Big plans for the backyard

21 Sep

For a freestanding house our backyard is tiny. Once upon a time it was a reasonable size, but then the previous owners built a garage then an extension. This left a courtyard-sized section of lawn and a narrow strip along the back fence.

They previously  had a shadecloth structure over most of the back section and grew rainforest-type plants.

This photo (above) shows what it was like when the first section of shadecloth had been removed. It used to also cover the section shown here, between the shadecloth on the left and the house at the right.

This created quite a nice rainforesty atmosphere, but it just didn’t work for our young family. The kids wanted more space to run around and the wood chips hurt their feet to walk on it.  So we’ve been slowly pulling it down and out in preparation for something new.

The problem is that now it just looks terrible and barren. The chickens have free-ranged so often that they have all but killed the grass and the garden beds are now bare in preparation for their removal. We want to put more lawn in, almost back to the rear fence, but removing those garden beds is going to take a lot of work, and most likely a jackhammer.

We really need to get things moving, because it’s just depressing to be out there at the moment. The thing that’s been stopping us is the cost of landscaping, but the more pressing issue is the lack of any vision. I want more grass, but I don’t want just grass. I would like something edible, but not sure how practical that is in the space.

The Plan

Thanks in part to a comment by Bek on a previous post, during the week it came to me. I’ve been envious of Louise’s espaliered lime tree. I’m going to construct myself a whole wall of espaliered citrus trees!

Now the back fence doesn’t get a spectacular amount of light. It’s under the most enormous lilli pilli tree I have ever seen (the neighbours’), which is why the previous owners went for the rainforest approach. But the soil is rich, and the corner (near the banana) gets quite a bit of direct sun throughout the morning. The section under the lilli pilli itself would get at least 2 hours of direct sun per day. I’m pretty sure that a citrus is going to struggle to fruit under those conditions, but the foliage should look pretty and any fruit is a bonus.

So tomorrow we plan to head out to Dural and buy some baby citrus trees. I have a 10 metre stretch to fill, so I think I can fit 6 trees in the space, maybe 7 at a stretch. So on my shopping list I have:

  • Ruby Grapefruit
  • Nagami Cumquat
  • Tahitian Lime
  • Imperial Mandarin
  • Emperor Mandarin
  • Meyer Lemon (not sold on this, open to suggestions)

Next on my list will be to start the training. We’re not suite ready to plant them out, but I don’t want to miss the Spring flush of growth(at the right height/shape). So I’ll start training them against a wire immediately, ready for planting out when we’re ready.

I’m still not sure, but I think we’ll construct a raised planter along the back to plant them in. I was going to make something out of retaining wall blocks, but they are expensive, and considering we’re ripping out something similar, we may be able to construct something ourselves from the materials. I’m just worried that it will look too informal against the espalier itself.

What do you think of my plan? Is there another citrus variety that you think would be better suited?

10 Responses to “Big plans for the backyard”

  1. Daphne September 22, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Good luck with your citrus. I only wish I could grow that here.

  2. Margie September 22, 2012 at 5:06 am #

    Hi L,

    This is Aunt Margie (your Mom put me on your list, so I have been following you and the family). GET the MEYER LEMON. Unless it has a reputation for not growing well in Australia, it will be a wonderful addition. I have one in my yard (in California for anyone reading this that does not know me), and I always have lemons to use. They are sweeter and the zest is fantastic……

    Love you you and the kids, Aunt Margie

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney September 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Well how could I not, really? 🙂 Meyer lemon is hereby purchased! Thanks so much for the information. Glad to hear you are following along – I’m so hopeless with remembering to send photos.

  3. Sara M September 22, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I don’t have much to offer on your choice of plants, but, judging from your photos, you should be able to remove those garden edgings etc with an inexpensive sledge hammer. We removed a 150mm thick re-enforced concrete path just using a sledge hammer. Even I was able to do it myself.

  4. Michelle September 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Aunt Margie is right, get the Meyer, it will probably be the one tree that produces fruit! I have one on the north (shady) side of the house and that thing produces more lemons than I can possibly use and they are delicious. Meyer lemon marmalade is the BEST! The juice makes a fantastic vinaigrette. I use thin slices of fresh Meyers on pizza with caramelized onions and smoked trout – oh yum. They make fantastic preserved lemons. What more can I say?

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney September 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      Oh I love your comment! Information noted and I bought one today. I’m looking forward to lemons in my future 🙂

  5. Jen September 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I have a client with a kaffir lime, blood orange, lime and Meyer lemon growing in tubs on the side of the house that gets very little sun in winter but a fare amount in summer. They are doing pretty well esp the lemon. I have heard that grapefruits really do need a lot of sunlight and my observation is they can be a bit rangy in growth habit so you might have to keep it pruned hard so it gets lovely and thick. Good luck with it, your right lousie’s citrus is quite fabulous

    Have you thought about trying your raspberries out there? In fact most berries don’t mind a bit of shade, perhaps you could put some large pots on the concrete if you don’t end up digging it up

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney September 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Thanks Jen for the information. I went to a specialist citrus nursery today and they said very similar things, so grapefruit was scratched from the list. I feel very encouraged by your experience and Michelle’s (below) too. I think good soil goes a long way- if the soil is good they are more likely to tolerate less than ideal conditions.

      The raspberries are actually what is there at the moment. I’m just getting frustrated at how messy everything is, and raspberries aren’t contributing well in that regard.

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