Through my backyard remodel, I completely transformed my backyard by adding in a backyard patio, a healing garden, and outdoor entertaining space. This garden space is so near and dear to my heart. It’s where I started my garden therapy and the inspiration for this website. Read more about what I did to transform my small space and how you can create your own little therapy spot too.
I’m not really sure why I haven’t shared this story before, but after putting a snippet of it on social media, I got a huge number of requests to share the whole before and after project.
So, here it is:
Many moons ago I moved into my first house situated on a standard city lot in East Vancouver, BC.
When I first moved in I painted and decorated and furnished the inside.
Then, I transformed the backyard. That’s when the house became a home.
When you put it that way, it sounds easy enough. However, as anyone who has ever attempted a project like a backyard renovation can tell you, this project was no easy feat! Nor did it happen quickly.
The garden transformation ended up being so much more than just a DIY home renno. It saved my life.
The Origin of Garden Therapy
The garden renovation happened over a period of several years. What makes this story extra special to me is that through this period of transforming our backyard, I was battling a severe and debilitating disability.
In the first two years, I could barely get out of bed. I had extreme fatigue, neuropathy, and intermittent paralysis in my arms and legs. It came on rather suddenly with a headache and lasted for more than 10 years. It was the first 5 years that were the most severe though, and that is when I used gardening as my self-directed rehabilitation program.
I was confined to my home—not unlike many other people are also during the shelter in place orders—I looked around me to see what I had available.
I had a yard, a library, and garden centers nearby. That was all I needed to design a space to work in.
I went out to the yard and evaluated the space. I borrowed pretty much every book on gardening vegetables, fruit, herbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs from the library that they had. I also grabbed books on canning, fermenting, sourdough, cheese-making, handmade soap, and natural beauty.
There was something about getting back to basics that is so healing. (And now you have a bit more of a window into why I’m so passionate about books, supporting authors, and writing my own books!)
At first, I would lie in bed with the books without much ability or focus to read. I would aim for 5 minutes in the garden a week. Over time, I was able to build up to 5 minutes a day, then 15, then 30. Each step of the way was exhausting and painful, but also full of joy and hope.
Over 5 years, I used gardening and just spending time sitting in my garden as a way to heal from that severe disability.
This is why I started writing Garden Therapy: gardening saved my life. (Read more about my journey of healing through plants and gardening and how Garden Therapy was born.)
Today, I wanted to go wayyy back to the beginning and share the project that is so special to me because it is a visual representation of the healing that my own body went through over a 5-year period.
Backyard Remodel: The BEFORE
May marks the anniversary of breaking ground on my back patio project. I use the term “breaking ground” loosely as the year was basically a mud pit in the winter and a dust bowl in the summer. Not only was the house rundown, but so was the yard.
With the exception of a few forsythia bushes that were in sad shape, the yard was almost barren. The soil was just dead – there was no life to it.
It was ANYTHING but the oasis that it became over time. (Oh, and my old boxer did not like that dog house one bit! He refused to use it despite the cheerful painting I did.)
Backyard Remodel: Adding an Outdoor Entertaining Space
My vision for the backyard was to add an outdoor entertaining space because there was no usable entertaining space on the deck.
Over the course of a few months, the grass was removed and up thousands of pounds of the backyard “soil” (another loose term) into a wheelbarrow and replaced it with a patio made of 24 x 24 pavers.
I surrounded the patio with garden beds and a small grassy area.
As a side note: Yikes! I had terrible plastic patio furniture at the time (how embarrassing).
The next 5 years brought many changes: the patio changed many times over, new house colours, new patio furniture, and even a new deck. However, you’ll notice the biggest change in the image below…plants!
Garden Therapy: Growing a Healing Garden
Over time, I transformed that space from a dead yard with lifeless dirt to a dream garden filled with hundreds of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers all packed into a wee garden space.
I grew woolly thyme and blood veined sorrel, both of which are edible, in between the patio pavers. I didn’t necessarily intend to do that. However, they started growing there and I liked how it looked, so I let them stay.
The biggest thing you will notice is that there were no clear lines between edible and ornamental plants. I planted it all and it all looked beautiful. The beds were filled with trees, flowers, perennials, herbs, groundcovers, and lots of vegetables. It’s how I started designing my gardens and I have stayed true to that style even now as you can see in my current garden.
The corner of the patio is where I housed my perennial container herb garden. While the plants change up yearly deepening on culinary fancy, this photo shows sage, parsley, oregano, garlic chives, Egyptian walking onions, romaine lettuce, wild arugula, and a few other treats.
The herbs don’t get lonely however, as we also grow quite a lot of veggies. Enough to feed us through the summer and put some by for the winter. The keys to growing edibles in a small space (that you want to use mainly as entertaining space) are to:
1. choose the plants that you love
2. tuck the vegetables in among ornamentals
3. use interesting containers as focal points
I created a Zen garden underneath the deck by the basement door. I put a grass mat there and hung a hammock. It was my favourite place to just sit and look out at the garden. Sometimes, when I had no energy, I would just sit there and enjoy the garden. Even just doing that helped me get better.
This yard started in such terrible shape. It was dead and uncared for. The transformation of this garden is really a beautiful visual expression of the transformation that I went through as I healed myself through gardening.
I learned a lot through the process and packed a lot into this healing garden. My gardening style has evolved to include a lot more medicinal herbs and pollinator plants, but the rawness of this garden and the mishmash of leaves, flowers, and fruit, feels like a happy memory that I’m endlessly grateful for.
There were many showy flowers to keep spirits bright…
….and containers, containers, containers.
I left this home (and the beautiful garden) several years ago. However, this oasis will always be such a special home to me. This is the space where I truly learned and experienced the magic of garden therapy. I hope this encourages you to do the same.
Remember, I started with just 5 minutes a week. And am I ever glad that I did.
Here is More Help For Gardening in a Small Space:
- Small Space Gardening: Ideas and Tips to Grow Mountains of Vegetables
- The Secrets to High Yield Vegetable Gardening in Small Space
- The Art of Espalier: Growing Fruit Trees in Small Spaces
- Culinary Kitchen Garden Perfect for Small Spaces
- Clever Vertical Herb Gardens that Will Grow A LOT of Herbs in a Small Space