If there were a competition for tackling decidedly out-of-the-ordinary landscaping projects, David Kelly, a landscape designer, would be on auto-entry.
Seemingly float a swimming pool with an ipe-wood deck above a pond on an estate in Sagaponack, N.Y. ? He’s done it.
Levitate a small forest of 50-foot-tall honey locust trees as a second-story buffer between a luxury condominium and the High Line? He did that to the accompaniment of cheers from neighbors of 500 West 21st Street who turned out to watch the trees, imported from upstate New York, hoisted by crane into position in the heart of Chelsea.
“It was like a rally for these monster trees to make it in the big city,” said Mr. Kelly, himself a Canadian import with roots in Langley, a sports-centric city near Vancouver. His sympathies, he said, are with the transplants: “I cried the first day I came to New York, but I adjusted, and so will they.”
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He designed a 30-foot-high indoor green wall for the conservatory of a Manhattan apartment. And he came up with an award-winning residential project near Capetown, South Africa, by eschewing status quo lawns and gardens and instead incorporating the rugged, drought-resistant native vegetation known as fynbos.
Mr. Kelly found out after the fact that fynbos is best nurtured not with fertilizer, but with controlled burnings every 10 to 20 years. “It’s a little tricky when you’ve got a house in the middle of what seems to be a forest fire,” he said. “I knew nothing about that plant palette when I took on the project, but now I love it. With gardening, you never stop learning.”
Mr. Kelly, 47, joined Rees Roberts and Partners, a firm specializing in interior and landscape design, nearly two decades ago and prefers that every project be a one-off, or close. “When a client asks me to show them a picture of what the finished product will look like, I usually have to tell them I can’t, because we’ve never done it before,” he said.