Sometimes we think our yard is too small to really have a garden. Usually we don't want to give up beauty for the practicality of food.
You needn't sacrifice beauty to have a garden that provides nourishment to both body and spirit. The trick is designing a space that will fulfill both needs.
There are a few different ways to approach designing this kind of yard. You can have a cottage garden, with flowers and vegetables all jumbled together.
However, I've always liked formal gardens.
Formal gardens and rows of vegetables just seem like they don't go together.
Or do they?
Let's look at an example from a fort from the 1700s in Canada. This large garden, called the Engineer's Garden, is both beautiful AND edible!
Despite the fact that the entire garden is meant to sustain life, it is a delight to behold.
In the picture above, you can see the formal design of my husband's ancestors' garden. You can see fruit trees on the left, and poles on the right (possibly for pole beans). This beautiful garden was also very practical, providing food behind their home and organ factory (this ancestor made church organs in Germany for a living). From the children in the picture, you can see that they could play on the paths in between the garden beds.
Many homeowners don't have a yard that large. I certainly don't, but that doesn't mean I can't recreate the same shapes and ideas on a smaller scale. In fact, my garden is quite similar in shape to the Engineer's Garden. I left room for a lawn for my children to play on as well, but that doesn't mean you have to. Because we homeschool, my yard is my children's playground. I love having a yard that they can run around in.
I also want to use every inch of space possible in my planting beds. I use the walls as well. Think of your walls (or fences) as a place to grow things. George Washington grew cordoned apples and pears along his fences.
On my walls, I am growing apples, pears, grapes, sugar snap peas, blackberries, green beans, and roses.
You can take the everything edible approach, or you can mix things up.
This is my former garden (also in Las Vegas) in February:
There was originally a slope of "fill dirt" here. We took out the old dirt and replaced it with new dirt in two tiers. I planted lettuce and pansies together on the bottom tier, and tulips, herbs, and tomatoes and vegetables on the top tiers. On the wall, I grew flowering vines and sugar snap peas. Under the peach trees, I grew chives, and under the flowering plum trees I grew borage and lemongrass (lemongrass gets big, as I learned quickly! It quickly took over under one tree). In the corners on the upper tier, I planted an artichoke in each corner.
Technically, the flowering kale (white), the pansies and the nasturiums are edible. Edible flowers can be one way of beautifying your yard. They don't have much taste, so eating them is up to you. The nice thing is, if your children pick then and eat them, you have nothing to worry about.
The side yard is where I grew the most things, though.
On the wall, I grew sugar snap peas in winter and spring, and morning glories in the summer.
In the bed, I grew tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce, and Swiss chard.
This is my current garden in spring of 2010 and 2009. It varies with the seasons, but my goal is to grow as much as possible, all year long, in my current space. (See my garden calender here). I want to have something to harvest at all times. I have a .24 acre lot. My house sits close to the street, so most of my space is in the backyard, which I love.
In my backyard, I have 31 fruit trees. Fifteen apple trees are espaliered on one wall. Two pear trees are espaliered on another, and grapes cover the remainder of that wall.
In this yard, all of my trees are fruit-producing trees. They are all semi-dwarf trees, except for the citrus trees, which are only sold as dwarf trees at my local nursery. The advantage of having smaller trees is three-fold: they fruit sooner than full size trees (by a few years); they take up less room, allowing you to have more varieties of fruit throughout the year, ripening at different times; because they are shorter, you don't need giant ladders to harvest the fruit. My goal was to have a good variety of fruits that would provide fresh fruit at all different times of the year, and have enough that I can can any extras.
On the east side of the garden, I grow grapes along the wall. In the cages are tomatoes. They will grow a foot above the cages, reaching 7 feet tall by midsummer. In fall and winter, I take out the tomato cages and grow carrots, broccoli, turnips, leeks, lettuce, spinach, and green onions here. The green onions actually grow all year long. By fall of 2009 I ripped out the second row, as these have continued to reseed themselves (as they are in the picture) and take over the garden! You can cut side shoots of your green onions and they will continue to produce all year.
