It makes me crazy to hear people say they would really like to have a vegetable garden, but they just don’t have enough room. If you have a yard, you have room. And if you live in zone 5, now in mid-May is the time to be planting your tomatoes, beans, melons, peppers, cucumbers, squash, beets and so on.
(Please note that the photos in this post have been taken during the first week of May, and the plants are just getting started. I will have progression photos in future posts as they grow.)
For me, gardening is a great way to have fresh, chemical-free vegetables at my fingertips. It also eliminates my need for a psychiatrist. (Mostly.) Gardening is my therapy.
And since I need my therapy I went to great lengths to make a space for my garden. I have a tiny, sloped back yard with underground utility lines running all through it. Since a garden is a must-have for me, the presence of those nasty utility lines forced me into a creative frenzy.
Since I couldn’t dig down, I built up the ground using a small retaining wall around the perimeter of the low side of the yard. I couldn’t change the size of my yard, but I did make it plantable by bringing in lots of soil to get rid of the slope and by burying the utility lines deep enough that I could plant a garden over the top of them. The retaining wall added about 8 inches of depth to the lowest areas of my yard.
Basically, I turned my entire back yard into a no-mow raised bed, so to speak. I tore out every last blade of grass, and started fresh with new landscaping for privacy, and an area for a vegetable garden. It’s not like a swing set or a swimming pool’s gonna fit back there, after all. Not unless they’re Barbie-doll-sized.
So if you have this same problem with utility lines on your property, raised beds are always an option. But if you really don’t want to sacrifice any of your back yard for a garden, why not consider your side yard? I chose to use my side yard in addition to my plot, because my garden plot isn’t big enough for all the fruit and vegetables I want to grow. (The crazy downspout running under my trellis is my redneck irrigation system. It empties onto a birch tree in my yard.)
Not all side yards are conducive to growing a vegetable garden because of lack of sun hours, especially if your neighbor’s house sits close to yours. But if yours gets six to eight hours of sun, you have a fantastic spot for your favorite veggies. I happen to have a corner lot with no neighbors on the south side of my home, so I don’t have another house blocking the sun. It’s ideal for gardening.
I hesitated at first to try this because I don’t have a water source near my side yard to keep my plants watered. Making numerous trips with watering cans doesn’t appeal to me, nor does dragging a hose all the way around my house. Well I found a solution for that too!
I saw these ever-so-nifty splitters at Wally World the other day. I hooked up a new garden hose to it that my sweet son, Ross, got me for Mother’s Day. I ran it around to the side of my house, and I keep it tucked into a corner so it’s right where I need it, and it’s ready to go. I requested this particular hose because it’s brown/gray in color and blends in with my mulch. So now I can have my regular hose hooked up for my back yard watering, and can also have a hose hooked up for my side yard. Here’s my splitter.
And speaking of garden hoses, if you ever have a stubborn hose nozzle that you can’t seem to remove from your hose, see my solution here.
You might be thinking, well, I have a side yard, and I’d love to use it for a vegetable garden, but I have bushes growing there. Well…rip ’em out, for goodness sakes! Ok, so maybe that sounded a bit harsh. Maybe you could relocate your bushes to another area. I don’t like tearing out plants either, and I must confess, the ones I dug up were on their way to bush heaven so I didn’t feel too guilty. And I only tore out two so as not to alarm the neighbors, but another one will probably be taken out next year if my side yard veggie garden does well this year. You also might be thinking there’s not enough room to grow anything in a side yard. Watch and learn.
If you really can’t bring yourself to tear out a few bushes, you may not have to if you have the right type of bushes growing in your side yard–especially if you have southern exposure. Last year, I tried to plant a few veggies in front of, and partially underneath a burning bush, but didn’t want to disturb the root system, and kill the bush. Since Burning Bushes’ roots are very shallow, pretty much any digging was out of the question.
I tried to plant some baby watermelon and some cantaloupe, both from seed, and neither grew well because I couldn’t really dig down to prep the soil properly. (Also, having a drought last summer made gardening pretty hellish.) I tried to loosen a little dirt, but it made me cringe to hear the snapping and popping of my poor bush’s roots. Like nails on a blackboard, I’m telling ya.
My cataclysmic solution this year to be able to plant in that space is to use a small raised bed placed underneath the bush. A very talented, dear friend built one for me. It’s perfect for plants that don’t have a deep root system. A burning bush is ideal to put a box underneath because the bush grows from a single trunk, and is somewhat woody on the bottom (not many leaves), and therefore doesn’t produce a lot of shade.
