Rearranging the yard, yet again!

Backyard redesign, in progress.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

This is all my fault. Last fall we re-did the back yard, but I decided it still needed a few refinements. I feel a little like a sitcom wife who can’t make her mind up about the draperies (cue Erik, the long-suffering husband, moaning in the background)–but we can’t be afraid to fix our mistakes.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say mistake. There was nothing wrong with the last design. It’s just that after a year of living with it I saw how it could be improved. These are the three things that the redesign addresses:

1) Flow. Movement within the garden. The old layout looked great but lacked flow. I think gardens should have paths. They should invite you to move through them, lead you on a small journey of discovery, rather than challenging you to make left-right decisions, as if you were playing Pac-Man. The primary change in our layout is that I’ve established a new curving path that will carry you through the garden. It connects with the pre-existing path to form a loop.

One advantage of establishing a path is that once the “people space” is established, all the rest of the garden becomes useable plant space. We actually have more growing space now.

2) Perennials: The last redesign put a lot of emphasis on growing space for annual plants. In turned out to be a little more space than we needed. Annuals are a lot of work, especially here, where we garden year round and a bed can cycle through 4 crops a year. We’ll still have dedicated annual beds, but I’m going to reassign some of the beds formerly given over to annuals to useful/edible perennials.

3) Experimentation. Of late we’re very intrigued with the idea of transitioning to a natural form of gardening that is hands-off—rather like our Backwards Beekeeping methodology. We’re greatly influenced by The Ranch edible garden at the Huntington Gardens, created by Scott Kleinrock, and Erik is currently taking a class with Scott and Darren Butler that expands on some of these ideas. It would take a whole post, perhaps two or three to explain this in detail. And we’ll write those! But suffice it to say for now that it will be useful for us to have more space to experiment with.

So above you see a preview of the garden. We’ve not done much but lay down the path, move the bird bath and pull up the summer crops. Most of the greenery left consists of tomatoes which haven’t yet given up the ghost and a sturdy stand of okra. 

Stay tuned for planting! We’ll talk about our perennial choices, our layout and this whole hands-off gardening experiment as we go along.

Leave a comment


  1. I too am trying to decide whether to put in a driveway or tear out the old driveway lurking under the sod and/or just build on top of the existing stuff and turn the whole yard into container gardens – and this affects where to install the fence I want to put. Then I have one fence, but a neighbor has a taller one I can buy that’s brand new, so I have to decide do I want a fancy iron fence or one that will actually have a chance to keep people out.

  2. Yes! I do think that often you don’t really know what works best in the garden unless you try it & live with it. I love the path. It definitely is inviting. I’m always inspired by your garden and the changes you make.

  3. Here in San Diego we get an average of 10 inches of rain a year. The fluke rain we got last week (about 3/4 inch) already filled my rain barrels and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to make the best use of this winter’s rain.

    Brad Lancaster’s talk at IPC10 gave me some ideas about urban water harvesting, but I was wondering if you had any parts of your design or redesign that were specifically about water?

  4. How wide is the path? I have been looking at it and cannot judge. It looks very narrow for me to stumble along, but I cannot figure out how wide it is because there is nothing for a reference.

    Did you scrounge for the rocks, buy them, or were they at the house when you moved there? Nice rocks. I really like rocks. I guess that sounds weird. If I ever move, my rocks go with me!

  5. Erik/Kelly,

    Have you guys ever considered organizing a local, L.A. based, urban farm garden tour? I think it would be an incredible educational opportunity to help spread the word and to educate the public on food self-sufficiency and responsible environmental practices. Heck, you guys could even put up a table and sell some of your books!

  6. This is unrelated, but I’m just incredibly upset right now. My only squash baby got STOLEN within the past couple days (I was too busy to tend my yard as of late). It was growing in my front yard, about 3-4 feet from the sidewalk, but on my property nonetheless. Ugh.

  7. @Beth: Rain water collection is a real challenge in SoCal, as you know, because our rain comes once a year in relatively short, intense burst. Theoretically would could capture it and use it for the rest of the year, but we’d need giant cisterns. It’s a puzzle. But to answer your question directly–no, we’ve added no water saving features. We love Brad Lancaster’s work, but haven’t done anything special, other than making sure our yard is permeable. We keep all the water that falls on it in the soil. It’s the water from the roof that I’d like to collect more effectively.

    @Parsimony: The path looks skinny in the pic. It’s about 2 1/2 feet wide. We got the rocks for free from a demolition via Craigslist

    @Max: We’ve fantasized about that with our neighbors who are doing similar things. Thanks for the reminder.

    @MJLai: We feel your pain!

  8. The redesign is looking good – that path is so inviting! Interesting that you’re looking to add more perennials. In my own little backyard food forest I have found that mixing perennials and annuals works well; small fruit trees filter the sunlight and keep the ground and the smaller plants from simply baking in the hot SoCal sun, resulting in healthier plants and less water use. Looking forward to hearing what you guys do with your garden. Thanks for the great blog!

  9. Will your new perennial beds include plants that some that others grow as annuals? I have a perennial bed of peppers here in Oakland, although they need severe pruning, deep mulch, and a sheltered location to survive these winters. Starting out with deep roots seems to give them a major head start, compared with transplanted seedlings. I imagine the right sort of warm niche in LA could allow for perennial tomatoes.

    I’ve found nightshades get along fairly well with a low-intensity winter crop of favas.

    Good luck with the hands-off gardening! For a more theoretical take on it, you might want to check out Masanobu Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution.”

  10. @Anon & @Joel: Your comments are sort of on the same lines, and yes, we’re very much into layering annuals and perennials and natives a la a food forest, encouraging self seeding and pushing annuals to perennials.

  11. I don’t think it’s abnormal to want to improve your garden. I can’t look at a plant without dead-heading it. Unfortunately, it’s the misfortune or fortune of a gardener to never be truly satisfied–but that may be the impetus to get work done! The passion to be near plants and to make them healthier and look great fuels my never-ending fussing in the yard.

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