Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.


Front yard vegetable garden design ideas

My first impressions:

This is my largest and most important gardening area. Most of it is sunny, though I still have not calculated the total number of hours of sunlight. It is quite visible from our busy street so looks will be important.

Some of the important elements to consider:

  • Two main areas for planting. The one on the left is 10 ft deep by 14 ft wide. On the right, 10 ft deep and 8 ft wide.
  • Two large juniper bushes on the left side of the garden. These will have to go. I know birds will be sad to see them go, but I will make it up to them.
    I doubt I will be able to remove everything (roots and all) but I am thinking of cutting it to the ground and placing large planters on top of the stumps. I still have to see if the roots around the stumps will be a big problem, but so far at least grass and weeds seem to be growing quite close. 
  • One large stump on the right side of the garden. I do not know what was originally there, and how long ago it was cut. Once again, I probably will not remove it. I was thinking of placing my herb planter / bird bath there.

Speaking of which, here is the planter / bird bath I want to build:

  • A balcony. This will mostly be a small lounging area, with some planters on the railing
  • The soil on the surface seems nice and healthy. It is a little sandy, but it has a nice dark colour. I like it. I was used to lots of clay on the farm, and the sandy texture will make it easier to remove the grass and weeds. I’m not sure I can afford to have it tested, but I might have a pH test lying around somewhere.

Some of the changes I want to make:

  • Removing the grass. I have started doing that by hand. The areas that are done I immediatelly covered with mulch (dead grass, dead leaves) or planted some seeds (spinach, radish and lettuce). I also have some clover seeds lying around that I will use as a cover crop and nitrogen fixer.
  • Removing the juniper bushes and replace with planters (as discussed above) 
  • Add compost to the soil. I will need to buy some as soon as I figure out where.
  • Add an arbour in the pathway (en français, une tonnelle. On apprend des nouveaux mots tous les jours!) if the landlord is willing to pay for that. In addition to the aesthetic value, it would provide support for pole beans and somewhere for birds to perch before venturing lower to the bird bath and the rest of the garden.
  • Use rocks to surround the garden and make small retaining walls to divide the garden into different sections and levels. I do have someone who promised me all the rocks I could take in exchange for garden seeds.
  • Use flat rocks to make paths.
  • Add trellises to support vining plants.

As far as plants go, I will choose mostly those that have aesthetic value:

Some larger, more dramatic looking plants:

  • rhubarb
  • cucumber / squash / zucchini (supported by a trellis)
  • blueberry bushes
  • sunflower 
  • maybe a larger berry bush (red currant? probably not the prettiest one, but I love red currant)

vining plants:

  • pole beans
  • peas

medium sized

  • pepper
  • eggplant (bonus: nice purple-ish colour)
  • bush beans
  • camomille

small plants

  • swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • basil

ground cover:

  • thyme
  • strawberry
  • ??? (what else?)

Well, that was a whole lot of lists! It probably wasn’t the most exciting thing to read, but it helped me to put my thoughts down. I am still brainstorming ideas and soon I will try to put them on paper. The photo I took the front yard was not only to show here, but also to help me visualize what the changes will look like. My mother was nice enough to photoshop the juniper bushes out of there for me (merci maman!). I printed a copy and by drawing on top of it with tracing paper, I can visualise what the garden will look like from the front.  

My first draft. It is not very clear, I will try to redo it with coloured pencils.

In addition to the changes I have mentioned above, I also want to provide room for wildlife in my garden. I might build a toad shelter (but will toads even get here?) and plant things that will attract bees. The sunflowers will feed birds during the Fall and Winter. The wildlife aspect of my design still needs some work as I need to figure out what wildlife is around and how to attract it.

Introducing Urban Gardening in St-Jérome with Marie

This blog post introduces a rare find – a fellow urban farmer, just getting a new garden ready where there was none before. Marie and I have known each other since her first balcony garden in Pointe St. Charles, and she has gone deeper into farming than I have, as you will see. Now at a new location in St. Jerome, she is starting a new urban farm from scratch. I am happy to hand over reins on this blog to her musings and how-tos, and look forward to your thoughts in the comments!

I started considering myself a gardener a few years ago when I decided to plant a few tomato plants on my balcony in my tiny Montreal apartment. That first garden was a disaster! The second year was an improvement: plants were actually green and growing. Over the next few years, I kept planting as much as I could on different apartment balconies. In my last balcony garden, I grew cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, herbs, lettuce, and more tomatoes than any reasonable human being would eat.

My second balcony garden in Pointe-St-Charles

In 2011, I moved from the big city to a little farm in rural Quebec. All at once, my garden went from a few square feet to seven acres. For three years I farmed as best I could, but none of those years I considered a big success. Yields were always lower than I would have expected given the size of my garden and the number of plants planted. I could not keep up with all the maintenance and my plants were often overtaken by weed. I had forgotten the first rule of gardening: start small. (I had already started small, of course, but not by choice.) Once I had the room for a huge garden, I planted it.

Our little farm in the Spring of 2011

Now, in 2014, life brings me back to the city (St-Jerome), in an apartment with little gardening space. As much as I miss my farm, I am excited for this new project. I have also realized that I truly love the challenge of a small space. It requires more creativity, and it will force me to finally listen to the “start small” advice.

The apartment we have is not ideally set up for gardening. The backyard is on the north side, which means very little direct sunlight. The front yard will work fine, but it is very visible from our busy street. That will put more pressure on me to keep things looking good. On the other hand, the aesthetic aspect is another exciting challenge. Until now, function had always been more important than looks. I also have a parking space on the South side where I could put some containers.

My “before” pictures. 

Front yard

South side


I have many goals for this garden:

  • produce food
  • be aesthetically pleasing: for myself – so I will actually want to spend time in the garden, and for the neighbourhood
  • be ecologically sound: not defined by what I will not do (use pesticides, herbicides, etc.), but by the measures I will take to bring a good biodiversity to the garden and its soil
  • have some child-friendly elements: my daughter is 18 months old now, and I would like her to be involved in the garden. I want her to be able to help me, play in the dirt, see the birds and bugs, and watch things grow.

This will also be a good practice for a possible career. I have already applied to study Garden Design and I hope to also work towards a certification in permaculture. I am sure this garden will be full of surprises, good and bad.

Now all I need is to find the time to do all that work with a young toddler hovering around!

My little gardener (I will post a picture of myself later, just as soon as someone else sits behind the camera for a change)