One of the non-negotiable things I wanted when we were looking for a house was a big back yard. I had a vague idea that I would grow lots of food and pretty flowers, and that everyone would love spending time out there. There would be a variety of fruit trees, raised irrigated beds for annual crops, and a treehouse/playscape for the kids. We ended up getting a house sitting on a little under half an acre with a smallish front yard and and a big back yard that measures about 170’x80′! Plenty of room to make my garden dreams come true! Except at first I was a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin.
Figuring out how to integrate all the components I want in this space has been a challenge for me and I’ve put a lot of thought into it over the past 4 years and feel pretty good about moving forward with all the major projects that creating this garden will entail.To get a good visual on where the space is headed I drew up this schematic:
The semi-enclosed area will have a small patch of grass bordered by beds that will contain a small raised bed for annual crops, some fruit trees, flowering bushes, lots of herbs, and various groundcovers. As you move back you come upon several large raised beds for annual crops and to the left of that where you see all the x-marks are potential fruit trees which will comprise the orchard. Directly behind the orchard will be a planting area for tall grassy crops like corn, sugar cane, buckwheat, etc… Around the huge oak tree we will build a treehouse and have a natural playscape area underneath and around it (the pink area).
I have been studying the fundamentals of permaculture and the methods of lasagna gardening, deep mulching, backyard orchard culture, and hueglekultur and have devised a course of action that will use them all to eliminate most of the grass that currently covers about 80% of the yard. These methods will work together to create lots of fertile planting areas and a clear “forest floor” for paths and play areas. Simply put, I will lay down cardboard to smother the grass and layer compost/manure with grass clippings and leaves to create rich friable soil teeming with healthy micro-organisms. Above is a picture of the semi-enclosed garden area when we first moved in. I thought it was really beautiful but it was all ornamental plants (except for a minimally productive blackberry vine). Most of the plantings needed to be tended with rather intensive and frequent thinning and pruning sessions or it would become quite wild. Also there was a small in-ground pond that required regular maintenance and was a hazard for small children. The dazzling gumtree is shading the raised beds too severely and is encroaching on what will be the orchard. It will be removed before spring, I will miss watching the leaves change from one electric color to another before finally dropping in the early winter. Maybe I will find a place for another one in the very back.
And here is the semi-enclosed area today. My main focus has been outlining the new beds and laying cardboard down. I have topped the cardboard with a layer of mulch for now and as I plant things I will amend the soil in those spots specifically. I have already planted a lemon, lime, persimmon, and avocado tree in this space and built a small raised bed along one of the walls. I am currently trying to figure out how to place all the shrubs, bushes , herbs, and groundcover in a way that will deter mosquitoes, look beautiful , and make for easy harvesting of the frequently used edibles like herbs, onions, garlic, lemons, and limes.
All of this will take time. I can only collect materials and plants as my budget allows and creating healthy soil certainly can’t be done overnight. Even if I were to till the ground and amend it heavily, it still takes time for the bio-environment to develop and stabilize in the soil. This layering/hueglekultur/deep mulching method is simply mimicking nature and nature works at her own pace. Part of the reason I am documenting this is because I know over time it is easy to forget how far you’ve come, right now all those little pots look pretty spare but they will eventually lush out. looking back always encourages me to continue moving forward.