Laura Bruno – Before and After Yard … Well, “After” Means “Still In Progress…” – 24 May 2014

laura-of-the-rocksI commented to Colette of Bealtaine Cottage that she is changing the world with her blog and said that our neighbors thank her for the inspiration to turn our yard from the “worst in Goshen” to a delightful permaculture garden experiment. Colette asked for photos to share inspiration from here, as well. I have been reluctant to post before photos, because a) we don’t really have the real “before” from when our landlord purchased this place on a tax sale and did a gut rehab; b) we purposely took our before photos at angles and from distances to make it not seem as bad as it really was, and c) I feel nowhere near “done” yet. I realize that one never finishes, but really … I have miles to go before I mulch! Nonetheless, I promised Colette a link with photos, so here goes:

August 2012

You might feel tempted to view that green stuff as “grass,” but if so, the quotation marks would be appropriate. It was a dry, weedy, stumpy mess.

August 2012 from South

backyard August 2012

Me next to the wild petunias the day we decided to rent this place and commit to permaculturing the yard.

We saw on old image of this place from 2009 on Google Maps, and you could not see the house. It was covered in trees, which I normally like. According to every single neighbor, our landlord, and a local arborist, however, the trees were not healthy, and this was anything but a charming, in-town forest. The many crowded ash and maple trees were diseased and split-trunked, and the ash borers had stripped all the bark from all but one ash tree, which still stands here. We had poison ivy all over the backyard when we first moved in, as well as along the front property line next to the neighbor’s house, which our landlord also owns. He actually bought this property because it was in such a horrible state of disrepair that it was dramatically lowering the property value of the rental house he owns next door to us.

Anyway, by the time we looked at the property, he had mostly finished the house gut rehab, and the “woods” had been chopped down. The backyard was all tree stumps, rotting roots, garlic mustard, dandelions, wild violets, and various poison “pioneer” plants that sprouted up in the new sunshine. The land felt forlorn and stripped naked. Two more trees got cut down after we signed our lease, because they turned out to be rotting from the inside out. At fifty plus feet tall, these posed a threat to both properties, and one maple crashed down for a similar reason in Spring 2013.

We have begun to reforest this land, though. Right before we moved in, our landlord planted four yews in front of the porch, and this Spring, I’ve planted two holly trees, a quince, a three-way Asian pear, dwarf lilac, edible dogwood tree, two elderberry shrubs, a goumi berry bush, and I had the city plant two serviceberry trees out front. I’ve also planted three rose bushes, many, many perennials, and have begun creating numerous garden beds and zones. Whenever I weedwhack or when David mows the “lawn,” we leave the waste to compost in place, gradually enriching the soil. Over time, I have noticed that we have far more clover, beginning to repair the nitrogen depleted soil. We’ve also got some fantastic, rich growth near our compost pile and last year’s comfrey. The results near the comfrey have me so jazzed that I just planted four more comfrey plants near the quince and pear trees. Next year, I’ll divide them and spread them around even more.

I use Bocking 14 comfrey, which does not spread like the unusually invasive comfrey. It just pulls up nutrients with a deep taproot, feeds bees, fixes nitrogen, and provides great mulch and compost activation.

comfrey after harvesting lots for compost and mulch.

front view

Above, you can see a similar view from the south side of the house, today. Note one of the new serviceberry trees on the front easement. In the summer, the fence to the left is covered in morning glories, and the front bed holds various vines, asters, feverfew, yarrow, lavender, hyssop, forsythia, purple coneflowers, tarragon and parsley. This year, I plan to grow some edible yet ornamental amaranth to shade the south side porch windows.

Morning glories 2

The amaranth I plan to grow.

This bouquet came from our yard last Fall.

Last year, I mulched out a small portion of the front yard so that I could have a sunflower and bee friendly patch:

I used landscape cloth under that one area, because the weeds were just too hardy. I wanted one nice looking spot to anchor my vision before tackling the mammoth challenge of this yard.

July 30, 2013

Last Fall, I sheet mulched a huge swath of the front yard, using cardboard, straw, compost, rock dust, and leaves, covered by wood mulch, to which I added reclaimed concrete (urbanite) paths this Spring, along with the dogwood tree, lilac, and many perennials:

front yard

It’s very early in the season, and the beds are too wide to capture all at once. Later in the season, the area that extends further to the right will house sunflowers, zinnias, liatris, milkweed, and a butterfly bush, as part of a certified Monarch Way Station. The rest of the beds are planted in cottage garden style, with a mixture of perennials, flowers, herbs and ornamental/edible vegetables.

front beds

Further back, we’ll have cardoon, irises, campion roses, more purple coneflower, a variety of yellow flowers, yarrow, clover … and then the newly planted Garden Tower, which is also a vermicomposter to create nutrient rich worm castings:

garden tower

The above photo also shows a bed of chocolate mint, two beds of various bee friendly plants. Below you can see our newly planted aronia berry bush, which will grow to seven feet high and wide with both ornamental flowers and highly nutritious berries. You can also see our various raised beds and the open cold frame, which I’m getting ready to remove, along with the supplemental tarps and concrete blocks that protected our veggies from the brutal 2013/14 Winter.

beds with aronia berries

Below you can see how the beds looked in early Fall 2013, when I had just assembled the Guarden Bed cold frame:

The Guarden

I’ve run out of time for now, but these pictures show about half of what we have going on in this yard. On the apartment side of the house, I’m waiting for our 12 inch hollies to become 12 feet by 12 feet privacy screens and bird sanctuary. I’m waiting for our quince tree and elderberry shrubs to grow and fill out, and I’ve got 24 feet of trellis for various tomatoes, squash and melons. I’ll be sheet mulching another large swatch in front of the trellis and current mulch. I also just planted tomatoes, lavender, parsley, tomatilloes, basil and chamomile in a square area demarcated by trellises. A new one will hold scarlet runner beans, and at the far back left corner, I’ll be building trellises from old branches so that our malabar spinach has something to climb, providing a nice screen from the apartment’s parking lot. We’ve got raspberry and blackberryy plants galore, and I’m already planning what other fruit and possibly nut trees to plant this Fall.

All I can say is, “It’s not Bealtaine Cottage, but after 1.5 years of a lot of love and work, little Faery-Hof is, in fact, coming along.”

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