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Before and After: Small Urban Garden Renovation


Today I thought I would share with you one of our own before and after projects—

When we bought our house, the back “yard” was a big compromise. In fact, it was hardly even a backyard: a narrow strip of land, 14 by 35 feet, covered in cement and squeezed on either side by buildings— nary a plant or ornament save for a trash can and a broken clothes line from the 1950s. But we loved square footage of the house and the walkable, friendly neighborhood so we were willing to overlook the cramped outdoor space.


It sat in that sad, barren state for too many years— until one summer we decided to spend our vacation making an outdoor space for our family.


There were number of challenges with the space, so the first step was to identify the restrictions and requirements:  In our small space we needed: an area for play, an area for eating and cooking, and space for growing fruits and vegetables. Drainage pipes around the perimeter ruled out planting any trees or large shrubs directly in the soil. The house was built in the 1930s in classic Mediterranean style so despite our preference for modern design, we decided to work with the architecture as much as possible. Additionally, with two under two, we had to consider that hardscaping could mean lots of boo-boos.


After we identified the restrictions and requirements, we came up with a plan. We decided to put plants and trees in containers around the perimeter, with focal points on all 4 sides (to distract from the hideous views). Playground mulch covers the entire yard and keeps the weeds at bay while cushioning a toddler’s fall. So not to overwhelm the small space, the plant palette was restricted to just a few Mediterranean plants and colors: lavenders, white blooming plants, succulents and citrus. Window boxes were added to the two story wall above to extend the garden space vertically. Additionally, we built an eight foot high trellis-planter-bench combo to screen our neighbor’s bathroom windows, serve as seating, and grow summer vegetables too!


We laid the groundwork for the project in a week. Cement we had removed before our vacation started, and we spent that week in Spring laying in mulch, weed barriers and putting in plants. A few months later, in the Fall, we added the freestanding trellis and bench structure in a couple of weekends. With a newborn and a two year old, things moved rather slowly so it required a lot of persistence and motivation on our part to get things done. The project cost us around $2,200 including cement removal, wood, window boxes and planter purchases. (The large terracotta pots and furniture were purchased years ago as renters.)
In a few years we’ll probably upgrade some of the materials, but three years after we took that staycation, we’re happy we invested the time and money in our own little urban oasis. It’s an investment that has paid off for us every single day!  ~mb

One Response to “Before and After: Small Urban Garden Renovation”

  1. Pebbles June 11, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    6/11/14 How could one not comment on the fruit of all your labor. I particularly liked the sacrifice of a vacation missed and the new word “staycation”. Planning seemed to be the ace in the whole so to speak, because with such a blank slate, challenges of drain pipes, and pinpointing the use of space, the results you produced was a masterpiece. I want to be like you when I grow up.
    Well done, oh and one more thing, dad doesn’t have to spend much time mowing on his weekends. Got to love that!

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