Real Estate

Moving to a Crown Heights Apartment Allowed Her to Nurture a Green Thumb

Jaclyn Baird really wanted her desk to be a work space, but the plants have taken over.

Above the desk hang assorted drying flowers and leaves, like eucalyptus, baby’s breath, and strawflower, arranged in rows. Along the adjacent wall, a passion fruit vine crawls, trawling over a velvet painting. “I threw some passion fruit seeds from a cocktail I was making into a pot,” she said with a shrug, “and it grew.”

Here, in what Ms. Baird, 30, calls the “front room” of her garden apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, plants in various stages of life and desiccation cohabit with her eclectic selection of mostly thrifted artwork. Ignore the large windows, through which the light streams, and you’ll think she’s got a pretty good selection of plants.

But out the window is her pride and joy: a large garden that was the big draw when Ms. Baird, an operations manager for a luxury travel company, was searching for a bigger apartment to share with her boyfriend, John Beullens, a bartender. The two previously lived in a tiny East Village studio “about the size of this room,” Ms. Baird said, gesturing to her front room, and were desperate for something larger, ideally with an outdoor space where Ms. Baird could nurture her green thumb.

Ms. Baird’s cat, Delilah, presides over the garden, where herbs grow plentifully and fruit vines along the fence provide a bit of privacy.Credit…Robert Wright for The New York Times

Their garden is lush and surprisingly spacious, with added privacy thanks to the raspberry and grape vines currently embroiled in a turf war over the chain-link fence that demarcates the property.

The previous tenants installed a variety of plant beds, including a pair of bathtub planters (currently empty, on the to-do list for next spring); a hot box made by placing an old magenta-painted wooden door over a raised bed; and a shorter wooden bed in which Ms. Baird tried to plant carrots, before the caterpillars got to them. The last raised bed abounds with herbs like spearmint and parsley, and a basil plant that reaches up to your waist. Dense bushes of wild hydrangeas burst with green and pink; Ms. Baird is testing out the process of drying them, to use in bouquets she hopes to sell at local flea markets.

$2,500 | Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Jaclyn Baird, 30

Occupation: Operations manager for a luxury travel company.
Her favorite flea market: “The Meadowlands flea market in New Jersey is where I get all my rugs, but you have to get there early — before 10 a.m.”
Her plant-buying advice: “All of the plants that I bought at Trader Joe’s have died. Nelly’s, on Broadway in Brooklyn, is good, but I swear they doubled their prices during the pandemic. Most of the house plants I’ve bought are from bodegas in the East Village.”

One of Ms. Baird’s most beloved plants still lives in a plastic pot, although it spends most of its time outside: an avocado tree that she propagated a few years back, in Costa Rica. She moved there in 2017 from Los Angeles to take care of her father after he suffered a grand mal seizure, and ended up staying after his death. After arriving in Costa Rica, she found a remote job on Craigslist, working for a small travel company in Toronto that paid enough to cover her expenses.

She was drawn to the apartment for its size and its original fixtures, like the pressed-tin ceiling and antique chandelier in the bedroom.Credit…Robert Wright for The New York Times

While living there, Ms. Baird learned to propagate plants. “In Costa Rica, everywhere I lived there were mango trees and all kinds of fruit,” she said. “You can propagate anything, but it was particularly easy there.”

She would visit friends’ homes and remark on a particularly exquisite plant; most times, she went home with a clipping. Her garden started to grow.

She began studying plants and their medicinal properties, making mixes of dried plants like eucalyptus that could be added to a rolled cigarette.

Ms. Baird has always been a hobbyist. She began selling vintage clothing in college, when she was volunteering at the Salvation Army, and found a beautiful shirt from the 1920s that fit her perfectly. Soon, her sorority sisters were asking to buy her pieces, and their purchases paid her bills. Over the next decade, she developed an impressive collection of vintage items, which she shipped to Costa Rica, where she opened a shop. She also moonlights as a costume designer.

In January of 2020, Ms. Baird returned to the United States, and landed in New York. She eventually found a small studio in the East Village, for $1,950 a month. It was just big enough for her, but when she began dating Mr. Beullens that fall and he moved in, it became uncomfortably small.

A built-in cabinet in the bedroom stores dried flowers, books and Ms. Baird’s collection of cloth dolls. The apartment is full of vintage pieces she accumulated during years of thrifting and crafting.Credit…Robert Wright for The New York Times

He lost his job after the pandemic shut down the city, and she was working from home. “We needed to have a door,” Ms. Baird said. “I’d be working all day, and he’d be scrolling through Reddit, and I’d hear bits and pieces of a video he watched for three seconds. It would drive me insane.”

On top of that, living in the East Village didn’t seem worth it when they weren’t comfortable going out to bars and restaurants.

This summer, Ms. Baird put her foot down. She decided they would move, come hell or high water, and found the Crown Heights apartment through Listings Project. She believes that she was one of more than 100 applicants, but that she won out because she bonded with the landlord over her love of plants and the apartment’s ample garden. The couple got the keys on July 21, and moved in four days later.

Now Ms. Baird has space to spread out her crafts and vintage pieces, and Mr. Beullens enjoys entertaining in the backyard; they recently purchased a smoker. The apartment also has many original built-in accents, including a pressed-tin ceiling in the bedroom and cabinets where Ms. Baird stores her treasures, dried plants and a motley collection of cloth dolls.

Just after moving in, Mr. Beullens played tennis at a nearby court and met someone who helped him get a job bartending at an Orthodox steakhouse in Manhattan.

Ms. Baird saw it as a sign: “This place is a portal of good things happening,” she said.

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