Planted here are lettuce, onion sets and Red Express cabbage. The seedlings have germinated for the cabbage, but they’re too small to see in this photo. I’m hoping they’ll all do well. I bought a bag or two of good garden soil for this box so at least my plants will get off to a good start. Incidentally, this box only measures 2′ by 4′.
In this area of my side yard which measures 4′ by 8′, I’ve planted peas, radishes, cucumbers, sunflowers and broccoli. The radishes and broccoli will be harvested and replaced with pumpkins later on, and the cucumbers will grow behind the peas up onto the trellis where they can reach into the sun. Unfortunately, I just recently planted the cucumbers and sunflowers, so they aren’t showing in this photo yet.
This is the same area as the last photo, but before my seeds were planted. This shows the arched wire trellis in front of the white fence that I’m hoping to grow cucumbers on.
Next is my herb garden where I have oregano, basil, dill (too small to see at the moment), two types of parsley and more pickling cucumbers (not germinated yet), which I’m hoping to train up a shepherd’s hook that I’m currently not using for my birdfeeders. This area measures 4′ by 4′.
In the next photo, we have a Better Boy tomato plant and cauliflower. The cauliflower will be harvested early in the season allowing enough room for the tomato plant to spread out and take over the area. If space allows, I’ll plant some mini pumpkins after the cauliflower is gone. This area is 4′ by 4′.
Pole green beans are planted in this raised bed that measures 3′ by 4′. They’ll grow up onto my handy dandy home-made trellis (see previous post for construction). I just planted the seeds this week so they aren’t up yet. To the right of the box, I planted garlic cloves that I’ve just about given up on. I’ve been waiting patiently for them to come bursting through the soil. No bursting to date.
I’ve planted more pickling cucumbers to grow up on these guide wires. Please note if you have a fence and want veggies, by all means, make use of your fence! All kinds of things will grow up these wires—green beans, cucumbers, peas, baby watermelon, etc… There are also many beautiful flowering vines that would find this a happy place to live. It only requires a few inches of soil on the ground to plant in. For a tutorial on how to construct the guide wire trellis, refer to my post, “How to Grow Veggies on a Privacy Fence“.
So in this small side yard, if all goes as planned, I’ll have (big breath…) cucumbers, broccoli, radishes, peas, sunflowers, lettuce, cabbage, onions, oregano, basil, dill, parsley, pumpkins, garlic (hopefully), cauliflower, tomatoes and green beans. Whew! Will I reap enough to feed my family and 40 of my closest friends? No. But I’ll have enough for my family, maybe a little extra to can and probably some overflow for some very lucky neighbors who don’t really want to rip out their bushes in order to have a garden. (They just run to Jewel/Osco. What fun is that?)
Please know that there’s also no reason why vegetables can’t be grown right in with your landscaping and flower beds. Here I’ve incorporated a tomato, green peppers and watermelon right in my front flower bed. They’ll blend in nicely as all the flowers surrounding them begin to grow.
Strawberry plants are another good one to plant in with your landscaping. They’re beautiful plants that make a nice border, and they look great all summer. Here I’ve incorporated some strawberry plants (the plants with the white blossoms in front) into a couple different “non-garden” areas. They look like they belong here!
Here’s another small bed that measures only 4′ by 9′ where I started an asparagus patch this year. You’ll have to look with an eagle eye to see the asparagus since it’s very skinny—only being a year old and all. I planted the asparagus in with more strawberries. Maybe if they co-mingle, I’ll end up with some asparaberries or strawaragus! (I couldn’t help myself.) Both the strawberries and the asparagus are perennials, and will come up every year on their own.
Finally, here’s a glimpse of my back yard veggie garden. Not a lot of action here yet. But just wait!
I have planted raspberries, green beans, spaghetti squash, zucchini, cilantro (my all-time favorite herb) radishes, beets, bok choy, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, green peppers, carrots and onions in my main garden plot. The planting area in the back is 8′ by 4′. The front area where the dividers are measures 4′ by 7′.
I also have in pots, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, roma window box tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, onions, lettuce and radishes (see prior post for info on potted veggies).
So if you think you don’t have room for a garden, remember what I’ve grown in these small spaces, and think again. You may want to re-evaluate your yard’s potential. Look at it from a different perspective, and use your imagination. If you really want fresh vegetables for you and your family, chances are, you can find a way just like I did. Or I suppose you could just go to Jewel/Osco.
If you would like to see how some of these areas looked at the end of the summer, please refer to the second half of this post entitled, “Small Space Gardening–End of Summer Photos“.
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 home decorating, painting and home improvements 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.