Small space gardening

Archive for the ‘Creating a no-mow yard’ Category

Simply My Backyard

It’s the dead of the winter here in Central Illinois, we’re in the process of getting several inches of snow and I’ve been reading gardening magazines all evening. I bought about fifty magazines at a yard sale this summer from some homeowners whose yard should have been on the cover of one of them. Those beautiful souls allowed me, a total stranger, to walk around in their private back yard garden that was one of the most amazing that I’ve seen. (Thank you, wherever you are!) I purposely stayed away from the magazines until now, because I knew I was going to need a “fix” sometime when summer seemed light years away.

I’m not so sure treating myself to the articles and gorgeous photos was such a great idea. Now I’m feeling anxious to get my hands in the dirt, and a little sad that I won’t be getting any yard “therapy” for a few more months. I’m thinking of all those outdoor projects that are patiently waiting for me–my wood fence that needs attention, my lovely stamped concrete patio that needs to be sealed and all those plants that need to be divided that, like my children, grew bigger and faster than I imagined.

I found some treasures for my yard at the end of the summer that never had a chance to shine, and were banished to an empty shelf in my garage. I made a cute, rustic potting bench from curbside finds at the end of the summer that no pot ever sat on. I refurbished a beautiful bird bath, also found on a curb last fall, that I’m anxious to place in the perfect spot in my yard (see it here!). My mind has been hopelessly stimulated now by all these dreamlike thoughts, and it’s 1:00 a.m.

So, my therapy substitute in an attempt to quiet my thoughts is going to be sharing back yard pictures from this past summer through this post. If you’ve never visited my blog before, here’s a quick history. I live in the city in a subdivision where the yards are tiny, and neighbors are on top of each other. (I love my neighbors, by the way.) My actual yard space, not including my patio, measures 14′ x 34′. When I moved here, the green in my back yard consisted of a lawn full of clover and some weeds around the deck. Not one tree, not one bush, nothing. I tore off the deck, and some very talented young men replaced it with a poured stamped-concrete patio. Then, I planted…and planted.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any pictures of the section of my back yard that is dedicated to vegetables only, but for the record, I did manage some bang up veggies this past summer. I also developed my side yard for veggies, but that’s a whole different adventure. The following pictures are exclusively from my tiny back yard after only four years. I would also like to mention that I purchase only small (young) plants in order to keep costs down, so this gives you an idea of how quickly small plants can grow in a short amount of time.

(For more photos and specifics of how I transformed my tiny yard, refer to my previous post, “ My Tiny City Garden—In the Beginning“.)

Before…

Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

After…

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

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 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

< Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Simply My Backyard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I hope this will add a little “spring” to your step, and give you a little taste of summer here on my blog. (Sigh)

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check her other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

Small Space Gardening–End of Summer Photos

This is a long overdue end-of-summer photo-post showing the transformation of my small space garden areas including my new side yard beds. I’m finally getting these photos together in the month of February following the growing season that ended months ago here in Central Illinois. Ironically enough, we had a blizzard last night, and everything is covered in about seven inches of snow. I guess this record-setting, very long, hellashusly (no help from spellcheck on that one) snowy winter has me dreaming of my summer garden! So here are my results.

(For details on the sizes of the planting areas, what was planted and how crops were rotated, refer to my post, “Small Space Gardening–Utilize Your Sideyard”. You’ll be surprised at how small some of these spaces are.)

Spring

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Summer

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 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

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 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

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Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

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Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

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 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

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 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Summer – To see how to build a trellis on your fence to grow your vegetables vertically, click here.

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Spring

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Summer – This trellis was simple to build. To see how, click here.

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasisg

The following three photos are of the planting bed near my front door that has both flowers and vegetables in it. Spring, early summer and late summer. From now on, I will always plant veggies in this flower bed!

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Front and center is a volunteer mini pumpkin plant that I moved into my front flower bed from my back yard vegetable garden.

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

And here are some pictures just for fun of plants that did well.

Here you can see my herb garden area before the dill seed took over!

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

And here’s after the dill seed took over.

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Small Space Gardening--End of Summer Photos / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Again, most of the planting beds pictured in this post are tiny. My hope is that those of you who wish to grow flowers and vegetables, but have limited planting space will see that it’s possible, and will give it a try.

This blog was written by Tracy Evans who is a Certified Home Stager, Certified Redesigner and a Journeyman Painter servicing the Bloomington/Normal, IL area. You can view her portfolios at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com for more before and after photos.

If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check my other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on my website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

Tips for Landscape Design in a Tiny Yard

If you have a tiny back yard with nothing in it, there’s no reason why you can’t create a beautiful, serene oasis. This post can point you in the right direction as far as creating a landscape design if you don’t know where to begin. Trust me, you can do this!

Here’s a peek through my garden gate. Come on in.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

It’s really not that difficult to create a landscape design, regardless of the size of your yard. In past homes that I’ve owned, and even some yards I’ve done for friends and family, I’ve created everything from a tiny flower bed design outside a friend’s front door, to a large, expansive landscape that took several seasons to complete.

Since my blog is geared towards tiny urban yards, I suppose I’d better stick to a post addressing landscape design for just such a garden.

If you’re not up to reading an entire post, and want to get right to the point, here’s the condensed version of how to create a design for your tiny yard.

