After long winter months dreaming about the wonders of growing my own food, I have finally completed my edible landscaping project. Where nothing but a useless lawn, more brown than green, has been taking up space, I now have a beautiful dry river bed snaking between two vegetable and herb beds in full sun. Along the side of the house, there are two raised beds soaking up more sun. On the other side of the driveway, there is a row of berry bushes. And in the back yard, there are three layers of planting spaces with raised beds, herb spiral, and trellises. I now spend most evenings outside, grounded in taking care of the plants and reveling in all their splendour.
Come along, I’ll show you my front yard right after the landscaping and planting was done:
And here is the back yard – you can see the initial space right after the raised beds were built and seedlings planted, and the same space now, a month later, lush with greenery:
Let me take you on my edible landscaping journey and show you how all this was built.
I have met with Gavin from Edible Landscaping Ottawa in early April to discuss the tentative plan. Once he was available, we have worked back and forth via email, before we have come up with a more specific plan. The next step was to acquire locates for city services (“Call before you dig“) – gas, electricity, internet, phone, to be sure we don’t bust a cable or a pipe when digging. Gas and electricity were promptly marked. Phone and internet cables were not. It appears, it’s cheaper for the telecom companies to come and fix the cables if they are cut than to try locating them beforehand.
Here is the space in front of the house with yellow and red flags marking gas and electricity. This was our canvas.
Once we have decided on the plan, Gavin had sourced the materials – river rock and garden soil, both from Greely Sand and Gravel.
I have drawn my garden plan on a large sheet of white paper, and have been updating it as we shaped the landscape and put plants in the ground. Later I have transferred it into the Garden Planner format (albeit not to scale, since I find the smaller plan labels unreadable):
Berry bushes on the other side of the driveway (full sun) and along the side of the house (mostly shade):
Raised beds with chicken wire to protect the plants from rabbits, along the other side of the house, partial shade:
Back yard with herb spiral, ponds, trellises, rain barrels, sun and partial shade throughout:
While waiting for the landscaping to start and itching to get planting, I have arranged strawberries and lobelia in two pots for the front steps.
I have also started a lot of seeds, and the seedlings pretty much took over my kitchen.
I got a beautiful giant geranium plant with lilac-coloured flowers, to create a house facade centerpiece.
In May, I’ve been taking the seedlings outside each morning for more hours each day to harden off. I would water them outside, let them soak up the wind and the sunshine, and then bring them in for the night.
On May 24th, the digging began. First two days, Gavin was digging with the excavator to remove the soil full of clay and rock. In the process, the internet cable got cut, since it was not marked, and I had to call TekSavvy to arrange a replacement for it.
Meanwhile we were planning the back garden, setting cardboard squares cut from a rescued curbside headboard box where the paths were to be, to kill the grass and make it easier to split the garden into separate beds. I really like my herb spiral with the small pond, so I have decided to keep it and place the raised beds around it.
On the third day, we put in the dry river bed with a pond and two raised garden beds in the front. In the near future, I shall write a detailed post on the construction of the river bed. The water comes from the roof and flows between the garden beds, pooling at the end in the little pond before it flows out. The river bed acts as a path to get access to the plants in the garden beds, and walking on rocks does marvels for your feet (especially in this day and age when we spend so much time on flat hard surfaces like concrete).
Here is Josh from Edible Landscaping Ottawa filling in the round pond by following the outline I’ve set with the river rocks.
Then we planned and planted the bed on the other side of the driveway. The lilac tree got replanted here from the back garden to free up space there and provide a vertical accent here. Gavin planted the blueberry and currant bushes (one of the black currants was replanted from the back yard as well) and I have added crushed eggshell to the soil to boost its mineral content.
While digging to plant the lilac tree, we have found the unmarked phone line which promptly left us without the home phone.
Then we hung the flower planters. I love those Irish pub-style hanging baskets where small flowers quiver with the wind in one giant colourful blob.
This one is a wanna-be pub basket, we shall see how it grows in the next while.
We have also created a curved bed around the front tree for ornamentals. I shall also plant bulbs here, come autumn.
Next we put in the raised beds on the sunny side of the house and added soil. The sides are made with wire to prevent rabbits hopping on and munching on plants.
Then we have added mulch to the circular bed under the tree and the bed containing bushes, replanted perennials (chives and mini-phlox) from the back yard fence to decorate the river bed. We’ve installed the topiaries for beans and peas to climb, and the shepherd’s hook to hang a red verbena flower basket on it.
Gavin’s work in the front was done except for a part left incomplete, since we needed to be able to keep a path open for a wheelbarrow, to bring rocks and soil to the back yard. It now was time to plan the back garden which we were going to do on our own, having participated in and learned from the construction of river rock beds in the front.
First step was arranging the removal of the weeping elm tree by offering it for free on kijiji and facebook, via a cell phone plan since we were still without an internet line at home. As much as we liked the tree aesthetically, it was taking up a huge amount of space, shading a large part of the garden and not contributing to the food production. The offer went out and we settled to wait for a response.
Gavin and Josh have removed the ornamental bush behind the play structure to place rain barrels. That evening, a couple came by to try removing the weeping elm. They dug out the roots, but were unable to move it out of the yard, due to the narrow gate topped with a bar. They took an offshoot instead.
Fourth day, we found other people interested in attempting the removal of the weeping elm. It required four of us to maneuver and carry, and a trailer to transport. We had to disassemble a part of the garden gate to safely carry it through. Hopefully, the tree gets a second life in a bigger yard.
In the afternoon, there was pouring rain, which made for a great first test of the incomplete river bed, and it passed with flying colours. We had to run in the downpour, covering the dirt pile with a tarp and picking up the cardboard in the back garden that the wind was blowing away. That was a refreshing day.
