I’ve been the care taker of this little property in Curtis Park for almost 12 years. It’s an old house and I’m still attempting to figure it all out – how to manage owning an old house, prioritizing what the house needs against what I need or want it to be.
It’s been a long process and I’d say I’m about half way there. The first year I lived here, I built a floating deck in the back part of the yard. That served me well for several years, however, but I wanted the area to grow veggies. In May 2014, I went to work in the small area beyond the fig tree in the backyard and tore that out. I removed yet another yard of soil from my tiny backyard.
I have lost count on how many yards. I’ve removed in the last decade. Nine? Ten yards? Due to time and money restraints, I let the area be while I daydreamed.
Truth is, for most of my time at Wildlands, I worked 70+ hours per week and while I wanted a garden, I didn’t have the time to tend to one. Yet, every year I’d eeek out space in the yard, planting veggies haphazardly. I’d get a dozen or so tomatoes, had a few years where the artichokes grew by the dozens, and even a good pumpkin crop once. The bigger picture was sad: veggies withered in the hot Sacramento sun, dead by August.
With fewer financial resources, but more time available to me, I was determined to turn the back area into a productive garden. I watched the sunlight; while the area is partially shaded by the 100-year-old fig tree, the entire space receives at least 8 hours of sunlight with the two western side receiving nearly all-day sun. In January 2015, I built four raised beds and started seedlings. I’d sowed seeds before, but you probably can guess what happened to them. Eek.
Down went triple layers of filter fabric, then the raised beds with good garden soil, then a yard of river pebbles, and a drip system with individual shut off valves for each bed. While I was cleaning up the rest of the yard, I broke down the rotting wine barrel planters, flatted the metal stays and folded them in half
so they’d fit into the trash bin. As I was picking them up to place them into the barrel, up to place them into the barrel, inspiration struck. The flattened and folded stays looked like flower petals. I hung the stays on the back fence and created a flower sculpture. Friends liked it so much, two asked for the extra stays I had to make their own flower sculptures. I added a few other ornaments including pray flags and an old CalFire tree planting shovel.
Pretty quickly, I realized I needed a low fence to keep the pups out of the garden. Siddhartha took to laying in the beds and Sky thought there surely was a route to China through them. In mid-May 2015, I designed and built a fence using 2×2 inch redwood and copper tubing. There are three gates, allowing easy access to all sections of the garden. The top rail each gate is a handle and acts as gate latch, sliding into the adjacent post.
I was giddy with my new garden space. I loved the sound of the wind chimes, the look of the copper fence, and things were GROWING. I had the largest veggie haul to date. Pounds of tomatoes, tomatillos, a half-dozen eggplants, two watermelons, eight spaghetti squash, five sunflowers, tons of chili peppers, and enough basil to make a few small batches of pesto.
I knew I hadn’t used the space as effectively as I could have, but I called the 2015 garden a success. Finally, I had a garden space that is functional AND appeals to my personal aesthetic. Surrounded by city sounds, the garden brings comfort and holds a bit of magic, a tucked away space – just for me.
In the winter when I needed some peace and comfort, I’d slip into the garden and daydream. I re-read a book on small space gardening. I got ready for the 2016 garden. In early March, I put my worry about Sky’s second surgery to work and started putzing in the garden. I’d sown seeds in early February and they were ready to go into the ground.
With the squash and cucumbers planted, it was time to get serious. I built two trellises in the northern beds for the spaghetti squash and pickling cucumbers. It took them forever to catch on (a few weeks!), but when they finally did, they started their climbing with enthusiasm. As of now (mid-June), they’ve already reached the halfway point on the trellises. I go out every few days to adjust the vines, make sure they’re anchoring to the trellis. While the trellises are constructed with bamboo stakes and wool yarn, they are study and the weight of the vine anchors them and gives them strength. It’s a simple but effective design.
With the northern bed trellises built, I turned my attention to the southern beds. I’d been pondering an arched trellis and with a few eight-foot lengths of flex PVC piping, some green spray paint, zip ties, a large roll of garden mesh, and an entire day of tweaking the design, the arch was done. It’s just over 7-feet tall, but if the pumpkins and watermelon take, it’ll be a dreamy tunnel suitable for me (at 5’3″) and other hobbits. Ha. The pumpkins and watermelon are taking forever to catch. I had a long chat with them this week while I pruned the tomato and tomatillo plants.
We’ll see. I remain hopeful.
With the infrastructure complete, I’ve been filling in the beds with 2nd plantings of tomato, eggplant, pole beans, okra, and sunflowers. I’ve got some collard greens growing in bunches in the northeast bed. Mostly, the greens are just getting chomped by bugs and snails. Ah well, better the greens than my beans or okra. Every thing is growing, flowering, and fruiting. I’ve harvested a handful of tomatoes and a few peppers already. While tweaking the cucumber vines on Wednesday, I noticed my first pickling cuc was ready to be picked. I ate it right off the vine. Nom.
The back garden area measures just over 16 feet by 18 feet. I have four 4’x6′ beds squeezed in there with two foot wide paths. The paths aren’t wide enough to roll a wheel barrow through, so that’s a bit of a bummer, but doesn’t really hamper my garden putzing.
In addition to the veggie garden, I planted a medicinal herb box over in the patio box. I sowed the seeds and while the herbs have been slow to grow, it’s coming along. I have Calendula, Echinacea, and toothache plant holding their own. Somehow a volunteer spaghetti squash showed up it the box. I had thought it was a pumpkin until I noticed the long, oval squash developing. I built a trellis for it and it has two spaghetti squashes on it – each about four inches long.
Well done, volunteer, well done.
Garden dreaming in downtown Sacramento, March 2016.