1. Make a list of your desires/purposes for your yard in order of priority.
2. Call the utility companies (or JULIE) to locate any underground lines.
3. Research the types of plantings you want, to be sure they’ll grow in your conditions and planting zone.
4. Decide upon placement of your anchor bushes or trees.
5. Decide placement of your other “must have” items.
6. Plant temporary “filler” items until your main landscape fills in.
7. Enjoy!

Ok, so maybe it’s not quite as easy as all that, but I believe if you follow the ideas listed above, you can design your own landscape. Allow me to go into a bit more detail.

It’s a good idea in the early stages to write down your desires for your yard. If you have several, you need to prioritize since you’re dealing with a confined space, and may not be able to fit all your wants into the plan.

For example, in my tiny yard, my first priority is privacy. I’m betting if you have a tiny yard in the city, your property is smooshed up against your neighbor’s, and I would be willing to bet both you and your neighbor would like to have some privacy. You may have heard the expression that fences make great neighbors. I couldn’t agree more. If you can’t afford a fence or if fences aren’t allowed in your neighborhood, there are other options that I’ll introduce throughout this post.

I was fortunate enough to have a neighbor who agreed to split the cost of installing and sharing our privacy fence, which gave us both a great beginning. Unfortunately, since our yards slope, our six-foot fence appeared to shrink after installation since it’s placed at the lowest point in our yards. Our six-foot fence now appears to be a four-foot fence, and we still look directly into each other’s patio windows. What that means is I still have work to do as far as creating privacy. See how there’s an unobstructed view into my neighbor’s windows? Stay tuned.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

A close second for me as far as my wants for my yard is a space where I can grow as many vegetables as possible. Another desire for me is serenity—green space with lots of textures—very “Zen”. I don’t want lots of flashy flowers in this area. (I save color for my front and side yards.)

My favorite all-time bush is a lilac, so a dwarf is a must in my yard. I’ve never had a Japanese Maple so that’s another must. I need a boxwood—love those. And I brought a Clematis vine with me from my last house that needs a spot, and I must have a trellis for a Morning Glory vine. I would also love some ornamental grass since I’ve never grown that before. Next is a water feature. Another desire is different levels in my yard for interest. Another is attracting birds, butterflies, praying mantis, etc… Yet another is winter interest. Yada, yada, yada… Hopefully, you don’t have quite that long of a list. That’s a lot of stuff to put into a tiny yard, but I somehow managed!

I’ve often read that in a tiny yard, you should stick to two or three types of plants, and repeat them so the space is less chaotic, but I don’t believe that necessarily has to be the case. There are too many plants I’m wanting, to just choose between a couple different ones. Check out these photos. There are different plants packed into small areas, and I think they’re beautiful. Nothing chaotic about these!

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you don’t know much about plants, and don’t have obvious favorites like I do, never fear, my friend. Spend some time taking a stroll through a local nursery, and see what catches your eye. Or take pictures of plants you see when you’re out driving or walking in your neighborhood. Look at gardening magazines that are relevant to your planting zone. Take pictures to a nursery to find out the names of the plants you discovered. Then research any plants of interest to see if they’ll work in your growing conditions.

Another option would be to go to Google (my very good friend), search the type of growing conditions you have, and see what plants are best suited for your environment. For example, if your area is windy, wet, prone to drought, teeming with deer, sunny, shady, etc…, do a search for the appropriate types of plants, and see what shows up. You want to read as much as you can about plants that interest you, and go from there. Some plants are beautiful, but are invasive. Some are the right size for a tiny yard, but have thorns or drop messy seeds or berries that you might not want. It’s not a quick process to be sure, but you’re much better off taking the time to gather information rather than having to rip out plants that become a nuisance, die or grow too big for your space.

As far as resale value goes, great landscaping is only going to increase the value of your property. I don’t have a problem tearing out all of the sod in my back yard, and replacing it with plantings since my 14 foot by 34 foot grassy area isn’t suited for a swing set or any other type of yard activity. Once landscaping is established, replacing my sod with plantings and stepping-stones is easier to maintain than mowing. It’s also much more interesting to look at in our zone 5 winters. And after the first year of pampering, you just get to relax and watch nature do its thing. If you purchase plantings that are the correct size for their chosen areas, there’s also no trimming involved. Low maintenance is always a bonus. What home buyer wouldn’t be interested in all that!

You’ll need to call your utilities to find out where your cables are buried (JULIE is who we call here in Central Illinois). You need to do this before you start planning your placement of items because your buried lines may just put the kibosh on certain aspects of your design. For example, you wouldn’t want to get all pumped about digging a small water feature in that incredibly perfect spot only to find out your cable line runs through that area. Cable or water feature, let’s see…

After you locate your utilities, you’re ready to plan. You can use graph paper to attempt an overall plan (subject to change, of course) for your yard if you like. First you need to pick your most desired feature or most important item, and plant or install it where it needs to go. If this item is a tree or bush–we’ll call it your “anchor” plant. Sometimes I wait until I have my anchor plants in, and then use graph paper to plan out the rest.

I have three sets of anchor plants in my yard. Remember, privacy is my number one desire, so I’m starting there. I plant three upright Junipers so when I look out my sliding door, they are centered directly in my line of vision. I choose Junipers that will eventually grow to block the view into my neighbor’s sliding door, and I plant them so that they’ll be touching each other when they’re full grown. In a tiny yard it’s a good idea to choose plantings that are columnar in habit as opposed to big, spreading bushes that will take up precious yard space. Tall ornamental grasses are also a good choice for privacy in a small yard, and would have worked well in this spot. Here’s another picture of my Junipers from inside my house.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I contemplate planting some type of small, ornamental tree to solve the privacy issue, but I want privacy year-round. Here in zone 5, you can kiss your privacy good-bye in the fall and winter if you go the deciduous route. Another issue of a tree in a tiny yard becomes encroachment on your neighbor’s yard as the tree grows. Also, a very small tree will not have a skirt that will be high enough for you to walk under, and may end up overpowering your yard if it’s an itsy-bitsy yard like mine. And in my case, I don’t want shade to be creeping into my veggie garden. (Veggies need at least 6 hours of full sun per day.) So I nix the ornamental tree idea.