On day 5, we planted two dwarf cherry trees and after have been working for two days to build the raised beds in the back yard, fill them with soil, and water it so the soil settles.
I have also built a raised bed behind the tree along the fence, to maximize on planting space. The rest of the space along the fence was going to contain raised cedar beds built by Gavin.
To take a break, we went on a trip to source organic seedlings and seeds from Greta’s Organic Gardens. Kids loved the trip – they got to play with tadpoles, feed grass to chickens, and watch fish and frogs in a pond. Inspired by water features at Greta’s, we got a water hyacinth to place in the herb spiral pond. For the next couple of days it was floating around in circles like a tiny boat, until it grew to fill the pond.
Then the kids were climbing the dirt and rock piles on the driveway and helping me by spreading dirt evenly on the asphalt and bringing me rocks. Meanwhile, I was working on the rock borders for the berry bush bed and, on a whim, put in a spiral design in the front. I have also adjusted the contours of the dry river bed and front raised beds with more river rocks, to strengthen the places the rain revealed.
Seventh day, Gavin and Josh brought raised beds for the back yard fence, installed them and filled them with soil. They have also installed sunken beds for the shady side of the house, filled them with soil and planted raspberry bushes.
Then they installed rain barrels (formerly used for bell peppers), connected them with a flexible pipe, to create communicating vessels, and installed the taps to let the water out.
Then Gavin and Josh completed the front landscaping and the dry river bed, now that a wheelbarrow need no longer go through.
I have modified the drawn plan to include the actual shape and location of all beds. Our phone line was replaced, first with a temporary line and then with a permanent one, breaking a large lilac tree branch in the process.
That day, or rather during the night, by starlight, as the kids slumbered peacefully, I planted out the seedlings.
It was magical to be planting in the cool night air, in the silence and quiet – it made for a great meditative experience. Front vegetable beds, more herbs to spiral, back fence beds and 3 out of 4 raised beds were filled. I have left the last bed to be seeded with greens.
I have also planted out herbs and greens into the front garden and planted more scarlet runner beans under a topiary in the back garden.
In daylight, I added more thyme and sedum among the rocks of the riverbed.
I have built another small raised bed along the back fence to maximize planting space and have put a black cherry tomato in it. I planted mint in pots to place in front garden where the soil is too shallow for anything else to plant. Mint spreads quickly, so I prefer keeping it contained.
As I planted, I’ve been updating my paper garden plan, to keep track of what had been planted where.
A temporary internet line was put in, wrapping around the house. You can see it in the video, snaking through the river bed. The people who came to put it in were reckless, trampling plants in the process and stubbornly reciting the same mantra in answer to my every question until I started following them around the garden and pointedly asking them not to destroy anything else.
Eighth day, I filled a long hanging coconut fiber planter hooked on the porch steps and planted garlic bulbs into it. The containers lined up on the back porch got a cayenne pepper plant, pineapple sage, and a sprouted acorn or nut we have found – of which we are still not sure whether it is an oak or a hazelnut. Squirrels bring many treasures into our garden.
I have planted radish seeds throughout most vegetable beds, since the radishes will mature long before the other crops will need the root space. I have seeded the fourth remaining back garden bed with different types of lettuce, arugula, bok choy, spinach, kale, mustard greens, mesclun, and have updated the garden plan to reflect the actual distribution of seeds.
I had lots of seedlings left over, and the next day our neighbourhood hosted a garage sale, so I took the evening to prepare for it.
In the morning on the ninth day, I have sold 16 seedlings, 5 puzzles, and a samovar at the garage sale. We have spent the evening relaxing with friends in the Rideau River Park, where kids were catching frogs, splashing in the river and delighting in all things nature.
Tenth day, I weeded the garden and sourced broken flagstones as garden stepping stones from a landscaping centre. I picked them in pouring rain with an injured ankle (nothing like a few obstacles to make things challenging) and placed them in the garden in between the beds, interplanting with thyme. We’ve installed the solar fountain which birds like so much.
After, it’s been maintenance, watering, weeding and watching the plants unfold. A much more attentive and professional team came by to replace the temporary internet line with the permanent one. They cleaned up after themselves and reconstructed the small part of a garden bed that was disturbed in the process.
I have spent about a week to distributing remaining seedlings to people who wanted them – to friends, colleagues, and like-minded mamas from Pathways Connect. Kale was gone fast. Peppers and tomatoes were going well – to be planted in pots in an apartment, and in gardens across the city.
We have also replaced a giant decorative bush in the back yard with an elderberry bush.
We got goldfish for the rain barrels and the herb spiral pond. Goldfish are good for consuming mosquito larvae that accumulates in standing pond water. We have taken another trip to Greta’s for the end-of-season sale, and picked up a water lily for a third pond, which we had temporarily placed in a rain barrel.
Then we acquired and installed more hoses to provide coverage for all the garden beds.I also picked up a larger pot for a patio pond, transplanted the water lily and one of the water hyacinths there, and got a goldfish to inhabit this pond.
The next day, I have added peat moss to blueberry bush soil, and added crushed eggshell and worm castings to vegetable beds. The last stage was to build bamboo trellises for grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pumpkins.
The project is still on-going, and will be so for the rest of the summer. We would still like to seed moss and/or clover in remaining places where grass used to be to create a pleasant, low maintenance coverage. But that is to come later.
Now I am enjoying my lush garden of greens, herbs, berries, vegetables, and flowers.
What do you see when you step outside your door? Do you have blooming and growing things to calm, delight, and inspire you?