, the person they have shared the space with has changed several times, and each new inhabitant has, of course, come with their own set of ideas for the shared space. The current neighbor is by far the best, gloats Barbara, who encouraged their co-gardener, a local acquaintance, to move into the apartment above theirs from another house on the street, with her shared garden in mind. Since then, he has used his space to plant a row of diverse fruit trees and blueberry bushes, complimenting the Bussmann’s space beautifully. 

It is exceptional how, in the midst of a mid-sized city, this family has created their own Eden that feels entirely secluded and private, yet is just a short distance from the bustling downtown. As Barbara and Rafael’s daughters continue to grow and spend less and less time at home, Barbara admits to dreaming of other garden elements and designs, perhaps more flower beds and even a modern garden pond? We look forward to seeing how this garden continues to grow.

Phoebe Eilis Rohn
Phoebe Eilis Rohn

Phoebe’s antique career also began with ‘Two Rohn Girls Antiques’ together with sister Chloë, but it took her a bit longer to come back to work in the business full time. Since the start of Montage, she has frequently been referred to as a ‘vacation antiques dealer’ scheduling trips home to America, Italy, and England to coincide with her favorite antiques shows. In 2020 she went a step further and opened her own antiques Pop-Up in Osnabrück Germany.