If what you desire for your yard is a shady retreat with refuge from the sun, then a larger bush that can be trimmed up so it’s woody on the bottom might be a nice way to go if you don’t care about privacy in the winter months. It will form a shady canopy, and you may have a better selection in bushes for a small space than you would for a tree for a small space.

Tip–Generally speaking, in zone 5 you’ll want to plant deciduous trees and bushes (assuming you have room) on the south and/or west sides of your house so that the plantings will block the sun from your house in the summer. Then the leaves drop in the winter, allowing the sun to warm your house.

Yet Another Tip—Be sure to space your plants taking their full-grown size into consideration!!! I often see bushes and trees planted too close to houses, and too close together. I must admit I still struggle with this. Most of us gardeners as beginners have made that mistake thinking nothing will ever grow that big, and then 5 years down the road we’re kicking ourselves in the hind-end for planting too close. If you can’t stand how barren your new landscape looks with all that empty waiting-to-grow space, you can fill in with temporary plantings. More about filler plants later in this post.

You also want to be aware of low areas in your yard that may stay soggy for some length of time after it rains, so you can choose plantings that can handle wet areas. This means being very familiar with your yard before you begin your project. Many landscapers suggest living in a property for a year before landscaping so you can become familiar with your yard’s quirks. If you have a low area in your yard that holds water, you can bring in soil and create a raised berm to plant on for interest. A berm added to a low area would allow you to have a broader selection of plants to choose from—not just ones who like to swim.

So back to my other anchor bushes which are Sky Pencil Japanese Hollies that only get about a foot to a foot and a half wide and about 5 to 6 feet tall. Here’s a picture of those. Unfortunately, they’re slow growers. In the two years I’ve had them, in fact, I don’t think they’ve grown more than an inch. Maybe not such a great choice if you’re in a hurry, but I’ve got nothing but time. Still, be warned that if a tag on a plant says it’s a slow grower, it means it’s a slooooooooowwwwwwwww grower.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

My last set of anchor bushes is three Buckthorn bushes that get about two feet wide and maybe a foot or so taller than my fence. I love their soft, feathery look. (Unfortunately, the Japanese Beetles love their flavor.) The purpose of planting these bushes as well as the hollies is to give additional privacy where you can see through the slats of my privacy fence. Not a big issue, but one of my goals is also to have a wall of green so eventually you won’t be able to see my fence at all.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If budget is an issue, you could stop here. Just get your anchor plants in the ground, and wait to add more items from your list next year. At least you would have a great start on your masterpiece! I always try to do everything at once if my budget allows so I only have to pamper my yard for the first year or so, and then I can relax and enjoy it all. Another budget stretcher is to buy small if you can stand it. I’m the Budget Queen, so I almost always buy small. Don’t be afraid to consider bare-root plants. They look absolutely ridiculous when you buy them, but they’re a lot easier to plant than trees and bushes that come balled and burlaped or in a big pot of dirt. (Just be careful when you mow!) You’ll be surprised at how quickly plants can grow and fill in.

Tip—If you plan to make plant purchases at a “non-nursery”, you need to know what you’re planting! I would advise if you find plants you would like to buy at a non-nursery, write down the names of what you see that are of interest to you, and then Google them to be certain they will grow in your planting zone. Just because they sell them in your area, doesn’t mean they’ll survive your climate. I found that out the hard way. Also, they may sell plants marked as perennials that are, in fact, perennials–in Brazil. I got burned on that one too.

Also, when looking at trees, I’ve noticed most of them in the box stores have their header branch missing or damaged. That would be the main trunk that grows straight upwards, and is the main branch that all others grow out of. A tree with its header missing or damaged will not grow properly, and will have a not-so-lovely shape. I say shame on those stores for selling them to unsuspecting customers. Buyer beware!

So once I get my anchor bushes planted, I decide on placement of stepping-stones, location of my other must-have bushes, water-feature size and so on. I find places on my graph paper for my Japanese Maple, dwarf lilac, Morning Glory trellis and my Clematis. I make up little “vignettes” of plants in my yard, generally with the tallest plants in the back, and the shorter plants in the foreground. Here are a couple of those areas.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

After creating a few different designs on my graph paper, I decide which one I like best, and install my stepping-stones and water feature so I can plant around them.

I left about a third of my yard open for my vegetable garden. I sink 4 x 4 posts and string wire fencing between them to grow my pole beans and pickling cucumbers on. It’s a nice space saver, and since I made these taller than my privacy fence, I have a little more privacy from other neighbors when my plants are up and growing. You can see the four 4 x 4 posts in the background. The whole back area that you see in the photo will be a complete wall of green once my plants are up and leafing out. This set up is a must for a tiny yard. (See photos in my previous post, “In the Beginning” to see end-of-the-year pictures where my fence “disappears”.)

