A Small Green Space Prepares for the Spring Season

“We’re kind of like house cleaners for the outdoors,” says Emma Lam, owner of A Small Green Space, “but there are three rings to our business: design, installation/flash build, and maintenance.”

Specifically, Lam and her team at A Small Green Space help beautify dwellings (usually homes, but they also take on other kinds of projects such as consulting for a children’s garden at City Hall) by making them greener. From window boxes to full-size backyards, they design, create, install, and then maintain outdoor spaces for city dwellers.

“We only do city-centric jobs – nothing in the suburbs. We do a little bit of work in NY, but mostly that’s consultation and design. 99% of our work is in Hudson County and in Jersey City especially.”

Faux-Lawn-Downtown © A Small Green Space

The service A Small Green Space provides is different for everyone. “For some, we just open and close their gardens. We open them in April and close in the winter/fall. This past year, that was November. For others, we go in every two weeks and clean out their gardens – even if it’s just window boxes – so people can sit and enjoy a glass of wine and enjoy the space. And then there are the bigger jobs where we create their whole outdoor setting. We figure out a design, and draw it up. If they like it, we install it,” describes Lam.

“When I started, it was literally just me,” she says, “My background is that I was an actor – I was blessed. I worked steadily for 15 years but I hit my 30s and I was having a baby and I had a house and I really wanted to be at home with the little one…

“I was in this moms group – there were 60 of us – and we would have these play dates where moms and children would go to each others’ houses. When they came to mine, some of the moms were like ‘Why don’t you do my garden?’ Eventually two of the moms pushed me into designing and installing – and then maintaining! – their gardens. Business kept growing and growing and I was quite surprised by it.”

Journal Square Garden © A Small Green Space

In terms of her background in gardening, literally, Lam did her homework. She studied horticulture in London (through correspondence) and she also earned a certificate of horticulture from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. “I was working during the day and driving out to Brooklyn at night.” She also attended trade shows where she learned about one of her favorite new trends.

“Artificial lawns are wonderful.” She’s not talking about astroturf – rest assured – the faux lawns of which Lam speaks are not only beautiful, but they’re great for the environment as well.

“I started seeing them about 6 or 7 years ago in flower shows – in the displays. But the first time I saw a full faux lawn installed in person, I was in England (about 5 years ago). It was March – a cold snowy March – and I saw this beautiful tiny lush green lawn. It took me a few minutes to realize it was a faux lawn. I remember thinking, ‘wait a minute – that’s not supposed to look like that this time of year!’

Heights Garden © A Small Green Space

“It’s actually laid like a patio. It looks really real – and another great thing about them is that they’re (made from) all recycled materials – bottles, industrial plastics… They’re permeable too, which helps solve a huge problem we have in Jersey City – flooding. There’s gravel bed underneath so the water doesn’t just run off into the streets like it does on pavement.”

Customers are often initially surprised when Lam recommends the faux lawns, but many are convinced by her passion. “A big problem with real lawns is that they use so much water and need constant bug or pest control. These chemicals then run into the sewers.” she explains.

It’s Lam’s enthusiasm, really, that drives her business and her success – and it doesn’t stop at gardening. “I am so thankful to Jersey City. I don’t think I could have done this anywhere else. It’s very supportive to small businesses.”

Already stocked for the spring, Lam plans on hiring a salaried lead gardener for the first time ever this season – which to the gardener and the owner in her – is a true indication of growth.

For more information, visit A Small Green Space.

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Photos provided by Emma Lam © A Small Green Space

Mel Kozakiewicz

is a writer, performer, and professor. She lives in the Heights section of Jersey City and she is a former editor for Jersey City Independent.