In the southeast corner of the garden, I have several fruit trees. A Dorsett Golden Apple is further left (not pictured). This self-fertile apple does not require any chilling hours, and ripens here in late June.
The tree in the front on the left in this picture is a Desert Gold Peach. A self-fertile peach, it is a semi-freestone (the fruit clings somewhat to the stone). Under the peach tree I grow Swiss chard all year, as well as borage, lettuce, and johnny jump-ups from fall to spring. In the summer, the johnny jump-ups are replaced by vincas, and I also grow zucchini in the center of this front planter.
This is the center of my garden. Along the back wall I am growing climbing roses (Graham Thomas) in the center. Grapes are growing along the rest of this back wall. Though not visible in this picture, 5 months later they were to the top of the wall.
On either side of the bench, there is French lavender, and above that, a Bartlett pear tree on each side. These were planted in the fall of 2008. Though Bartletts are a high-chill pear, and I live in an area with low chilling hours, I am experimenting with growing them anyway. On the other side of the pear trees are bush roses. Behind the bush roses are foxglove, which should bloom in the spring of 2010, and be about 4 feet tall.
Behind the bench, I have violets growing. They only bloom once a year, but are green for most of the rest of the year.
This center circle in my garden changes the most throughout the year. Here it has johnny jump-ups (which are edible, though not tasty, but useful for decorations). I also have nasturiums (also edible) and larkspur (not edible). The green in between the flowers is lettuce.
As the year goes on, the center section will be replaced with vincas (which return each year by self-seeding). These are not edible, but they provide beauty and color until frost. Vincas will grow all around the borders where the Johnny jump-ups grew in spring.
The johhny jump-ups and rocket larskpur are both wildflowers, and they also self-seed, growing under the vincas in the late fall, and growing slowly throughout the winter and early spring.
In the front planter (on the right) I have lettuce and Swiss chard growing under an Early Elberta (mid-chill, and a freestone peach). I grow butternut squash under the peach tree all summer. On the other side of the lamp post, I have an apple tree, under which I grow borage, chamomile, and more butternut squash.
To the right of the circle, I have a Royal Apricot tree and a Stella Cherry. Both are self-fertile. As this is an area of the country that does not get real cold in winter, it is questionable to grow cherries here. In the winter, the entire back planter is in the shade, and is cooler.
In 2010, we harvested cherries.
Under these two trees, the giant plants you see are artichokes.
From these artichoke plants and those on the left side, we harvested 100 artichokes in 2009. They were delicious.
As the weather warms up, they die back here. They will grow new leaves from the base of the old ones (not from the roots, but from the main stem) so do not cut them back completely. By fall the new growth is half that width, and I can grow Swiss chard in front of them.
If you turn around from here, this is your view:
On the west side of my yard was a slope. We removed the dirt, and built a wall (on top of a concrete edge, making it easier to mow and edge the lawn). The slope became a flat planter as we filled it in with good soil. Along the mesh, close to the wall, espaliered apple trees grow the length of the wall. Every six feet there is a dwarf citrus tree.
Under the citrus trees, I grow herbs (and more lettuce in the spring). The blank spot in the front right-hand corner of this picture has a tiny spot of green in it. That is Genovese basil, just starting to grow. It will grow until frost, getting 2 1/2 feet tall.
If you turn around 180º, you'll see the same planter, but not as deep. Here the dirt is only a foot from the wall. This gives us space to walk around the a/c units. On this side, I grow thornless blackberries. On one section of the wall (not shown; to the left of the blackberries) I grow sugar snap peas in winter and spring. I am experimenting with some pole beans for hot climates in the same spot in summer.
If you have a small garden, remember to use the vertical growing space in your garden (be it a wall, a fence, trellises, or poles).
You don't have to sacrifice beauty for food; in fact, you can have both!