If you’re not into planting veggies, you can plant annual or perennial vines up on fences, which is what I did after the planting season was over last year. I would much rather look at a beautiful vine than a fence. What you see growing up on the fences here is a Paniculata Clematis. Sounds like a disease of some sort, doesn’t it? This is the most hardy and fast-growing of any Clematis I’ve seen, and has beautiful white flowers that bloom in the fall when everything else is starting to die off. My friend, Cinny, also gave me some starts of raspberry plants that I planted to grow up the fence, but they’re too small to see in the photo.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I’m a vine lover, and believe they have a purpose in every yard—especially tiny yards. They’re good for creating privacy because you can place a trellis wherever you need a view obstructed. Vines take up very little ground space, and make a beautiful backdrop for plants placed in front of them. Morning Glories (Heavenly Blue) have been a staple in my yard for years, and are quick to cover my home-made bamboo trellis. I leave my spent vines on my trellises for the winter. The birds love them, and they’re beautiful in the snow. Here’s a picture of my naked bamboo trellis.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s the same trellis fully clothed in a Heavenly Blue Morning Glory. This vine is an annual in zone 5, but grows rapidly, and will completely cover the trellis within a few weeks of my planting the seeds.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

The people who bought my old house, allowed me to take my rusty ladder that I had my Clematis growing on because it had sentimental value to me. To them it was a rusty ladder. To me it was a lovely gift from my son. As a teenager, my oldest son, Brandon (aka Mr. Wilderness) was always bringing home…well…things when he would go fishing or exploring. Some things living and breathing, some things not. (We once had a snake loose in our basement for months that escaped his clutches.)

One day he brought home a rusty, old ladder that he found in a creek for me to use in my garden, and I love it. I set it in concrete, so that meant when my home buyers were gracious enough to let me take it to my new house, I transported it–concrete and all. Dang, I wish I owned a truck. My point here is you can use found objects to use for trellises, and there’s no need to spend lots of money on them since they’ll likely be completely covered with plants at some point anyway. The bird houses look a little cluttered in this photo, but when the vine fills in around them, they look right at home. So here’s my precious rusty ladder trellis.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tip-Be sure to purchase the correct type of vine for the type of support you have. There are three types of vines. Some vines, such as Boston Ivy, have little suction-cup feet that allow them to stick to surfaces. You wouldn’t want to put this on a trellis because it needs a flat surface like a wall or fence to suction-cup onto. If you have a trellis, you need a vine like a Clematis or Morning Glory whose stem wraps itself around the spindles. The third type of vine has tendrils that are like little curly arms that grow off the main stem, and can grab onto a trellis. Cucumber and pumpkin vines have tendrils.

Caution–Many vines like Wisteria and Trumpet Vine grow to be very heavy, and develop large woody stems over time requiring heavy-duty supports. A small metal trellis would be eaten alive by these types of vines. Talk to your local nursery about what type of trellis you would like to use, and they can suggest a vine that would be appropriate for your situation.

So I’ve got my anchor bushes in, my water feature, stepping-stones and two trellises. I plant my lilac at the base of my rusty clematis ladder because although Clematis love and need full sun, they like their roots to be shaded. Perfect. I fill in with my other must haves as placed on my graph paper.

Tip—Plantings are more visually appealing if planted in odd numbers. Don’t ask me why, it’s just that way, and is true in interior design as well.

Now I just add what I refer to as “fillers” so my yard doesn’t look too sparse since I spaced my anchor bushes based on their full-grown size. I like to see green, not ground. My filler plants are planted with the idea that they will be dug up, and given away as my main bushes grow and take over the space. The filler plants consist of hostas, sedum, salvia, strawberry plants, fescue grass, iris, peony, lambs ear, scallions and fern. Annuals and garden veggies if you have enough sun would be good choices for fillers too. I even planted some daffodil bulbs as fillers that someone threw away (pot and all) in the empty lot across the street from me.

All of these plants, except the fescue, were given to me by friends or brought with me from my previous home so I don’t feel bad letting someone else adopt them when the time comes. I’ve already had to dig some of these up over the past two years and give them away as my “important” plants have grown, and crowded them out. That is the purpose of the filler plants after all.

Finally, my wish to draw birds and butterflies into my yard is accomplished by my mini bird bath that I picked up at a garage sale, and spray-painted brown. If you have too many of these yard “chachkies” in a small space, they’ll look like clutter, but I’ve only got two, and one of them is sort of tucked down in the plants. Believe it or not, birds actually do come and bathe in this tiny little bath that probably holds only about 6 oz. of water, and butterflies actually drink from it too.

I see a handful of praying mantis in my yard every year too, but don’t exactly know what I’ve got that they like. I sure love those little guys. You can never have too many praying people or insects around, I say. I also have my water feature to attract birds, but it’s not up and running yet. (It resembles pea soup at the moment since it’s only April, and has been sitting stagnant all winter.)

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I also have bird feeders, and plant sunflowers that attract yellow finches and cardinals into my yard. But be careful where you plant sunflowers, and place feeders with sunflower seeds in them, because sunflower hulls are poisonous to some plants, and you may kill plants that are trying to grow under your feeders. Sunflowers work great for a privacy screen in small yards as well, but may need to be staked. I tie mine to my fence with twine when they get tall so they don’t blow over.

I have a few bird houses, but unfortunately no one has moved into them in the two summers I’ve had them out. At my last home, as soon as I would put out a bird house of any shape, size, color or height, I’d have a new tenant. According to Google, it might be that my birdhouses are in the hot sun as opposed to shade or that they’re too close to the bird feeders. Tenant or not, I still think they’re a nice addition to any yard, and vines can be planted to grow up a bird house pole which will also create some privacy if strategically placed.

