Here’s a few things to ask yourself as you’re planning your garden (which will be lovely and creative and not even a shadow of it’s former square self!) :
First things first – Do you have sun?
If you don’t have at least a few sunny spots you’re going to be limited as to what you can grow. If you have mostly shade, don’t despair, but don’t hold your breath waiting for your peppers to ripen, either. Instead turn your mind to veg that prefer a break from the heat – leafy greens, some herbs, cabbage and anything that might bolt if they got too hot. Now start sweet talking your neighbour with the south-facing lawn to let you plant peppers and tomatoes there.
What do you like to eat?
No point in planting a ton of veg that you can’t stand the taste of. In our house, we plant insane numbers of tomatoes because we adore them and will take the time to can them. That said, somethings are worth planting even if you don’t absolutely love them yourself. Even at 28 years old I still don’t like brussels sprouts, but I know they will look striking in the garden come winter. (my mum’ll eat ’em.) Also keep a mind to what kind of veg are expensive in the store or at the farmer’s market, or where store bought can never compare to homegrown. Especially if you’re short on space, pick veg like peppers, heirloom tomatoes, fancy herbs and garlic – store bought will cost you the earth and won’t be nearly as tasty. I’d never spend 250 bucks on tomatoes – but if I bought them at the market – that’s what only one weekend’s harvest would have cost me. (Suddenly a little dirt under the finger nails seems like a small price to pay, doesn’t it?!)
How do you want to use your yard?
Do you entertain? Have kids? A dog? Make sure you make space for these things in your plan. We’ve put some features near the spaces where we spend the most time; table grapes climbing over the arbour where I can munch and read, the fish pond by the shady spot where we sit with guests in the summer time. Think about how your planting can not only accommodate what you want to do in your yard, but also how it can contribute to it. For example, we’ll have chickens this year, so I’m making sure the plants I select to camouflage the run will also serve as chicken feed.
How do you actually use your yard?
Is there a path worn in your lawn where you are constantly walking to get the hose? Or do you dread taking out the compost because its stuck behind the cobwebby shed? Don’t fight the natural flow of things, you’ll only get frustrated. Put in a path where you actually walk, not where you think you SHOULD walk, and put the things and veggies you use most often in accessible, easy-to-notice-as-you’re-laying-in-the-hammock-drinking-a-beer, spots. If you do this you’ll be less likely to get a face full of spider webs and you might actually notice the slug assault in the lettuce in time to do something about it.
Especially in a small yard, vertical gardening is key. Once you start thinking up and down rather than just in boring rows in a raised bed – you’ll see the sky really is the limit and you’ll increase your space’s productivity exponentially.
Think in layers.
Free yourself of the tyranny of the monoculture and mix your plantings. We are constantly intercropping – one bed alone held beets, peas, beans, carrots, chard and garlic. Think about how you can grow one veg up and over another, or around the base of a tall plant to mulch it and hide it’s ugly stem. Use your imagination. If it doesn’t work – just eat your mistakes!
How will this look once it’s harvested?
Think seasonally as you plan. Remember eventually that spectacular cabbage will become supper – be ready to have something to replace it.
Is there anything else you want your garden to do other than feed you?
Your garden can provide privacy, security, buffer noise and pollution from the street, stop the neighbourhood kids from using your yard as a cut-through, offer shade, scent, beauty, medicine and attract wildlife. Figure out what you need and then try to ensure that every plant meets multiple needs. Redundancy is nature’s insurance policy and will ensure you have a vibrant, dynamic ecosystem in your garden.
What do I love?
At the end of the day, there are no rules in the garden. Don’t be afraid to take risks and to make choices that might lead your neighbours to think you’re off your rocker. Sometimes its the most out-there ideas that have the most impact. The tomatoes climbing my front gate got plenty of ooohss and ahhhs and kept me (and my mail carrier) in healthy snacks-on-the go all summer.
When I plan my garden I often think back to my days in art school and one of my favorite quotes by Picasso:
“I put the things I like in my paintings. The things, so much the worse for them – they just have to put up with it.”
Now go. Make a pot of coffee and get dreaming!