In one of the chapters of our book Garden Up! Susan and I write about maximizing your garden’s side yard. These spaces are often neglected, and turn into dumping grounds for junky items collected over the years. While it’s true we all need a place to store that broken BBQ that we can’t quite throw away yet, our children’s outgrown toys, composters and garbage cans it doesn’t mean we can’t have a garden too!
My side yard is featured in our book as a prime example of how to garden up when you have little to no planting space. Today I thought I’d elaborate a bit and show you a few more details.
To give you a little background, my side yard is about 7′ wide and runs the length of the house next to all of the bedrooms. Every window in every bedroom faces this (formerly) unattractive and wasted space.
As is the case with most side yards, I keep a variety of things here: the A/C unit, my composter, ‘sick’ plants that I can’t quite compost yet, tomato cages, big pieces of wood and stone for future projects, etc. I have a small planting bed along one section of fence and inexpensive pea gravel down the rest.
It would be all too tempting to just throw in the towel and forget about this area, but since I’m a garden designer and I can never seem to find enough space in which to garden, I wanted to maximize every square inch of space that I can possibly squeeze out of my property. So, over the years I’ve had to be creative.
Last year new people moved in next door and cut down their beautiful, giant trees (don’t ask me why) which meant we now had a view of their unattractive roofline, as well as having our bedrooms blasted with baking hot sun all afternoon. We had to do something QUICK.
My husband and I came up with a plan to build a skinny trellis along the fence to provide both privacy and shade. But since I don’t really have much soil (or space) to plant, we attached the trellis right along the fence with the hopes it would support an existing, very old ‘Cecile Brunner’ rose and an ancient pyrancantha bush. Most people I meet seem to hate pyracanthas, but not me. I love the fact that they’re evergreen (providing year round coverage of the ugly roofline) and have beautiful red berries in the fall. Over the years my daughter has loved watching hungry birds swarm the bush, getting ‘drunk ‘off the berries.
I wanted to create an edible garden along the other end of the fence as I had plenty of sunshine. The only problem was the lack of soil in which to create this garden. My solution? A trio of Woolly Pockets!
In these pockets I planted chives, alpine strawberries, ‘Icterina’ dwarf golden sage, dwarf tomatoes (‘Windowbox’ variety), red peppers, parsley and thyme. I also planted beans, lots of beans, to scramble up the fence and along the nearby trellis. My favorites have been Spanish Musica (flat, long and deliciously juicy) and Rattlesnake heirloom pole beans with their beautiful maroon stripes – both from Renee’s Garden. I must say, I’m thrilled with my woolly pocket garden!
Since my daughter’s room also faces the fence, she wanted to add a few special touches of her own.
Along this fence we also placed a birdhouse and an old fence post from our previous home.
It’s little touches like these that really help to personalize your garden, making it truly one-of-a-kind.
Having all the bedroom windows face this narrow side yard brings up an important aspect of garden design, which is called ‘inside-out design’. Translated, this means don’t forget the views from inside your home! Using the window as the ‘frame’, create vignettes within this frame to act as the ‘art’. When this vignette coordinates with the decor from inside your home, (perhaps using similar elements and colors) it can be an effective way to visually extend your room’s boundaries.
In one window, we hung different varieties of carex, using my grandmother’s old wall planters. We chose carex as they tend to be evergreen in our mild climate, and when the afternoon breeze blows they sway ever so gently – just beautiful! With the rose climbing on the arbor overhead, and my neighbor’s towering sunflowers, the view is really charming.
The other bedroom has several antiques in it, so I extended the theme by placing an old window frame along the fence to mingle with the espaliered roses. Even in the winter, when the roses are dormant, the window frame provides something beautiful to look at.
I hope this gives you a little inspiration to go outside and re-think your side yard!