I hope this post gives you some design ideas for your tiny yard. The key is to recognize and prioritize your goals, do some research and then go for it. Every year it amazes me how my yard comes to life all by itself. Once you get your plants in the first year, and give them some time and attention, it just gets easier from there. Before you know it, you can have a yard that you simply just watch grow and enjoy. Here’s a picture of how my yard looked last year at the end of the growing season.

Landscape Design for a Tiny Yard / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you have an interest in home decorating, painting and sprucing up your home on a budget, please feel free to check my other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on my website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

This blog was written by Tracy Evans who is a Certified Home Stager, Certified Redesigner (Home Staging Resource at http://www.HomeStagingResource.com) and a Journeyman Painter (Local 209) in the Bloomington/Normal, IL area. You can view her portfolios at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com for more before and after photos.

Mid-March Gardening in Zone 5 and My Garlic Surprise

Today is the officially the first day of spring, so I thought it fitting to publish a new post today. Allow me show you what’s coming to life in my zone 5 tiny city garden, and what types of veggies can be planted now. If your yard is ho-hum, and you need some motivation to get planting, I hope this post works for you.

My beautiful crocuses are blooming, and they’re the first sign of spring in my yard. I planted them a couple of years ago because by the time March rolls around, I’m in desperate need of a reminder that nice weather is on it’s way. I was also looking for a colorful header for my post, and now my little bursts of color are the star photo. Crocuses will make their way through the ground so early in the spring that they will even bloom through the snow. My little beauties have multiplied, and I’ll probably start moving them around to other areas of my yard this year. I’ll do that in the fall.

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In addition to the crocuses, here are other plants waking up from their long winter naps. In just a week, my miniature rose-bush went from this…

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To this…

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My clematis went from this…

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To this…

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My chives from this…

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To this…

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Some other pretties in my yard–

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These onions are sprouting from last year!

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My cilantro is going gangbusters. I tried planting cilantro two different times in past years because at my house, we love to make fresh Pico De Gallo. I was 0 for 2 on that deal. Then last year it just took off, and has been re-seeding ever since. Cilantro is a cool weather crop that comes up in the early spring, bolts and goes bad in the heat of the summer and then re-seeds again for a beautiful fall crop when the tomatoes are ready. What an incredible combination! When the cilantro produces its tiny, tan, ball-shaped seeds (coriander), I rub them off the stems, and let them drop to the ground and the cycle continues. I guess sometimes persistence pays off! I probably should thin out these plants so they’re not so crowded. Too much togetherness isn’t a good thing in the plant world!

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Before we get into what to plant in mid to late March, let me show you what my last major outdoor project at this house is–hopefully. Since our weather has been unseasonably warm, we were able to complete it last night at 9:00 p.m. in the dark. For three years, I’ve wanted to get rid of the river rock on the south side of my home so I can substitute it with mulch. I’ve wanted to plant veggies in with my landscaping in that sideyard where the sun is best, but haven’t been able to do it with the rocks in the way.

My friend, John, came over and worked like a mad-man for eight hours scooping and hauling 40 feet of 4” to 6” deep rock from my side yard. I am a happy little gardener now, and can plant to my heart’s content. Almost. I really have to work the soil because it’s so compacted from all the rock, and is mostly clay, but that’ll happen over time. It doesn’t look great yet, but it will when my plantings grow to fill it in. My goal is to build a trellis or two for cucumbers or green beans to grow on, but we’ll see how that goes later. Here are before and “during” pictures. I’ll be showing after pictures in another post later in the season. In case you’re wondering, I have such long downspouts because I have them directed to empty near some new trees I planted.

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My other project was hauling 10 large bags of rabbit manure in my little economy car for my garden. I must tell you it was not a pleasant ride home. Peeeeeeyooouuuuu! I put poo on everything. I spread it in my flower beds, around my birch trees and in my garden plot. It’ll sit for two months until I get ready to plant my main vegetable garden, and then I’ll work it into the soil, and hope for a bumper crop!

You can Google the benefits of rabbit manure if you like. I read it’s the best manure because it’s high in nitrogen. It’s not too acidic either so you don’t have to let it set a year before you use it like you do with other manures. I’m sure my neighbors weren’t too happy about the aroma after I spread it around the yard, but the smell diminished substantially after just one day. They’ll be glad they endured it when I offer them some tomatoes, and what’s wrong with bringing some of the country to the city anyway? (The Green Acres theme song is playing in my head right now.) Here’s my freshly “manured” garden plot.

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Now onward and upward with what you can plant this early in zone 5. I planted lettuce last week. I love the mixed varieties, and plant them every year. The mix I plant is called “Mesclun”, and it has several different shapes and colors of leaf lettuce all in one seed packet. I’m so glad someone had the idea to mix them so I don’t have to buy several different kinds. Love it!

It’s nice to buy store-bought heads of lettuce, and mix in home-grown varieties with it for a gorgeous, colorful salad. I don’t care for the taste of leaf lettuce by itself, but love it mixed with store-bought. Lettuce is a cool-weather crop, and will wilt and bolt in the heat of the summer, but grows well in zone 5 in the spring and in the fall. Vegetables that bolt will have a bitter taste to them, so it’s a good idea to just pull the plants out and throw them in the compost pile. This year with the Central Illinois mild winter, I was harvesting lettuce and other crops well into December. I was glad I took the time to plant a fall crop in late summer. As you can see if you look closely, my lettuce has germinated already.

