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Ideas for my Urban Backyard Layout Design?

 
Posts: 20
Location: Hamtramck, Mi
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Hello Permies!
I own and live in a duplex with my partner. We're in a dense urban neighborhood (Hamtramck, Michigan")
I have gardening experience from past jobs on organic farms, wwoofing, and some of my own container gardens, but this will be the largest garden that I have started myself. One of the main purposes of this garden is to reduce my food bill, but another purpose is just for my own learning experience. Eventually (years in the future) I would love to own a homestead with acreage, but for now I am using my urban yard as "training" for the future homestead that I have in my head ;)

Right now my back yard is basically a blank slate. it measures 50 ft x 30 ft. I just recently had the ground graded so that water from the alley would not flow into the backyard anymore, so right now the ground is bare.


Here are the constraints that I am facing:

1. The soil is contaminated with lead and other nasty stuff so I don't want to grow directly in the ground. I think that raised beds with bottoms or containers or wicking beds will be my best bet.

2. The back yard is facing north / northwest and is shaded for the first half of the day by the house. But in the afternoon it does get some good light. In the summer there is about 5 or 6 hours of full sun back here.

3. Parking is VERY tight where I live. This house is a duplex (I am the owner and I am renting out the other half) and I designated the front parking spots for my tenant, so that leaves me and my partner's cars without a designated spot. I am thinking about sectioning off the back 2/5ths of the back yard (a 20 ft x 30 ft gravel area) for my car and my partner's car, which we will access through the back alley. However, this will mean sacrificing garden space, which makes me a bit sad. That leaves only 30 ft x 30 ft for the garden.

4. Probably the biggest constraint: This is not my "forever" home, I might only be living here for another 5 years or so before I eventually move across the state to somewhere with a little more breathing room. At that time, I would rent out both halves of the duplex and hire a property manager to take care of the place for me. But while I am living here, I want to make the most out of what little garden space I have. So basically I'm not sure how "permanent" I want the garden infrastructure to be (does that make it less "perma"culture?)
My current tenants in the other side of my duplex are not interested in gardening, so they would not want to inherit a raised bed garden once I leave. but once I eventually rent out the side of the duplex that I am living in, maybe that new tenant will like gardening? In that case I could give the raised bed garden to them. Or I could just plant in containers and then take the containers and soil with me when I leave...

5. I don't want to spend thousands of dollars on super fancy garden infrastructure. I am hoping that the garden pays for itself within a few years, so I want to keep infrastructure costs as reasonable as possible.

Here's a few drawings of my layout ideas so far, but I have not yet designated where specific species will be planted:

This layout has "semi-permanent" garden infrastructure, keyhole style raised beds. Mulch paths and a gravel parking area. The design has the back 2 corners of the house with 255 gallon IBC totes for irrigation which catch water from the gutter downspouts on the corners (not shown) Compost bin in the bottom left corner. Trellises are along all of the fence lines where I would grow pole beans, raspberries and grapes (which I have not obtained yet) but I am a bit doubtful of how well they'll do in such shade at those angles.




This layout is much more temporary/portable using a bunch of containers and it looks more like a nursery. Depending on the plants, I might not have them spaced so close together. Still, I imagine it would probably be more difficult to irrigate, weed, and harvest from a bunch of containers vs the raised beds. But the advantage is that I could take the containers and the soil with me when I eventually move. I haven't really seen any examples of anyone outside of a nursery gardening like this, so if anyone knows of gardeners who pulled this off please let me know!


Maybe I'll end up using both raised beds and containers in different spots?

I'm also trying to consider what the best ground cover for the garden area would be. I would like something that is low maintenance yet budget friendly yet aesthetic. These designs have mulch paths on top of landscape fabric, but eventually it will decompose and grass will start growing through it, which will mean more maintenance after I leave. Maybe I could use the same gravel from the parking area for the whole back yard (with landscape fabric underneath) this might be less maintenance, but probably less aesthetic...

I have not yet decided where specific plants will be located in the layout, but 5 weeks ago I started a lot of my favorite plants as seeds indoors under grow lights.
Lemon Balm,
Lemongrass,
Thyme,
Oregano,
Basil,
Parsley,
Cherry tomatoes,
Garlic,
Onion,
Bunching Onions,
Lavender,
Chocolate Mint,
Sage,
Tomato,
Lettuce,
Fennel,
Sweet Pepper
Chamomile.

