Evolution of a Garden

Back Yard

Back Yard

I bought our little falling-down house on a big city lot back in the late summer of 2007. The 1/4 acre lot complete with large shade trees enchanted me. I imagined the kids in tree-houses, me in a hammock, a thriving vegetable garden, chickens clucking, and friends having dinner around a fire. We’ve put a lot of work into trying to achieve that dream over the past few years, but it’s been a haphazard process of trial and error.

This year, we decided to scale back our garden and finally make a plan for our whole site that will address our desire for continued food production, a beautiful place to enjoy with friends or relax alone, and lower maintenance. I’ll be making our base map this week, and using our site as a design project during my last term at school. We’ll be sharing the process of creating our healing garden as we go!

The Story of Our Yard

When we moved in a few years ago, I hadn’t gotten into landscaping yet and didn’t know anything about design. However, I had spent my entire adult life as a vegetable gardener, and I dreamed of a little farm in the city, complete with a few hens for eggs and meat. The yard seemed perfect for it!

Front Yard

Front Yard

The front yard was a blank slate, with plenty of sun, perfect for fruit trees. Despite being overgrown with invasive plants, the back part of the yard is about 10 degrees cooler in the heat of the summer thanks to several Big Leaf Maples. Closer to the house was a “lawn” – in full sun, perfect for a large kitchen garden.

Since I was a singe mom who had just bought a house in need of major repairs, not much got done in the garden that first year. But the next summer TinyHands moved in and we got to work. We dug in haphazardly, without a long-term plan, and bit off a bit more than we could chew.

Vegetable Beds

The kids and I built 4 raised beds in the sunniest part of the back yard. We grew spinach, beets, tomatoes, beans, squash, and more. TinyHands and I dug up part of the front yard and planted fruit trees, blueberries, a few bulbs, and established a strawberry ground cover.

We wanted to make our chicken dreams come true, so I decided to build a chicken coop in the back of the garage, with a run out into the area under one of the Maples. That project dragged on, and in the meantime we got our hearts set on rabbits, too… their poo would be perfect for breeding redworms… excellent for vegetables and chickens alike, and they were an easy source of home-grown, quality meat.

We found a deal on rabbits and cages and said why not now? Suddenly our carport became a rabbitry, with the added work of cleaning, feeding, watering, and caring for rabbits.

Bunnies in the Run

A few months later I finally built the coop, and we added a dozen chickens to the mix. I also made a big worm pit out of cinderblocks and put one of our hutches on top of them so that the bunny poo would have a place to sit and compost.

The next year I lost my job and set about removing invasive plants from the backyard. The back part of the yard was covered in invasive ivy, clematis, nightshade, and blackberry. The grasses were waist high, and other weeds abounded as well. Between our attack, the chickens, and the deep summer shade, the back yard became a dry mess… the charming violas gone, nothing but dandelions and lilac suckers thriving.

Chickens Tearing up the Yard

That summer, I dug some more veggie beds around the raised beds sheet mulched all of the grass in the back yard, as well as much of the front yard and the strip between our house and the neighbors’. In the front, this worked pretty well. We planted it with free and cheap shrubs, bulbs, and annuals, without much of a real plan. We mixed in a few edibles as well – horseraddish, rhubarb, daylilies, artichoke (which the frost got), and squash.

Summer in the Front Yard

We built up keyhole beds in the backyard’s sheet mulched area, and planted them with potatoes. Despite regular attacks from ants, we had an abundant potato harvest. (Have you ever seen ants mow down potato stalks? Super weird!) However, it quickly became apparent that we should have done something more drastic about the perennial weeds.

We got an A-Frame chicken tractor and and a few more chickens. We came upon a variety of free fruit trees and planted them wherever we could find the space. I built a couple arbors with the idea that vines would grow on them and we’d have a nice place to sit. Turns out the posts were a bit shorter than I should have used, and I didn’t get them set in a perfect alignment. It may not have been pretty, but we had our little farm going in full swing.

Plans for the Future

In the meantime, I’d started going to school for landscape design and contracting, and got my Permaculture Design Certificate. While everything we’d done was organic, and we had put many permaculture principles to work, such a stacking functions, obtaining a yield, care of the earth, produce no waste, and others, we hadn’t worked from a plan, and I hadn’t had the experience to do all the projects properly. The only goal being met by our garden was food production, but we wanted more.

With our busy schedules, we haven’t have time to get out there and do all the maintenance we needed to. Weeds have now taken over last year’s potato garden and the ground is extremely uneven. The chickens periodically make it into our vegetables. Plantings in the front aren’t dense enough to crowd out weeds. Water from the house doesn’t get directed far enough away and causes damage. Our rabbits are not getting time in the run like they did at first. The kids get way too muddy when they go out to play in the back yard. It’s not a comfortable place for us to relax. Aesthetically, the garden isn’t what we want it to be. This year, we’re going to change all that!

Stay tuned to see the plan we come up with and the progress we make.

ps – in putting this post together I realized I’ve been awful about picture taking. I’m going to have to work on that!

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