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For a tiny garden, I have to show you the best garden tool ever. It’s perfect for planting tiny rows of seeds, and the blade is only about 2” wide. I bought this one at an estate sale for a couple bucks, and it’s my favorite.

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I just planted my onion sets. The ones I had were a couple of years old and were a bit “crispy”, but I tried planting some anyway because there was still a hint of green in the centers. I often use leftover seeds from prior years, and they grow just fine. The germination rate is supposed to decline after a year or two, but I’ve never noticed any difference.

The onions should sprout pretty quickly so I’ll know soon if planting crispy onion sets was a good idea or not. Onions are one of those vegetables that I don’t use my garden plot for. I tuck them in the soil all over the place—anywhere there’s a tiny space in the sun. I plant them in between bushes, strawberry plants, ornamentals and in with my row of lettuce. As soon as I pick a few, I plant a few more so I have them all summer, fall and sometimes into winter. When harvesting, you can pull them out by the roots or chop them off and watch them regrow! Often they will resprout in the spring if you left some in the ground from the summer before.

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I’m growing cabbage for the first time this year, and am planting a smaller variety called “Red Express” cabbage. I’m planting these where I just removed my landscaping rocks, so I’m not sure how well they’ll do. I dug down several inches to loosen up the soil, brought in some soil from my garden plot to mix with it, and then put down a fine layer of store-bought garden soil that I had leftover from last year. Then I scattered a few seeds around, and put more of the store-bought garden soil on top of them. They are only supposed to be buried 1/8th of an inch deep; so again, I wanted fine soil so they could push their way through it. Then I lightly pack the soil over them.

I put some chicken wire around them to keep the rabbits away, and gave them a drink. I’m loving rabbit poo in my garden, but not the actual rabbits! Now it’s a wait-and-see game. I always plant extra seeds, and then thin them out. In this case, I have a friend, Cinny, who’s planting a garden, and I’ll offer her some of the seedlings if they grow. She’s a veggie lover too. She went with me on my manure adventure, and filled her car with poo too so she’s a rabbit poo newby just like me.

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I would like to take a moment to explain my garlic clove discovery. I’ve tried planting garlic cloves before, and never had much luck with them. The heads were so small that preparing a clove for cooking was like performing microsurgery. I went on the internet for information on growing it, but could only find information on planting it in the fall, and leaving it in the ground over the winter. Anyone who lives in zone 5 would reason that you don’t plant something like garlic in the fall intending to leave it in the ground over the winter and expecting a crop come spring. Not with the snow and sub-zero temps.

Last spring I planted garlic again, determined to give it another try, and never did harvest it. The shoots shriveled up, and I forgot about them. Low and behold, this spring I have sprouts all over my planting areas where I tucked a clove in the ground last spring. I saw the sprouts, and back to Google I went. I read that for those of us in zone 5, we really are supposed to plant garlic in the fall, and harvest the following spring. So for all of you zone 5 garlic lovers, I’ll remind you in the fall to plant your garlic! You can bet I’ll be planting it again too. I have no guarantees of how my garlic will turn out after being in the ground all last spring, summer, fall and winter, but judging by the tops, they’re looking pretty good. I’ll keep you posted on how they turn out. Oh, and the furry legs belong to my dog, Conner.

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So today I planted peas, radishes and spinach.

Since peas need something to grow up on, I made a simple fence that I use every year just for them. I buy the edible pod varieties of peas so I can either pick them early and use them as a stir fry ingredient or wait until they mature and use the shelled peas in lettuce salads. Peas will die in the heat of the summer so you need to plant them now, and again in August if you’d like a second crop. You have to be gentle when you pull the pods off the vines or you’ll pull the whole vine out by the roots or damage it. Here’s the fence I grow my peas on. Again, I surround these with chicken wire.

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Here are before and afters of the area. My heart goes pitter-pat every time I see a photo with my rocks out of the way.

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I plant spinach and radishes in these areas sectioned off by some scraps of bamboo. I would like to hope that sectioning my veggies off with bamboo would keep people from walking in that area, but I had two people, who shall remain nameless, walk in my lettuce after I planted it. You know who you are, and I forgive you.

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Both spinach and radish seeds are pretty small so, as I did with my cabbage, I sprinkle some store-bought soil on the ground, sprinkle my seeds, and then cover them again with store-bought soil. Then I gently pack the soil, and water the area. The problem I find with just putting tiny seeds directly into garden soil is that they can fall in between the small clumps, and not have good soil contact. This is especially true when planting early crops because the ground is often still damp, and it’s hard to get rid of the clumps in order to plant correctly. Since peas are a larger seed, for example, I just put them directly into the garden soil, and they should be fine.

Now you’re up to date on what you can be planting in zone 5. Now is also the time to plant potatoes, rhubarb and leeks. Don’t wait too long for these types of veggies or they’ll fry in the hot sun just when they start to produce for you. Or if you just don’t get them planted in time, you can always plant them in August, and you can enjoy a wonderful fall crop.

I hope you’ll hit the “follow” button in your browser bar and follow my garden through the seasons!

If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check my other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on my website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

My Tiny City Garden–In the Beginning…

Welcome to my blog about the challenges of a tiny city garden. And when I say tiny, I’m not kidding. My back yard after subtracting my patio space, measures 14 feet by 34 feet. Those of us in the neighborhood joke about our “postage-stamp” sized yards.

