As I wrote back in June, I’m not a natural born gardener. I learned about gardening in my 30s and then got a 72-hour permaculture certificate through the Women’s Permaculture Guild in my 50s. Having just migrated into my 60s, this summer was the time to really start in earnest on applying permaculture to the small yard.
And the first step in any ‘renovation’ if you will is always demolition, so that’s what happened. The demolition was for the majority of the back yard: there were so many weeds, volunteer trees, and other stuff that it really had to be pulled back to the basics. And that happened. What was a virtual Midwestern jungle in this small town lot is now pretty empty.
Implementation Phase I
I’m not big on hard timelines and clearly defined goals and dates. Instead I developed “phases” that allow for fluidity and flexibility which ultimately makes the process of transforming the yard a whole lot more fun.
In Phase 1 of this transformation, the focus is all about the back yard. I figure I’ll concentrate here and then eventually get around to working on the more public front yard. That way I can make a complete mess in the backyard so that the front will look prettier and I’ll know more what I’m doing. Fingers crossed.
Phase 1 really started last year with a soil test (mineral/sandy loam with pH of 7.3 and lacking in potassium and needs nitrogen,) relocating the compost bin, and installing the patio with permeable concrete. This summer there were two focuses: 1) cleaning up all the plants that don’t need to be here and 2) redirecting water.
One of the existing downspouts in the backyard shuttled water off to the neighbor’s property. The other shot the water straight into the backyard where it did nothing but sink and then dry up. For this design, the downspout that sent water into the neighbor’s property was moved so that it points straight down and the water flows into a rain barrel. The other downspout got similar treatment.
Rain Barrels and Tile
What are rain barrels? As the name implies, rain barrels collect rain. There’s a water spicket near the bottom, so you can use the stored water in drier times. I will probably add soaker hoses or something similar to run through the future beds, too.
When the rain barrel is nearly full, the excess water is channeled into tile that runs into the back yard.
So when it rains, water coming from the sky and falling onto my roof now moves through the rain gutters, into the rain barrels, and then into the property. That tile is laid out in four distinct “arms” reaching into an existing bed and the almost to the very back of the yard.
With the tile in place, I now know about where my pathways will be located. I can start double digging beds and transplanting. And I can order fruit trees: mulberry and pears are on my wish list for this fall. (I already have peach, apple, crabapple, and plum.)
Ordering fruit trees makes me want to order or go find a whole lot of other plants, too, but I’ve got to curtail myself. It’s super easy to buy all the plants and then realize that this beautiful, capable, yet aging body say, “Err, nope” to more digging in the dirt. Slow and steady is definitely winning for me when it comes to gardening.
Sure, I loved the lushness. I was happy to have extra Rose of Sharon and copious amounts of weeds I hadn’t bothered to identify (well, at least not all of them.) But now? They’re all gone.
I will miss the Queen Anne’s Lace that volunteered; I’m hoping some shows up again sometime… Yes, I know it’s a “weed” but it’s really pretty weed and it’s edible.
Here’s another view of that same bed with a special guest star, Princess Leia, visiting from a neighboring house – not a galaxy far, far away.
Like I said at the top of this post, there was a lot of deconstruction. And then a lot of very hard physical labor to get that tile laid. The fun part comes next: finding plants. Then it’s more hard work.
Neat And Green
Thank goodness James at Neat And Green in Mount Pleasant, Michigan is open to trying new stuff; I shared my entire 40+ page permaculture plan with him and he embraced a different way of working with a yard. The crew was here 2 1/2 days and did an amazing job; I’ll have them come back again next year for more work I’m sure.
Ultimately, I’m shooting to have a relatively work-free back yard. It will have lots of pretty flowers and plenty of edible things, too. I don’t have kids or grandkids so having grass is an absolute nope for me; I don’t want to mow it and I don’t want to pay somebody to mow it, either. I want to wander into my back yard and stroll along small paths, or rest in a chair in a quiet, secluded spot.
Adding in tons of biodiversity will make the local wildlife population happy, too. I mean, how many peaches will the squirrels eat this year? Answer: most of them because your “not a gardener” girl didn’t get out there and bag those peaches up. So it’s been fun watching the squirrels climb the little tree and then gnaw through the small peaches. There’s always next year for bagging up peaches to freeze!
What’s Growing In The Garden Of Your Life?
So what are you digging and planting and growing? It doesn’t have to be flowers and plants – so many things in our lives are tended and need nurturing. What’s growing in the garden of your life right now?