Here's an excerpt from a 1980 New York Times article (that’s 35 years ago!) on succesful design solutions for brownstone gardens.  In my practice as a New York City garden designer I design Brownstone garden designs.

Interestingly, what this demonstrates is that garden designs and garden styles may come and go, but the essence of the challenges remain the same in designing Brooklyn brownstone gardens or virtually any other specific garden design.

“Many brownstone gardens are both an asset and a problem: they promise to bring outdoor space into the lives of nature-starved New Yorkers, but the spaces themselves are usually small and sometimes damp, and they often lack light and privacy. The high canopies of the aspiring ailanthus and other city trees compound both the promise and the problem of a back garden by providing greenery that obscures the sun.

Brownstones and their gardens have been altered so many times over the decades that many yards have unique conditions, some extremely difficult to plant and design for. If they are not carefully planned and tended, the course nature takes will not be inviting.

Designing the garden of a brownstone is something like writing a haiku: there are strong constraints, especially on space, and success can turn on a nuance, such as the proportion of light to shade. A Brooklyn Heights landscape designer, says, ‘You have a small rectangle, and it's a question of how you divide it.’

There are, however, many ways to design successfully within this constrained form. Some gardens look as though they are excerpts from a forest; others have constructions of terraces, pavilions or trellises; still others are totally decked, both floor and fence. Designing is especially difficult when the yard requires remedying problems that lie beyond the fence, in other yards. Success sometimes depends on the cooperation of neighbors.”