Foodie? City dweller? Nature lover? Get inspiration for designing your own outdoor retreat
Conor Fitzpatrick, who grew up eating fresh from the garden in his native Ireland, didn’t let city life dissuade him from turning his Los Angeles backyard into his own private farmers’ market. “There’s no better fruits and vegetables than from your own garden,” Conor says. He’s passionate about getting people to grow organic food, so he created MinifarmBox (minifarmbox.com), a line of easy-to-assemble raised-bed kits.
Do the hard work up front
Reshaping a sloped part of his backyard into two flat terraces was backbreaking but worth it for the easier access to his produce.
“It requires more work,” he says. “If you have one hot spell and you lose a crop, it breaks your heart.” Set up an auto irrigation
Conor tucked his perennial edibles, such as rosemary and artichokes, in with ornamentals. And he planted annual herbs in the
corners of the beds where they are easy to harvest.
Conor believes opting for heirloom over hybrid promotes biodiversity. And the flavors are better. He often buys seeds for
their names, like the ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato.
Doing so helps retain the soil’s moisture and minimizes weeds.
You’ll take better care of your edibles and waste less produce. When Conor sees something ripening, he automatically starts
planning a meal around it.
Conor keeps large buckets of water near edible beds to pick and rinse produce on a moment’s notice.
Growing in raised beds provides better drainage and aeration than in the ground and makes harvesting easier, Conor says. In his garden, one 4- by 4-foot raised bed produces 80 pounds of tomatoes.
$0. That’s roughly the produce bill from summer through fall for Conor and his partner, Elizabeth Goodman. He does occasionally
purchase specialty items like raspberries and avocados. “You can’t grow it all,” he says.
However, you can whip up quite the garden-to-table treats. Conor’s fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes become salsa, gazpacho, bruschetta, and sandwich fixings. He marinates eggplant in olive oil and garlic, then fries it with onions. He makes a drink using his mint, plus fresh lime, sugar, and vodka, that’s served over ice and consumed by the gallon at parties.
Baylor Chapman loves living and working in San Francisco’s Mission District. But at the end of the day, the floral designer and owner of Lila B. Design (lilabdesign.com) wants a retreat from the surrounding busy-ness, so she transformed her deck into a plant-filled outdoor room. “My garden softens some of the urbanness of my neighborhood—it’s a little natural oasis off the street.”
Choose furniture that’s small-space-friendly
With space at a premium, a truck-bed storage box holds soil, fertilizer, and tools and doubles as a bench. When not used for seating, some chairs are plant stands.
Baylor filled her rooftop with lots of lush, textured plants in silvers, purples, and blues. “I wanted it to feel serene—these
are quiet colors for me.”
All of Baylor’s plants grow in containers for mobility, and she put casters on the largest ones. “I like to rearrange a lot,
and this gives me the flexibility to move everything around as the sun exposure changes, or if I have a party.”
To lessen the load of larger containers atop her deck, Baylor fills the bottom third of those vessels with plastic bottles
and adds soil and plants on top.
City living means lots of castoffs, so Baylor trawls for furniture and other finds in places like her building’s recycling bins, salvage yards, flea markets, and even on neighborhood streets. A few of Baylor's freebie scores: The love seat was a curbside find, her glass tabletop was a throwaway from her landlord, and the turquoise planter tubs (pictured) were slated for a neighbor’s trash bin.
Most people looking for wild animals go on a hike or hit up a zoo. Not Lisa Albert, a community-minded mom, writer, and speaker. She wanted to bring them directly to her Portland-area garden. The high point: Since Lisa designed a plot that followed the National Wildlife Federation’s guidelines for giving critters food, water, cover, space, and sustainability, it was designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
Dense plantings create welcoming spaces for wild creatures to make their homes, and gives them a place to flee from predators.
They draw birds to one location, making them easy targets for hawks. Nectar, seeds, and fruit are supplied by plants, including natives like red-flowering currant, evergreen huckleberry, fringe cups, and red elderberry. They blend with non-native fuchsias, dogwoods, roses, and arborvitaes.
These require water to be changed often. Plus, Lisa found that birds are attracted to the sound of splashing, and probably
to twinkling light reflections too. Adding a pond and waterfall increased the number of birds dramatically, she says.
In her pond, Lisa uses Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) dunks, which contain a natural, biological mosquito larvae killer. They don’t harm beneficial insects.
To stabilize a slope and make it easier for gardening, Lisa and her husband, Gary, built a 200-foot-long wall as time allowed. They used rock to create a naturalistic look. Tree frogs hide in the wall’s moist crevices.
All the preceding touches help attract garden-friendly local species. What Lisa’s spotted in her yard so far: Three dozen kinds of birds, including Western tanagers, flickers, grosbeaks, chickadees, spotted towhees, rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds, and Cooper’s hawks; butterflies such as swallowtails, painted ladies, and fritillaries; bees; ladybugs; lacewings; Pacific tree frogs.