Urban Farming

Susan Carpenter, LA Times’ Realist Idealist, has been working with us to redesign her backyard.   It’s been a great opportunity to combine sustainable design principles with urban farming and to explore how locally native California plants can fit into the edible landscape.

Her small backyard presents a few special challenges, the biggest literally being a mature ficus tree in the center.  While it holds a darling tree house, it also shades much of the back yard.  Figs can be big bullies – their roots notoriously consume concrete foundations and they aren’t friendly companion plants.  And the shade, while wonderful, limits the types of fruit trees and other edibles.

Sue also wants to harvest all of her rainwater.  In a previous article, she discussed waterwalls and other means of active catchment, and she now has a large waterwall next to her garage.  But this only holds the garage runoff.  Her next installment will discuss how we are dealing with the thousands of gallons that the house’s roof can harvest in a single 1″ rain event.  Stay tuned for that!

The plant palette we’ve chosen for the back yard now includes locally native edibles (the new berm will be covered with different fruiting native currants)  and shade tolerant native vines (honeysuckle, dutchman’s pipe, clematis) will adorn fences, the treehouse, and the waterwall.  Covering the ground, between urbanite paths, her existing deck, and a new gravel patio, will be a new kind of “lawn.”  We will be seeding the ground with a mixture of native wildflowers, grasses and sedges which should thrive in the shade and provide a lush, walkable meadow.  One that needs no mowing and no fertilizing, and just an occasional drink of water.

This backyard will provide berries, flowers, and more traditional fruit (Sue has already planted a small grove of plums in the back, and we’re adding a large grape-covered arbor to shade the deck).  And all the plants feed someone – if not Sue then the butterflies, bees, birds, and other pollinators.  It’s wholesome food, too.  By selecting locally native plants she’ll be giving them the nectar and berries they’ve evolved with, over thousands of years, and it’s when and where they need it.  It’s nectar that’s missing from the exotic plants that we’ve been filling our gardens with, and it tastes like home.