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Backyard Patio Project Update: My Healing Garden Backyard Remodel

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:

Garden Before

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.

Stephanie Rose Garden Vancouver BC

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.

Fenced in backyard covered in dirt with a blue doghouse.

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.

Removing Grass and SoilOver 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.

Laying Patio Stones

I surrounded the patio with garden beds and a small grassy area.

Blue home with a paved patio in the backyard

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 makeover featuring a paved patio with beautiful plants around the boarder and an orange cat napping.

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.

Beautiful garden patio with umbrella and potted plants

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.

Edible plants growing between patio pavers

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

Shade Container Garden

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.

White macrame hammock chair with a green pillow in a backyard

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.

Garden Tomatoes in a Row

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.

Succulents in a Birdbath

There were many showy flowers to keep spirits bright…

]Close up of a pink Bee balm Monarda plant

….and containers, containers, containers.

Stacked planters filled with green succulents going up deck stairs

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:

Comments

  1. How beautiful and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your journey and opening up your home to healing communities and to people like us who happen by on the internet. Blessings, Diane

    Reply
  2. Hello!

    I just read this! And I am looking forward to reading the rest of your pages. I have no right to complain about my life, but I find space to. I tend to talk down on myself but it is my way of telling myself that I can be better and I am always working towards it. I watch and read and ask questions, and am always thinking and stressing about “my garden” because I still a nubie. I know I should give myself grace, but it doesn’t make me stop thinking about or maybe “stressing” about what to do and where to start.

    Anyway, I am inspired already, and I hope I will finally apply somethings from your webpage. Thank you for your story and this resource!

    Jen

    Reply
  3. WOW❣️I’m amazed at all you created! How beautiful. What gardening zone are you? I’m in northern IL—zone 5.

    I recently received a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and used to be a great gardener years (decades) ago. So naturally I’m wondering what illness you healed from with the gardening. Is that something you would share?

    Thank you!

    Reply
  4. You definitely are an inspiration to all of us and now that we all have been shut in with the virus threat we need someone like you to make us get up and start some new projects. with Christmas around the corner I now plan to plant bulbs as a gift for all my neighbors to help brighten them up over the holidays.

    Reply

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