This post is an introduction to my yard’s DIY-friendly transformation that took place over two summers. Posts to follow will track the current year from spring to fall, and will show how I use every inch of my tiny yard and the amazing changes it goes through. I hope you’ll stick with this post until the end because the metamorphosis is quite beautiful.

I have been an avid gardener ever since I planted my first garden over 30 years ago. I was hooked with the bite of my first tomato. I moved to my current home three years ago and have transformed my yard in the past two growing seasons into an oasis. And its a productive oasis if there is such a thing, and it yields enough in the way of veggies to keep me (and some neighbors) happy throughout the growing season. This year I was still harvesting lettuce, chives and onions in December because of the unusually mild winter we had here in Central Illinois.

After I moved here, I tore out the existing deck one board at a time. It probably measured about 10 feet by 10 feet so it wasn’t that big of a deal really. I didn’t like the idea that when I looked out my sliding patio door, all I saw was a railing blocking my view to the yard.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I single-handedly wheelbarrowed in 5 tons of dirt because my yard sloped too much, and I constructed a small retaining wall to hold the dirt in place. I carried many a retaining wall block and must admit I hope I never have another project like that again! The back three feet of my yard that runs along my fence is like a waterway when it rains and all the water from our block runs through our yards there, making it unusable–unless I want to start an alligator habitat. In a 14 foot yard, three feet is a good chunk of yard. This was even more motivation to bring in dirt and raise up the area. I left about six inches between my fence and the retaining wall so the water that runs through the backyards on my block can still make its way to the street. I didn’t think my neighbors would appreciate my turning their yards into swamps.

Here are some before pictures of my yard. Pretty run-of-the-mill.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

The first thing I did was put up a privacy fence. Next I had my darling son, Brandon, pour a concrete slab for my hot tub and a slab for my little shed that holds my gardening necessities. Since my shed isn’t the most attractive item to look at, I took my fence past the side of my house so that it’s tucked back in a corner. Thanks to those handy-dandy, flexible, connectable downspouts, I re-routed mine thru a spot in the fence I cut out (and put back on with hinges–just in case), and it now empties near a tree who loves the extra water. Here you can see the beginnings of my dirt hauling extravaganza for my retaining wall. Baby steps!

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Next I had Harper Masonry pour a raised, stamped concrete patio after my son did all the prep work and framing. Harper Masonry (HarperMasonry1@yahoo.com) services the Central Illinois area and does incredible work. I would highly recommend them if you live in the area, and are in need of concrete work, brickwork, block or stone.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Once that was finished, I helped build a pergola-type cover over my patio that didn’t turn out to be the most attractive structure, but it’s functional, and my Boston Ivy is well on its way to covering it. A lot of people don’t like ivy creeping up the sides of their house, but I love it. I understand all the negatives, but I plan to confine it to my patio cover only. I dug up my Boston Ivy from my old house and brought it with me. Here’s my patio cover. Bare with me, it’ll be beautiful in another year when it’s covered in green.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Next on the agenda was making different levels to the yard with some 4 x 4 posts used as a retaining wall for different planting areas. I then added some stepping stone squares that I ran from the patio to my gate and then made a path to my shed.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Every yard needs a water feature so I dug a postage-stamp sized pond to go in my postage-stamp sized yard. My other son, Ross, ran power to the pond area for a light and a pump. (There sure are times when children come in handy!) The pond needs some revamping this year as you can see by the photo, but that’ll be another post. Keep in mind, this photo was taken in the spring and the pond has been sitting with dirty water all winter. That’s my dog, Buster, on the right. He likes to “play” with the fish. They like to come up and nibble on his feet when they dangle over the edge and into the water.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I planted my Junipers so that they’re what you see when you look directly out my sliding glass door. They’re centered appropriately and fully visible from all my main living areas. It’s beautiful at night. Especially when the pond lights are on. And of course the pond is also visible from my main living areas as it’s located in front of my lighted Junipers. I made certain to include evergreens in my landscaping for year-round privacy (once they’ve grown tall enough), and so my landscaping won’t “disappear” in the winter.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I brought plants with me from my old house when I moved, and was given plants by my friends so I only bought a few anchor bushes, some of which I planted for privacy. Those would include Japanese Skypencil Holly, Buckthorn, Upright Junipers, Lilac, Japanese Maple, Cypress and Boxwood. None of these grow very wide, and some will grow up to block the view of my neighbor’s windows (someday!). In the mean time, I grow sunflowers to help obscure the view in the summertime. Grow, Junipers, grow!!

I purposely chose plants that Japanese Beetles stay away from since I landscaped my yard after their hideous invasion here in Illinois. My backyard leans a bit towards the Japanese Garden style, a preference of my daughter, Sophie, who loves everything Japan. Plants that are typically grown in a Japanese garden are not desired by Japanese beetles. How ironic. I want that zen-like tranquility in my back yard so there’s nothing too flashy as far as color other than a couple of patio pots with flowers. I would never have guessed that a green-only yard would be so soothing. I save the colorful flowers for my postage-stamp front yard because I do enjoy having cut flowers to bring inside in the spring and summer.

I left roughly a third of my back yard open for a vegetable garden, and since the area is small, I decided to sink some posts, string up some metal fencing and grow my veggies up. This is quite the space-saver! And since I took the wire fencing up a foot or so past my privacy fence, it gives me some added privacy once the vines are up and growing. I use these fences for green beans and cucumbers, but I may be changing that this year because my fence shades my vines and they don’t produce like they should. More about that in a later post.

