Sometimes starting over is the only way to make things work.
When we moved into our new-but-old California home a few short years ago, the minor-sized backyard was a once-envisioned paradise made by former Hollywood Golden Age carpenters gone awry. A Feng Shui-made deck outfitted with Bagua lighting was spatially arranged around a man-made stream and adjacent gas fire pit – both non-functional after many years of use but initially great house sellers. We had enough rocks to fill three large roll-off dumpsters (I guess carpenters love crafting rocks too). And a little patch of lawn and bushes were off to the side and in need of serious cleanup.
As we made home improvement plans, some of the overly expensive acreage was set aside for a detached two-car garage to replace the near-closet that was the original. So, after stripping nearly everything out of the backyard but the rose bushes and a few native plants, we started over.
A beautiful garage later, we are a typical family who is taking wa-a-a-y too long to finish the landscaping. It’s coming in bits and pieces. Moving plants around. Rethinking like a wannabe van Gogh with color and flowers — but continually in process. One permanent structure that has entered the rough painting is a vegetable garden.
Last year I planted a few tomatoes and green bell peppers in between some bushes off to the side. But this year I’m a city girl who’s lost herself in her 4 x 16 foot, wood-framed garden that’s become an obsessive hobby.
By city standards, I guess my boxed-in soil plot is a pretty good size. I certainly have gobs more space than a highrise-deck container garden. It’s definitely not my mother’s suburban garden that produced enough to bottle for two winters each year, but it’s enough to bring pleasure and good food.
We used leftover pieces of wood from the defunct deck to frame our little farming space. And, as a result, nary a weed in sight.
Now, my tomato plants are six feet high and still reaching to the sun. I’m having to corral the melons into their allotted enclosure. And the cucumbers are starting to show promise.
I said just this week to my girls, “Now in a few weeks we’re going to start to have tomatoes ready. And if you want a tomato for your sandwich or a salad, I’m going to have you go out there and pick one.”
“What?” was the response. Like typical city children, the thought of foraging for their own food struck terror in their eyes.
“You’ve been doing that to us for the lemons – ‘you want lemonade? go fetch yourself a lemon off the tree’ – but now you’ll have us find a tomato?” they said.
“Yep.” And my husband and I didn’t even flinch.
You see, the joy of gardening isn’t just from leaving the Blackberry (yes, I still have one) and the computer in the home office for 20 minutes while I water my little patch of soil and green in bliss. And it isn’t just about discovering how nine parts water and one part milk can do a marvelous fix on powdery mildew like no other toxic, synthetic fungicide can.
No, the most satisfying joy comes from getting a secret giggle out of the fact that my kids will one day garden – probably in the city – just like me only because they saw mama doing what they thought was only in a documentary about deep-woods, rural America.
These are the same children who will grow up with good taste and less chemicals – hopefully creating a conscious desire to stand up for and want equally good food as an adult. And (this is the best part) that when they think of me years from now, they’ll have a funny memory of me in my pajamas watering the garden at 7 AM with a big smile on my face.
And that is what happens when you grow your own food – in the city.
Tips for starting a city garden:
- Start small – pick two or three types of plants and start in a small space. Learn how to grow them well, and then next growing season try new plants for variety.
- Tend to the soil – add mulch, compost, and perhaps organic fertilizer depending on the soil’s needs.
- Plant for the season – know what veggies are cool season versus warm season. For example, don’t grow cool-season veggies in the hot summer. And don’t plant too late in the season.
- Try herbs – for very small spaces, consider growing an herb garden in small pots. Smaller, family-owned nurseries often have a great selection, or you can try growing from seed.
- Order organic seeds – support organic whenever possible, and that can start with seeds. Seeds of Change has a great selection.
BeBetsy would love to see your garden! Please share your comments and pictures!
More great ideas!
Written by Terra Wellington
Terra Wellington is the author of The Moms Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home, a frequent guest on television programs talking about wellness and eco issues, and also a Los Angeles-based actress. Read more...