A Small Green Space: Growing Outdoor Spaces in Jersey City

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As warmer weather approaches during our second summer in the COVID-19 pandemic, our residents look again to outdoor spaces that follow the protocol of social distancing. But how many of us consider our own backyards, sometimes neglected for creativity and aesthetics, as a space we can customize to accommodate our wants and needs? The team at A Small Green Space can help you build your outdoor haven in a breeze. Read on to learn more about A Small Green Space, a woman-owned, Jersey City-based landscaping company.

About A Small Green Space

Emma

The full-service urban landscape was seeded in 2009 and grew to become an award-winning firm in the Hudson County area. Emma Lam is the founder of the business and holds garden design training from the KLC School of Designs and a Certificate of Horticulture from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Emma, along with her team, has worked on various projects that have included a courtyard renovation after Hurricane Sandy, an award-winning condo garden in Jersey City, and numerous outdoor makeovers for small urban spaces. The firm offers a package of design, installation, and maintenance for a top-to-bottom service for your space. 

Hoboken Girl had the chance to speak with Emma about her business, the inspiration behind her projects, the impact of community, and, of course, how she can help you create an outdoor space of your dreams.

Hoboken Girl: Tell us about A Space Green Space’s services. 

EL: We are a full-service design and build landscaping firm based in Jersey City. This is our thirteenth season in business and we exclusively work on urban spaces. We also offer ongoing garden maintenance services, primarily in the Hudson County and NYC area.

HG: What inspired you to start your business? How did you grow your team from one to ten?

EL: Landscape design is my second career, my first having been on the stage. I was bitten by the gardening bug in the early 2000s when my husband and I purchased our first home, a small one-bedroom Hoboken condo with a private garden. Both the condo and the garden had been neglected for many years, and as a child of incredibly handy parents who had regularly participated in DIY projects, my husband and I, both working artists, decided to take on the renovations ourselves. It was several more years until I started wondering whether a person could make a living working on outdoor spaces. 

By then, I had a baby on the way and joined a local moms meet-up group. As my daughter was born in July, the following spring and summer I held playdates, wine nights, and afternoon teas in my outdoor space that I had designed and installed. Some of those local moms started asking me to help them with their outdoor spaces. So, in 2009, I started the business, and the rest is history.

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HG: What have been the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working with spaces of smaller sizes and shapes?

Jersey City Rooftop Before

EL: Small spaces can be more difficult to design than large spaces. Every inch has to be taken into consideration, especially when people want to use their small outdoor spaces in many different ways. We often have clients who want not only a stylish outdoor space to entertain their adult friends in, but also a space for their kids and pets to safely play in, and use as storage for their bikes. This can be challenging when you have less than 300 square feet to work with. I often compare it to working on a puzzle. You have to make sure that all the pieces fit and people can still comfortably navigate their way through the space.

I honestly think the most rewarding aspect of designing small urban spaces is seeing the impact it can have on people’s lives. I know this sounds corny, but over the last year, due to the ongoing pandemic, this has become especially true. We have had numerous emails and phone calls from clients thanking us for their “small outdoor retreats” and how they have helped keep them stay sane during the pandemic.

HG: How has managing A Small Green Space changed since the pandemic started? 

EL: Last season was really challenging. The pandemic began right as our season started up in mid-March, but our team and our clients were outstanding. We managed to keep our crew, but everyone had to work twice as hard as we were not able to hire the same seasonal part-time help that we had in previous seasons. For most of the season, we only offered our maintenance services to clients whose spaces had outdoor access. This, along with clients changing circumstances, significantly reduced our maintenance workload. 

By state order, we had to stop our construction work for several weeks in the summer and I spent many hours trying to secure loans. Our team never complained and worked very hard to ensure our clients’ spaces remained beautiful, and we are happy to report that despite last season being challenging this season is shaping up to be our busiest ever!

HG: How has the community made an impact in the work you do, especially during the pandemic?

Jersey City Rooftop After

The community has been amazingly supportive. We had many clients reach out to check on us, and others offered to pay for our services despite us not being able to safely maintain their spaces last season. Some clients added money to the tips that they give our crew and many just reached out to say “thank you.” Like so many others in the service industry, we had to implement new safety measures for our crew and clients, and all of our clients were respectful and supportive of these measures.

HG: What have you been most proud of during these years in business?

The work I am proudest of is the two memory gardens that we have designed and helped create. Many years ago, we were asked to create a garden design for a client who had terminal cancer. After her death, her parents hired us to install the front garden at their daughter’s former condo building. Ever since that time, we maintain the space on a bi-weekly basis and regularly get emails from them informing us that someone forwarded a note to them saying how beautiful the garden is and how much joy it brings to the community. Another memory garden we designed was for a single mom whose teenage son tragically died unexpectedly. The power an outdoor space has to bring solace, joy, and support for those in any kind of need is inspiring, and I am humbled to be able to help with that in even a tiny way.

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HG: For readers interested in a makeover for their outdoor space, how can they get started?

EL: If you are planning to use a professional, start planning early! Spring is a landscaper’s busiest season and fall and winter are great times to start working on outdoor planning. Our process starts with a client reaching out to us about their outdoor space. We will then set up a complimentary meeting where we will walk the space and talk about their needs and desires for the outdoor space. From there, we will follow up detailing our thoughts about how we would progress with the design. If a client then decides to commission a design, the process starts with us returning to survey the space.

HG: Last but not least, can you share your favorite gardening tip with our readers?

EL: If you have a new space or an old space that isn’t working for you, get a pot you love, stick a beautiful plant in it, and then get yourself a comfortable chair. Even if your outdoor space is a complete disaster, take that chair and pot out there and start spending time in your space. Beautiful spaces start with a dream, and there is no better place to start dreaming about your space than in it.

And finally, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Gardening is not about perfection. It’s about flexibility and constant change. And part of the joy of gardening is the discoveries that are often born out of total disasters.

For more information on services offered by A Small Green Space, you can visit the contact page for phone, email, and mailing address options. You can also find A Small Green Space on Facebook and Instagram. All photography is credited to Megan Maloy Photography.

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Originally from Philadelphia, Ada moved to Hoboken in 2016 for a job opportunity and grew a love for exploring the city. When not working, she enjoys writing, trying all the coffee Hudson County has to offer, and spending as much time outdoors as possible. She loves meeting locals and bonding over music, health and wellness, and new discoveries in our community.