Filling A Tiny Garden

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Finding Room For Favorites

In just a handful of days, I’ll be moving into one of the last genuine neighborhoods left on my beloved island. By policy, growth has been concentrated in and around the small town center, taking advantage of city water and sewer lines and seeking to keep outlying areas more rural. To some extent, this policy works, but as huge new housing developments replace modest old cottages, charm and character are erased by bland (and sometimes brutally homely) conformity. Great tracts of creepily similar homes now surround the holdouts, which look a little forlorn sandwiched between giant blocks of concrete, sleek but anonymous.

In rich contrast, my new neighborhood boasts a full spectrum of mobile homes in all sizes and styles, from authentic vintage to ultramodern blocky. Years ago, this was a larger trailer park, but a hostile takeover removed a large chunk of homesites. Alarmed, the remaining owners banded together, created a coop residents association, and secured a hefty HUD loan. Now there are fifty lots, each with one voting share, regardless of lot size, which varies wildly from miniscule to modest to (relatively) mammoth. Where a dozen mobile homes once sat, several high-rise blocks are rising, jammed with nearly 60 units with tiny “garden” strips and very little parking.

Sharing The Love

In the park proper, mine is one of the smaller lots, nearly filled by my vintage mobile home. A 1977 double-wide, it’s 24 x 48, with a great floor plan and wonderful light, indoors and out. Two bedrooms and two bathrooms make it a good fit for me and my daughter, who will be living with me. A young friend recently said that America needs to stop stigmatizing young people who live with their parents and I heartily agree. All over the world and for millennia, shared family homes and multi-family living situations have been more normal than nuclear family dwellings, and not only for economic reasons. It’s not easy for single folks of any age to find comfortable, affordable housing these days, and home sharing offers social and emotional advantages as well as lower living costs.

I’m especially interested to see how our aging cats adapt to feline company, as both have been single girls since kittenhood. We’ve always been a cat family, with occasional dogs, rabbits and chickens joining the mix, and usually all the critters coexisted quite happily. We’re hoping that our sweet old girls get along and even enjoy each other’s company, perhaps even napping together on the sunny windowsills. Because we love birds, ours will remain indoor cats, though we’re contemplating installing some caged cat windows so they can sit and watch over the garden and the street.

Small Spaces, Special Plants

Like all remodels, ours uncovered unsuspected issues, among them a serious drainage problem caused by deferred maintenance. Huge overgrown shrubs had knocked off the gutters, so water poured under the house, causing one side to sag several inches. To fix that, we jacked up the house, rebuilt the supports, then removed a mossy, rotten little deck that ran the length of the lot on the North side. Once the huge shrub rootballs, came out, we had to build a long, low retaining wall to hold up the tottering old fence, since the lot to the north is several feet higher than mine. My thoughtful garden contractor is making the wall into a narrow but 60-foot long strip of shade garden to soften the new gravel path and give me some planting space. Kind friends have offered some truly choice treasures for this bed, and as soon as it’s prepped, I’ll be tucking in small hostas and podophyllums, fritillaries and ferns, hellebores and tiny bulbs, black mondo grass and snowdrops.

The little back yard is still a disaster but I’ll have some planting space out in front. Most of the narrow front strip will be graveled for parking, but some big galvanized watering troughs will hold herbs and tomatoes, blueberries and raspberries, asparagus and potatoes. A small garden by the front path will hold some of my all-time favorite shrubs and perennials, from the fragrant, apricot colored Austen rose, Just Joey to Bowl of Beauty and Coral Charm peonies, Orange Rocket barberry, and Lemon Thread chamaecyparis. Some grasses, of course, and zinnias, poppies, and pollinator annuals, and seasonal bulbs…

Privacy And Screening

Though the old wood fence is sagging and rotting, I love the weathered look. Indeed, I’m considering lifting the panels off the ground and hanging them in sturdy frames like artwork, so they help screen our space from the neighbors but aren’t rotting from soil contact. One section is already gone; when I was discussing ideas with my clever house contractor (the uncle of my long-time garden guy), my neighbor popped her head over the fence and said her elderly mother loved to grow tomatoes but this section of fence blocked her light. In response, Jorge simply lifted the 8-foot panel away. Poof! We’ll replace that section with stockade wire and build out a bed to hold my three-way espalier apple tree, which I’ll train on the wire.

On the other side, I’m planting a beautiful Pacific Fire vine maple, a compact, upright form with good fall color and gorgeous red stems that remain brilliant into maturity but won’t get too large for its allotted spot. My backyard, now a mud pit, will eventually be floored with pavers and a little fire bowl for evening garden savoring, as well as large planters filled with much loved plants. My back neighbor’s lot is almost eight feet lower than mine (the original grading must have been pretty free-form) so I’m planting an Italian prune plum in his yard, where there’s more room than in mine. As the plum tree grows up, it will screen his handy-guy collection of useful materials and provide fruit for both of us (if the raccoons don’t snag them all!).

Present And Future

Some of this work will have to wait a while, as the interior remodel is (surprise!) costing more than expected. We’re delighted with the way our cozy cottage looks, though, from its dove grey aluminum siding to our renovated black-and-white kitchen to Alexis’ lovely lavender bedroom and my sunny yellow bathroom. It’s adorable inside and before too long, the outside will also be attractive and usable. right now, the long deck is jammed with tools and saw horses but eventually it will host our vintage metal table and chairs so we can sit outside and enjoy the neighborhood.

By summer, my big mother pots will hold hardy fuchsias and hostas, and those galvanized troughs will offer up basil and thyme, rosemary and sage, parsley and lavender. I’m excited to have an actual full-sun place to grow tomatoes as well, though they probably won’t go in until Mothers’ Day. By then, night temperatures should be in the mid fifties, the critical temperature point for tropical plants like tomatoes, which often drop blossoms and lose ground if temps dip lower than that (their roots can actually shrink a bit when nights are cool). Back in the day, we used soil thermometers which have little markers that register the day’s high and low temperatures to determine when it was safe to plant tender crops. These days, most Smartphones show hourly temperatures for each day, what a boon!


This entry was posted in Annual Color, Drainage, Garden Design, Health & Wellbeing, Pets & Pests In The Garden, Pollinators, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Tomatoes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Filling A Tiny Garden

  1. Tantalizing description. I am in awe of how many varied things you are squeezing in to your petite space. Hope you will publish photos when the time is right.
    How lovely that your daughter will be living with you. Savor this time with her.

  2. Your plans sound wonderful. All the best for your new home and garden.

  3. Your plans sound wonderful. All the best for your new home and garden.

  4. Diane Hooper says:

    Loved this column Anne,
    Alexis dropped by the senior center thrift shop the other day with some donations and was telling me where you two were moving to. How super for you, and such a wonderful location. Sure you’ll have it looking like Butchart Gardesn South in no time at all!! Congratulations dear Friend.

  5. Judith says:

    Thanks for sharing your planning Anne. It gets me thinking…
    Enjoy your new home. 🙂

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