Soon they'll outgrow their solo cups and be ready to transplant. Those are just the seedlings that I have already started and that might be all I do in the first year, but I would like to incorporate more vine species like pole beans and grapes.
I'm planning on adding more perennial berries like blueberries and raspberries after I figure out what exact infrastructure I am going to put together.
I'm also considering how I could make effective "guilds" out of the seedlings that I started already, or what missing pieces of guilds I could add in. (more beneficial insect attractors / pollinators?)

So basically I have a lot of ideas each with pros and cons and I'm looking for a sanity check from someone with more experience / insight than me! I'd appreciate any ideas or suggestions!

Thanks for reading my long post :)
 
pollinator
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Seems like a good list of herbs and vegetables. If you are looking at what you can get use out of within the next five years, and only partial sun, I think you should put the annual herbs and veggies you like best in the sunniest parts to the yard. Plant some more shade-tolerant perennial flowers nearer the house to attract pollinators.

For fruit, you might have better luck with currants against the west fence, they do OK in part shade and also will get you some berries after two years. Most of them are thornless and not quite as aggressive as raspberries/blackberries, so not leaving a bramblepatch for future tenants, just soem bushes they can enjoy or ignore. Grapes take longer to produce, and require more maintenance, but if you plan to maintain ownership of the property, you could keep them up even after moving out.

 
Miles Rose
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Location: Hamtramck, Mi
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Thanks for the input, lots of great ideas here!

Mk Neal wrote:Seems like a good list of herbs and vegetables. If you are looking at what you can get use out of within the next five years, and only partial sun, I think you should put the annual herbs and veggies you like best in the sunniest parts to the yard. Plant some more shade-tolerant perennial flowers nearer the house to attract pollinators.



That is a great idea, it makes a lot of sense to reserve the slightly sunnier spots for the prized food producers, and leaving the shadiest spots near the house for shade tolerant perennial pollinator flowers since I won't be harvesting their yield. It would also be very nice to look out the window and immediately see lots of flowers and pollinators. I love the look of Fern-leaf Bleeding Heart flowers, and Toad lilies.

Mk Neal wrote:

For fruit, you might have better luck with currants against the west fence, they do OK in part shade and also will get you some berries after two years. Most of them are thornless and not quite as aggressive as raspberries/blackberries, so not leaving a bramblepatch for future tenants, just soem bushes they can enjoy or ignore. Grapes take longer to produce, and require more maintenance, but if you plan to maintain ownership of the property, you could keep them up even after moving out.


I have never actually eaten currants before, I'll look for them next time I go grocery shopping! It sounds like they would be a great candidate for a fast fruiting shade tolerant berry. Certainly sounds easier to maintain since it is thornless
 
pollinator
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Currants and gooseberries are hard to find in stores, but you can sometimes find them at fresh farmers markets when they are in season!    I love them,  quite tart and juicy.  

I really like the plan with parking and the keyhole beds,   when I rented I would have loved the chance to have something like that to grow food and herbs in while I rented.  
 
Posts: 29
Location: Zone 5, Ontario, CA
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So first of all, I apoologize - I'm just a beginner myself, but couldn't help replying. Please take the following thoughts and suggestions with a pretty coarse grain of salt. I've been gardening on my apartment balcony for 4 years now and I've recently been lusting pretty hard after the opportunity to work with a larger space (my balcony is about 8ft x 10ft) - so I'd be the happiest tenant taking over your proposed garden!

I think it's a good idea to take this first year to keep things flexible so you can observe how things grow and test out these ideas. I don't see why a raised bed system couldn't be retired to some easy/no-care native plants that your neighbours/new tenants could enjoy when you move out, if they don't want to garden. That being said, a first year in containers could show you where the best places for some of the plants you want to grow will be, and give you some time to source materials for your raised beds. There are tons of people in my neighbourhood who build very simple trellises over their carports and successfully train grape vines overtop, might be a good option if you'd like to maximize your growing space and don't have much success along the fences.

Finally, the light issue is annoying but it might not be the worst problem. If anything, it might just mean revising your plant list. There are lots of tasty plants that do fine in shadier areas: Shade Tolerant Edibles

Again, things can always be moved. I have had to do a lot of digging to find out how to work my plant list into useful guilds, but small guides like this are a good starting point. Note taking really helps! Companion Planting - west coast seeds

Anyways, sorry for not being really well experienced here - especially in the cost department. All I can say is that this looks like a big project, and I'm sure it won't all be finished in the first year. I look forward to following how this shapes up, and what other suggestions come through!
 
Miles Rose
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Hayley Stewart wrote:So first of all, I apoologize - I'm just a beginner myself, but couldn't help replying. Please take the following thoughts and suggestions with a pretty coarse grain of salt. I've been gardening on my apartment balcony for 4 years now and I've recently been lusting pretty hard after the opportunity to work with a larger space (my balcony is about 8ft x 10ft) - so I'd be the happiest tenant taking over your proposed garden!

