Our 1,ooo square foot cottage was built in 1949 and is home to me (Elizabeth), Tom, Adam, and Kate, Tasha the cat, six chickens, and 30,000 honeybees (give or take). Our property is a long thin rectangle, with the house smack-dab in the middle. When we moved in, the property consisted of grass and weeds, but mostly weeds. When the kids were small, the yard was mostly used as a play space, with trampolines and play structures and tree swings. Over the last several years, as the kids moved into their middle-school years, we have removed the grass and revamped the entire property for food production.
We have several garden areas, which we have named in order to be able to talk about them coherently. For instance, "Tom, can you put the bean trellis in the South Garden?" That's the main way we use the names of the gardens, for ordering each other around. It simplifies things.
If we were to look at the property like a clock, at 12:00 there's the North Garden (on the North side of the property, natch), which gets full sun all day. Here we have our fruit trees; apple, peach, fig, quince, plum, and cherry. We keep our compost bins here, as well as the large chicken coop that Tom built in 2015. We have some perennial fruit and vegetables here as well - alpine strawberries, and artichokes, for example. There are seven raised beds for vegetable growing, and a pollinator garden for the bees.
At 3:00, there's the Fountain Garden, which is home to many California native plants that require no water at all, such as Manzanita and Toyon. We have trees here, a strawberry patch, our asparagus patch, the water feature (a bubbling fountain, which the birds adore), and the Top Bar honeybee hive.
There's the South Garden, which has six raised beds for vegetable growing, plus a very large pollinator garden for the bees. Adam's 'train shed' also lives here; it's where he keeps his model trains (which I'm hoping someday to change to the tool/planting shed!). Along the edges of this area, we grow many native plants, climbing vines such as clematis, and several blueberry bushes.
Continuing in a clockwise manner, next is the Understory Garden. This area is dappled by our large Chitalpa and Magnolia trees, hence the name 'Understory.' This garden contains perennial edibles and herbs in five raised beds in a sunburst shape. Again, this area is bordered by drought-tolerant plantings, mostly native.
Then, there is the Woodland Garden, which is just out our front door. This area is under nearly full shade due to an extremely precocious Brazilian Pepper tree. All the plants in this area are native to riparian California, and all were selected for this wetter, darker place.
Lastly, we have the Driveway Garden, a narrow strip dominated by a California Valley Oak. We have native and Mediterranean plants growing here, a collapsed herb spiral/hugelkulture, and our raspberry and blackberry vines. This is also home to our 'worm bin,' which is merely a smaller compost bin to which I add a pound or so of red wigglers every year. The kids have added a "Little Free Library" to serve the neighborhood, as well.
The weather in our part of California follows a pattern; our summers are completely dry (no precipitation at all), and our winters are wet (though not overly so). As you probably know, California experiences frequent and debilitating drought. Our soil is mainly clay, extremely hard and dense, which during our dry summers cracks and separates, and during our wet winters, becomes shoe-sucking mud. 12 years of amending with compost and mulch has solved many of our problems; sheet-mulching the grass has improved our soil quite a bit; and we plant the right plants for each area, according to water needs, soil, and light, which helps a lot.
Tom and I both work during the week, so much of our gardening gets done on the weekends and vacations. We both believe in homemade meals and family dinner, so we love to cook and preserve and find creative ways to use the harvest. I write a lot about our projects with the hope that our adventures, mistakes, and successes will help others who are starting out on the sustainable path.