An inspirational source
Another very good example where inspiration may spring forth creativity is the garden.
You might say, if you have one. Well, that might be true, weren’t it that gardening isn’t restricted to having one.
You, who aren’t blessed with a garden, because you live in an apartment, might still be able to exercise your green thumb. For instance on your balcony, or even inside your house you are able to create a true oasis of plants.
Feeling blessed with our garden
Of course we’re as humble to add here that we feel very blessed that our current house has both a front- and backyard.
What is it that makes gardening, caring for plants, or creating your garden of eden inspirational?
You might say the answer is already included in the question. A garden of eden already sounds inspirational, as is the creating of such an oasis of obvious stimulating influence.
Our backyard in the making
Our feel for gardening
On gardening too, a lot of information is available, through books and the internet.
So, as with our other subjects, we also like to give gardening our own twist.
For me, gardening started when I was young. My grandfather introduced me to tilling radishes from his very own garden.
My dad built a cold frame and soon after we sowed the first batch of our own radish yield. I couldn’t wait to see how the plants progressed, let alone wait until we could indeed eat our own radishes.
Getting into gardening
That feeling of excitement stuck to the word gardening. Although I must add, I indeed had to learn some patience before I really started to enjoy all the aspects of gardening.
For long I too lived in an apartment where no garden was available. When I moved house in 2013, it was for the first time I was blessed with a small but still oversee-able outside. Both at the front and back of my house. Although those gardens weren’t located as good as the ones at our latest house. It still was a nice way to get re-acquainted and make something of my garden of eden.
Also, at the beginning these gardens needed a lot of work. At least the backyard, because about 90% of the plot was paved when I received the key for the house. A bit of a chore was to get rid of the amount of Bishop’s weed. But, after my effort to clear the infestation above and below the topsoil. This weed became maintainable rather easy. Any new shoots I meticulously hunted down and added the green parts to my salads. By which I fairly quickly got the infestation under control.
Combining my rainwater passion
One of my passions is the use of rainwater. Subsequently I was keen on providing space for rainwater to disperse into the soil. The existing paved backyard I found wasn’t to my liking.
As was the way the pavement was executed. The stone surface had dilapidated due to roots which pushed the paving stones in all kinds of directions. Rather than the smooth surface I myself would prefer.
Only a small surface between the kitchen and shed I repaved. All the rest of the paving stones I either discarded, used elsewhere. Also, I used them to create a border for a raised bed.
Immediately the whole surface started showing signs of improvement. Former puddles could now easily find their way into the soil. Subsequently, the topsoil visually progressed into healthy ground. A soil where greens found their way springing back up.
However, the location of the rainwater pipes at that former dwelling would have demanded too much of a job to truly implement a cistern system.
Raised planter with sorrel emerging and fresh compost added
A simple design
Following, I kept the plans for this former garden rather limited. I mainly focused on creating raised beds. I bought a Joraform tumbling composter, which allowed me to rigorously cut down my food waste footprint. The composter created a steady flow of organic fertilizer.
Due to the confined surface of the garden I chose to keep the lid on the amounts of plants I planted and mainly experimented with pairs. Apart from potatoes which I planted more regularly.
Having read about the ‘lasagna’ method. I implemented the method and found it was a gardening method which suited my needs.
Rather quickly I got both yards, front and back, under control and yielded my first potatoes, yellow pumpkins, onions, sorrel and of course the collection of herbs I had planted. Drawback on this garden was its location and it being rather shaded by a maple tree.
Raised planter with potatoes
Potatoes and onions
A move, a new gardening opportunity, backyard
So, because of a planned large scale renovation we had to move house. The renovation work required our move for the duration of the work, to return to the dwelling. We were very happy to permanently receive the key of new home.
Again, with both a front- and backyard. Both yards once more fully paved. The relative small house extended with an outcrop for the kitchen. Its roof draining towards the backyard. A rain barrel was left behind by the former inhabitants.
After we had made the house our home. I focused on the two stone surfaces. Being somewhat restricted in our budget we decided to turn around the gardens with as little of an investment as possible.
After having taken some basic measurements I first redesigned the backyard along to the lines of the existing pavement stones. On both longitudinal lines I created two raised beds held in place by walls made from the stones put upright.
While constructing these planters I turned around the soil under the former pavement. Directly under the stones there was a significant layer of course sand which I first collected in a large heap. After that I also took out the original dark topsoil and created a second heap of it. Then I placed the stones as level possible and first filled the course sand to create a better drainage for the planters. Next, I shoveled back the dark soil to provide a nutrition layer for the plants.
More potatoes, onions and Brussels’ sprouts
An experimental rainwater cistern
In the middle of the former terrace I wanted to create a rainwater cistern for harvesting the surplus precipitation after the rain barrel was completely filled. While having made the raised raised beds I figured I could use a similar method to provide the walls of the cistern.