I think it's a good idea to take this first year to keep things flexible so you can observe how things grow and test out these ideas. I don't see why a raised bed system couldn't be retired to some easy/no-care native plants that your neighbours/new tenants could enjoy when you move out, if they don't want to garden. That being said, a first year in containers could show you where the best places for some of the plants you want to grow will be, and give you some time to source materials for your raised beds. There are tons of people in my neighbourhood who build very simple trellises over their carports and successfully train grape vines overtop, might be a good option if you'd like to maximize your growing space and don't have much success along the fences.



I love the idea of passing the garden on to a future tenant once I move elsewhere. The idea of dismantling a garden just feels a bit backwards to me, even though the materials would end up being repurposed somewhere else. Plus, if the tenant enjoys stewarding the garden then that might encourage them to stay for longer, win-win!
Also, that's a very interesting idea of "retiring" the raised beds to no-care natives plants after I leave, I had not considered that. I'm sure that would really help to boost the native insect and bird species around here as well!

What a great idea to trellis over the parking area! Initially I had pretty much written off the parking area except for maybe trellises along the fence lines, but trellises on top of the parking area would allow me to reclaim much of that area for the garden. The only concern I might have about growing vining berries there is the "mulberry effect" where berries rain down on vehicles, birds perch and eat the berries and their red colored manure also rains down on the cars! Just gotta harvest them fast I guess! Maybe growing pole beans on the carport trellis would be less messy? What plants species do the trellis carports in your neighborhood have?

Hayley Stewart wrote:
Finally, the light issue is annoying but it might not be the worst problem. If anything, it might just mean revising your plant list. There are lots of tasty plants that do fine in shadier areas: Shade Tolerant Edibles

Again, things can always be moved. I have had to do a lot of digging to find out how to work my plant list into useful guilds, but small guides like this are a good starting point. Note taking really helps! Companion Planting - west coast seeds



I really wish I had focused more on shade tolerant species in my seed selection, that thread you linked to is an excellent resource! My plant selection "process" was basically just me scrolling through the burpee website and picking a bunch of things that I like and that I have seen other people growing in my region.
Regarding guilds, I'm starting to think that it might be interesting to experiment by using containers, arranging the containers into different guilds and seeing what effect the plants have on each other, and then possibly rearranging them into other guilds to see what happens (as long as they have not grown into each other and become inseparable)

I think a good approach for this year might be to focus on container gardening for their flexibility / rearrange-ability and observe how different plants respond to the different light conditions in the yard, and how the plants respond to each other in different container guilds. After my observations from the first year, I would have a better idea of how to arrange the raised bed guilds, and what plants do best in which locations.
 
Miles Rose
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Heather Staas wrote:
Currants and gooseberries are hard to find in stores, but you can sometimes find them at fresh farmers markets when they are in season!    I love them,  quite tart and juicy.  


I'm weary of growing something if I have not actually eaten it to see if I like it, but these sound really good and like a perfect fit for my shaded fence line for this year... So I'll try growing them anyway and "live on the edge" haha!


Heather Staas wrote:
I really like the plan with parking and the keyhole beds,   when I rented I would have loved the chance to have something like that to grow food and herbs in while I rented.  


Sounds like I'll need to find a renter from Permies in a few years to take over the garden once I move out xD
 
Hayley Stewart
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Location: Zone 5, Ontario, CA
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Miles Rose wrote:
What a great idea to trellis over the parking area! Initially I had pretty much written off the parking area except for maybe trellises along the fence lines, but trellises on top of the parking area would allow me to reclaim much of that area for the garden. The only concern I might have about growing vining berries there is the "mulberry effect" where berries rain down on vehicles, birds perch and eat the berries and their red colored manure also rains down on the cars! Just gotta harvest them fast I guess! Maybe growing pole beans on the carport trellis would be less messy? What plants species do the trellis carports in your neighborhood have?



Here in Little Portugal, grapes are the plant of choice - a lot of folks like to make their own wine.  There was an interview with a guy who lives around here and trained a huge grape vine over his deck - he says that he grows it specifically for the raccoons so that they leave the rest of his garden alone. Which I can totally see the need for in an urban setting - we've had to fence in most of our veggies this year to protect them from squirrels.

I've seen a few broad beans growing in a trellis system way as well, sometimes over the entire "ceiling" of the garden. I'm sure kiwis would do well over the carport, even close to the house where it's shady. I've never grown them though, so I don't know if they'd be a falling hazard for the cars.
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