Side Yard Makeover: From Dead Space to Functioning Potager Garden

Side yard makeover: From dead space to functioning potager garden

Side Yard Makeover: From Dead Space to Functioning Potager Garden

Most of us have a bit of dead space in our yard that we wish we could make functional and beautiful. This is especially true if you have a small yard to begin with. I recently got married and moved in with my husband in his home, which had the standard track home landscape, complete with bad soil, drainage issues, and no personality or life to it. So I’ve been tackling projects one at a time as I have the means and the energy to invest the sweat equity. I just wrapped up one such project and after months of work and lots of creative bartering and bargain hunting, I’ve finally got a beautiful edible garden space that has room to grow (pun intended!).

It’s my version of a French potager garden, which is a garden that incorporates edibles, herbs, flowers, and other ornamentals all into one space, instead of the sequestered veg patch that has become common as of late.

The space I had available for my French country culinary garden is that little side yard dead space that occurs on small lots in residential developments. The long narrow strip measured to about 5.5 feet across and 33 feet long. It was filled with mostly grass and weeds, except for the area beneath the A/C drain which was basically a swamp. The first order of business was to kill the grass, which I did by laying down black plastic, which I picked up from the paint section of my local hardware store, and weighted it down with bricks. Since I did it in the winter time it took a little bit longer for the sun to do its job, but eventually it killed all the grass in that area, leaving a sterilized and amended soil base underneath.

Side yard after removing plastic.
Just ugh

On that same side of the yard I had another problem. Our home is also the site of the transformer, which takes up a prominent spot in the main view to the back yard from the dining room. My first attempt at a cover up died quickly during the first rainy season, which revealed the true extent of the drainage problems. So it too was covered in black plastic and added to the future square footage of the potager garden.

Once the grass was dead it was time to level out the space, making sure to create a slight grade (roughly 5%) sloping downward away from the foundation so that any water would drain way and not sit along the foundation. I priced out top soil and waited for some room in the budget, when I caught a lucky break. The neighbor down the street had ordered too much top soil for his own yard and needed to get rid of the rest. He posted a sign with “free take as much as you want.” So I convinced my 16 year old daughter to help me move about a dozen or so wheelbarrows full from his house to ours (roughly 7 houses apart). Our dirt parade attracted a few curious neighbors who supported our efforts and earned us some sore shoulders the next day, but it was free!

While laying the dirt out it became clear that the A/C runoff was more than I realized and was causing a major sludge fest in the back section. The spot was too narrow for a traditional rain garden situation and it just wasn’t feasible to do anything complicated with the drain.

Mini rain garden

So I picked up a cute decorative drain pan with a hose and created a mini rain garden with a holly fern and some mondo grass. Those plants can handle part shade, love water, and have deep roots that will improve the percolation rate of the soil. I amended the planting holes with rich compost and added some larger river pebbles around the base of the plants to help with drainage and directing the water. So far they are doing a great job and the sludge is down to just a tiny one foot by one foot section—that much improvement in just over a week!

Now they say that if you put it out there the universe will bring you what you want. I must have put out serious garden vibes because I received several generous gifts for my birthday, which included the raised bed kits I needed, plus worked out some bartering to secure the plants and soil I needed. First I put a high grade weed blocking fabric down. This fabric allows water to go through, but blocks weeds from coming up from the soil.

I built the beds, then spaced them evenly down the side of the house. The kits were so easy to put together and are made of 100% untreated cedar. An untreated wood was a must and the least expensive option to create a safe structure for my organic edibles. No leeching chemicals allowed here! Once complete, I filled the beds with a mix of herbs, veggies, and flowers. I have a full list of what I planted at the end of the post.

Once the beds were built, I needed to tackle the pathway. I ordered 2 cubic yards of bulk decomposed granite from my local soil supplier and had it delivered, then earned me another couple of days of sore muscles (and a little bit of heat exhaustion) moving it to the back yard. I leveled it, tamped it down, and watered it in, let it dry, then tamped it and water it again. This helps to compact and stabilize the granite gravel. Because it is gravel and irregular in size, it too allows for water to drain through and will continue to aide in draining the surface water quickly so I can have a mud free trek through the garden.

It also made a great base for the new planting stand I found on Facebook marketplace. The weather resistant stand retails for $180, but I picked to up for $15 and in almost new condition. Boy is it saving my back! Seriously it has made potting up so much easier.

With the beds in and pathways made it was time for a few final touches. I brought in a bench I made from an old headboard and with some Mineral Fusion low VOC, water proof, UV resistant paint. I added some flowers and brought in the many fruit trees I have been gifted the past year and voila! Isn’t it gorgeous! And there’s still room for more pots along the walkways and up the walls and fence! I’ve already had pollinators visiting and its only been two days. It turned out better than I hoped and was worth the blisters and hunting for supplies. I certainly had to be patient and get creative and do a lot of back breaking work, but it was all so worth it.

So in the spirit of attracting more of what you want by putting it out to the universe I will close by saying, dear universe, please send me more plants, pots, soil, and cute decorations for my garden.

What I’ve planted (so far):

  • Lavender (one Provence and one Goodwin)
  • Rosemary
  • Greek oregano
  • Mexican mint marigold
  • Sweet red pepper
  • Aunt molly’s ground cherry (my first time with this guy!)
  • Basil
  • Red malabar spinach
  • Lemon balm
  • English thyme
  • Salad burnett
  • Sage
  • Sweet baby watermelon

Now to decide what to plant next!

  • Spearmint
  • Peppermint
  • Marigolds
  • Meyer Lemon
  • Dwarf key lime
  • Elderberry
  • Fig (turkey I think – was a cutting from a neighbor)
  • Golden globe
  • Calladium
  • Pentas
  • Ornamental variegated sweet potato vine
  • Mexican rose purslane

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