In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
This side yard is part of an elaborate garden railway. Every section of the garden is utilized to create the illusion of space.
The Forgotten Land
The side yard is a forgotten waste land, at least at Henry's house where I do almost all of my gardening these days. The side yard is where we store the pots and extra bags of soil and other stuff we don't want anybody to see.
When I started thinking about side yards, the open land that runs along either side of a building, I thought what a waste of perfectly good gardening space. The side yard is sometimes paved over to accommodate trash bins or boats on trailers, but if yours is still in "unused condition" I would like to recommend several good ideas to put that space to work.
If your side yard that is shady, you can create a lush oasis by planting ferns, fuchsias, osmanthus (sweet olive), hydrangea, astilbes, hellebores, loropetalum or any other shade loving plant. As always, it's all about the soil so amend the existing soil with organic compost prior to planting. Create a small patio area with brick, precast pavers or gravel, add a comfortable chair and a small table and you have the perfect summer reading room. Soaker hoses will provide irrigation during the dry season, delivering water directly to the soil where it does the most good.
Other Uses for Side Yards
I know a man who calls himself Dr. Pumpkinstein. His entire yard, including both side yards, is dedicated to growing five giant pumpkins. One pumpkin is planted on each side of the sidewalk in the front yard, one pumpkin plant in the back yard and one each planted in either side yard. His house looks like Jack (of beanstalk fame) lives there. Dr. Pumpkinstein grows the 'Atlantic Giant' variety of pumpkins and takes them over to the pumpkin contest in Half Moon Bay in October.
My friends Joyce and Gary leave their side yard grassy because they love to hear crickets singing in the night. One year they cleared the grassy weeds out the side yard and there were no crickets that summer. Since then, they leave their side yard to nature.
Up the street from Henry's house is a fellow who has a miniature garden railway that fills his entire landscape, front, back and side yards included. It must be a huge amount of work keeping all those little trees trimmed and the tracks in working order, but he does a magnificent job and the garden is frequently featured on garden railway tours. He has even painted the fence surrounding his property to resemble distant mountains.
My friend Brian, the Orchid Guy, lives in the East Bay and has a magnificent side yard with princess flower (tibouchina) arching gracefully over the flag stone path. A lush layer of baby's tears (soleirolia) covers all of the soil, including the area between the pavers and under the shrubs. Brian has planted fragrant shrubs such as pittosporum and osmanthus as well as colorful hibiscus and hydrangea. Hanging in the trees are beautiful orchid plants from his collection. So many varieties of orchid do well outdoors here in the Bay Area including cymbidium, epidendrum, paphiopedilum and miltonia. The entire effect is tropical and inviting, leading the visitor into an even more beautiful back yard.
Cabo Bob lives in Redwood City and uses his sunny side yard to grow tomatoes. The concrete path and tall redwood fence, in combination with black plastic mulch, traps the heat, providing the south-facing side yard with ideal tomato growing habitat.
So, if you are running out of room to plant in your garden, consider the unused "waste land" along the side of your home!
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