Nevertheless, while digging through the soil I found a large amount of debris which made me decide to pave the bottom of the cistern with the stones I had taken out to create the cistern ditch.
That left not enough pavement stones to also create the walls of the cistern with. Familiar with the characteristics of XPS foam. As a consequence I then decided to use this material to make these walls. To make the cistern watertight I used a rubber liner.
Keeping the cistern in place
First I figured out the amount of rain falling on our roof and plot. By using those numbers I calculated that a minimum cistern for the garden would need to amount to approximately 1500 Liters. On average rainfall reference I anticipated that such a volume would be present during a large portion of the year. Therefore, this body of water would provide enough volume and therefore pressure on the walls to keep the foam in place.
Covering, our terrace
During the construction of this simple cistern, we deliberated long about the covering of the now created ‘swimming pool’. Partly, the volume of the cistern needed to be restricted because of the relatively high water table in this neighborhood. Which meant the total available depth of the cistern amounted just 45 centimeters.
Any construction to support a layer of pavement above the water would require a significant loss of water volume. Because a layer of pavement would require such adequate support and hence loss of volume inside the cistern. We decided to create a wooden deck above the existing pavement and the created body of water.
Deck access hatch
The obvious advantage of such a deck is that at any time the cistern is easily accessible. Because the deck needed proper support over the cistern we chose to place small rafters at regular intervals from left to right.
This also provided space between these rafters to place pipes to feed the raised beds with. The pipes drain from the walls of the cistern down towards the planters.
They get their water from the cistern by means of a piece of cloth we mounted inside the end of the pipe, from which it hangs down into the body of water under the deck. After this cloth gets fully soaked by the water it continuously transports water from the cistern into the lower end of the planters. Thus, providing a constant flow of water towards which plants can shoot their roots.
Because in the front yard we weren’t able to reach a rainwater drain. There we limited ourselves to make a planter according to the same method by the ones in the backyard were made.
During the construction process, we first placed some perennials like sage, bee balm, echinacea, rhubarb, grape, raspberry and a lot of herbs.
Next we planted our first batch of potatoes and onions. In the opposite bed we diversified from strawberries to pumpkins, broccoli, Swiss chard, radishes, turnip greens and purslane. Oh, and not forget Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes.
In some pots we later planted tomatoes. The planting part of the first fun enjoyment from our garden. A fruitful summer gave us a first yield which lasted at least a half year. Especially our sprouts gave an incredible yield, even through the winter. We very much enjoyed our potatoes and onions. Although we have to up the way store them after yielding. Having an abundance of fresh greens so close by is a true joy to experience.
An astonishing yield
Considering our garden isn’t that big, the total surface of the backyard amounts 48 square meters. It is truly wondrous how much our raised beds yielded for their first year. The beds on which we tilled our greens cover only 18 square meters. In total our garden is still for over 60% covered. However, even during heavy rainfall we no longer see prolonged puddles.
Of course it is a larger surface then most people have available on a balcony adjacent to their apartment. Nevertheless, it shows how the smallest surface can even make a slight difference. Especially where we also consider the joy and happiness a green environment contributes to.
A first yield of juicy strawberries from the backyard
The joy a garden brings
Moreover, we both enjoy the well being our garden brings us. Firstly for just being outside. Secondly by dirtying up our hands while tilling the soil. Thirdly for the joy plants bring whilst they’re sprouting and growing.
It’s indeed a little wonder in our backyard. And yes, it demands an effort, but it is an effort which is very satisfying and even healing. Since we finished our basic setup, on average we both spend at about 10 minutes a day to do our garden chores. The way we designed our garden makes it a very manageable one.
Echinacea and Bee Balm flowering
Our goal with this story is to inspire you to start doing some gardening of your own. Even when it is just some pots on your balcony, or to take another look at how you use the garden on your plot.
If you or your predecessor of the house have fully paved the plot. Rethink, redo and reuse your material, start experimenting and just take some of the pavement out. Try an easy and thankful plant first. And yes, there’s many. In no time you too will have to admit that gardening in such a way brings a meditative moment. A tranquility a trip outside could too provide, weren’t it for the fact you need to travel first to get there.
The greens at your house are readily available at any time. Hence, they are ready to receive you. Whatever day you had, whatever happened, whatever needs to happen, whatever needs attention. Before you know it, you just leave all of that behind you, whilst you till along inside your garden and just enjoy those contemplative moments, while gardening.
Green your thumbs
And please, don’t say your thumbs aren’t green. Because that greening of the thumbs only comes when you truly went into it. And no, it isn’t so that a paved garden doesn’t need attention. That’s a fairy tale. Greens always find their way, doesn’t matter what you do about them. So, what more do you want. Take your first steps into gardening and harvesting rainwater for that matter. We’re damn sure you too will enjoy it.