Have your cake and eat it too?

You really can have your cake and eat it too!

You can create an elegant, family-friendly backyard and still grow food.

Today I spoke with Michelle, one of my subscribers, who, like many people, has a blank palette in her backyard and she doesn’t know where to start. Others have a small corner and wonder what they can do with it. Some people simply hate their yard and want a change.

The first thing you will do is state the goals for your yard.

  • Do you want to produce food and how much?
  • Do you want entertainment space, barbecue, table, pool?
  • Do your kids need a place to play? Trampoline? Grass? Pool?
  • What hardscapes do you want? Patio? Built-in seating? Pathways? Trellis? Fountain?
  • Do you want your trees and shrubs to produce food? Be green year-round? Have flowers?
  • Do you want raised beds for vegetables and fruits? Pots? In-ground garden?

As you can see, the list of considerations is long. Before you put the first shovel in the ground, you have to sit down with family members and dream. Once you have created your list, narrow it down to the priorities. Only then should you sketch out your yard.I have attached a Landscape Checksheet of items I ask people to consider.

Yard sketch
Sketch out ideas once you have measured your yard.

Measure the space and be realistic about what you can fit in your yard. Select the hardscapes that you want. For example, if you want a table and pavers or concrete beneath it, allot at least 100 square feet to fit a circular or square table and chairs. Firepits need the same clearance for safety. A pool will eat up much of your space, so decide what the needs are and how you will use it (diving pool, swimming laps, play pool).

Next, choose the large, permanent greenery like lawns and trees and what their function will be. Food? Shade? Privacy? Aesthetics?

Then fill in with perennial shrubs and ground covers.

The biggest mistake homeowners make is to place one plant per space. Group them together for interest by combining different heights and coordinated colors. Blend in food-producing plants with ornamental ones. It will create an elegant yard that produces food.

Garden zones
I knew I couldn’t afford the cost or time to complete my yard all at once, so I created zones and tackled one zone each year.

If you break up your yard into rooms, it is easier to section out your work. For example, it took three years to get my yard to where it is today. My property is 10,000 sq. feet and the backyard is 4,200 sq. ft. I created three zones and tackled them one year at a time.

Year 1: Seven Raised beds, four fruit trees, a shade tree, and lawn were installed.
Year 2: I built an entertainment circle and switched out the living lawn for artificial turf. I planted perennial and annual edible plants around the circle and in other places in the yard.
Year 3: I built an arch and grapevine trellises to divide the planned orchard from the lawn and entertainment area. I then planted 11 trees in the orchard area.

Under my trees, I plant shrubs and annuals that like the shade or that add nutrients to the ground to help the tree. Think of how nature works. You will generally see small plants and shrubs nestled under trees. When you combine edible trees and plants, it is called a “food forest.”

Subterrannean garden entrance
Above ground, the family has a trampoline. If you walk down the steps, you will enter a tropical paradise.

A local designer installs in-ground trampolines that are also the “roofs” of subterranean gardens. The temperatures below the trampoline never rise above 85 degrees or below about 50 degrees, exactly the temperatures that keep plants growing year-round. Build in some seating and you have a great place to relax regardless of the season.

A friend of mine has chickens and created a roof garden where she can grow shallow-rooted food like lettuce. Whatever she can’t use gets dropped into the chicken coop below. It dresses up the chicken coop while using the space efficiently.

So don’t feel overwhelmed by that blank backyard or space that you want to change. Make your list, measure your yard, and get creative!

Under the trampoline
Under the trampoline in the subterranean garden, temperatures never get above 85 degrees or below 50 degrees.


Next week: I’ll continue with this series on design. Please come back! Even better, subscribe and you will get an email when the next blog is published.

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I am a certified agriscape designer and Maricopa County Master Gardener. I have been gardening since I was six years old and worked in my grandfather's garden. I believe that the only way to be a responsible gardener is to garden organically. It improves our soil, is safer for us to eat, sustainable and it protects our pollinators and soil from chemical poisoning.