And no matter how much planning I do for spacing out my veggies in my little garden plot, I always seem to end up planting overflow crops in my side yard which faces south. Most women have no control in the shoe store. I have no control with garden seeds and transplants. Since I’m on a corner, there’s no house to block the sun there and it’s a prime growing spot–at least until my birch trees grow and shade the area. I’m also a firm believer in planting edibles in with other landscaping plants. Strawberry plants and many herbs are beautiful and look great anywhere you plant them. Here’s my garden plot.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Since I have heavy clay soil, I have added a lot of organic matter. My neighbor warned me about how awful the soil is here, and I’m thinking, “How bad can it be–really. “Oh Lordy Mama it can be bad. I moved here in the summer of 2009, and got out my trusty spade to do some digging shortly after I moved in. I may as well have tried to dig a hole in the sidewalk. I put all my weight on the shovel and jumped. Nothing. I’ve never seen any soil so awful. And it’s full of rocks due to the fact that my subdivision was built where a gravel pit used to be. Not the fertile midwest black earth you often hear about, that’s for sure. That’s another reason I brought in dirt to raise up my yard. The neighbor who told me about the crummy soil uses raised beds as a way around that, and with great success.

So to amend the soil, I get aged horse manure from my brother, Mike. What a honey he is! He tries to humor me, but I can almost hear him laughing as I pull my car up to his house in the boonies with my 5 gallon buckets and their oh-so-necessary lids. He’s laughing because no one in their right mind hauls horse poo in 5 gallon buckets in a tiny economy car. No one but me.

I’m hoping my garden is going to really shine this year because I found an ad in our local paper for $2 bags of rabbit manure, and I’m going to give that a try. My research tells me it’s the best of all the manures. Even better than my brother’s horse manure! It’s very high in nitrogen and won’t burn your plants. I’m hoping for a bumper crop this year as a result of my furry little friends. If you’re just getting started in gardening, don’t forget that even if you have nice black soil, your plants are still going to need food, aka Thumper, Foghorn Leghorn, Daisy or Black Beauty poo. No Lassie or Garfield poo or any other carnivore poo or you may end up very sick!

I also steal leaves from the neighbors in the fall for my garden. It works out well because they don’t have to rake, and I get free compost. I have a leaf vacuum that mulches the leaves for me. Perfect! I also went to Walmart and bought lots of worms my first year, and now my yard is a worm factory! I love those slimy little lovelies adding rich castings to my soil and doing their natural aeration routine.

If you have an interest in vermicomposting (composting indoors with worms) refer to my post, “Indoor Composting With Worms“.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I also do what the experts say not to do, which is to throw kitchen scraps–egg shells, coffee grounds, veggie/fruit scraps–directly into my garden soil. You can see all the egg shells in one of the prior photos if you look closely. I do this only after the growing season is finished. I turn all of it under a couple of times before the ground freezes and again after the ground thaws in the spring. Experts advise against this as they say it draws insects, but I haven’t had any issues.

Last year those totally disgusting Tomato Hornworm Caterpillars ate everyone’s tomatoes. Those distasteful little bugars could eat an entire plant in a day or two, and they’re nearly impossible to see. They grow huge–monstrous–and are slow-moving, but you can look right past them when they’re right in front of your face. I was a soldier waging war against the vile intruders by taking a POW door to door to my neighbors and telling them to smash any that they saw on their plants. My method of destruction was to lift up a stepping stone, place my prisoner underneath it, and I’m sure you can figure out the rest.

Outside of those vile creatures, “recycling” my way hasn’t caused any problems specific to me. I’ll continue on about my merry way, and hope the experts aren’t always right. My soil really needs the help, it’s saving landfill space, and my worm buddies love the scraps. The proper way to go would be to create a compost pile, but my yard is so tiny that I just can’t squeeze one in. I did try a couple years ago to make a compost bin out of a Rubbermaid container as instructed on the internet, but had problems turning the compost and didn’t try it again.

So that brings you up to date in my back yard. The following are pictures from only two years worth of growth. Keep in mind that the yard seems to have exploded with plants but many of the fast growers in these photos are annual vines and garden produce that make it look so lush. So here are pictures that are from before planting anything, from the first planting in 2010 and then the 2011 growing season. My point here is to show what can be done in just two years to a simple back yard. All of the planting, hauling, designing and digging were done myself since I’m always on a budget. And of course always keep in mind that this type of backyard redesign will increase the value of your home, and make it more desirable to prospective buyers. That’s just an added bonus!

Here’s view number one before, 2010 and 2011.

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s another view from before planting, 2010 and then 2011

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Same view from before planting, 2010 and 2011

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Before planting in 2010, after planting 2011

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Full yard view before planting, after planting 2010 and 2011

Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis
Tiny City Garden / MyUrbanGardenOasis

It’s a jungle out there!

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Although I have made some changes in my front yard and side yard, I don’t have as many progression photos of those areas, but will take some this growing season. My next post will begin with a very “dead” spring yard, and I’ll show you how dramatically a yard can change in just one growing season. Specifically, my next post will tell you when and how to plant early crops when the weather is still cool–yummies like lettuce and spinach. It’s time! Also, I can tell you what I’ve learned about planting garlic in zone 5. I found out by accident how to grow it, and right now everything’s coming up garlic in my yard!

If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check my other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on my website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

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