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a vacant back yard

Just writing this post stressed me right out, I kid you not. My chest is tight with stress- and the upper respiratory infection I have isn’t helping things.  As exciting as it is to have a blank canvas, as a non-landscaper I am completely and utterly overwhelmed right now trying to decide what the heck is going into this yard.

It doesn’t help that Mike’s been gone a week – home tonight thank God-  I have a miserable cold that means no sleep, a yard full of mud and time is ticking down madly, crazily and stressily. I just invented that word, by the way. Stressily. I am stressily thinking about this yard.

The topsoil is going to be finished within weeks, as soon as the weather cooperates our landscaper is in there getting the final grade finished for us. The rest, however, is mine to do.

There are a few things I learned in my last yard :

– sod is an incredible  PITA to rip up when you want more garden space.

– you always want more garden space

– south facing fences are the best hot micro-climates you will ever find. The heat rebounds off the fence like a hell-spawned demon onto the soil.

– my children eat raspberries faster than the bushes can grow them

– I love Sasktoons. Thiessen variety the best, apparently.

– we must, MUST have lawn. Must.

– trees are hard to move once you plant them. (duh)

–  nothing but mossy grass grows on the south side fence of an east facing yard.

Any and all suggestions are appreciated, that means you, Edmonton gardeners. Heck, anyone who is a northern gardener can chime right in please. I have so much space. SO. MUCH. SPACE. And I want to use it well.

Here’s my first area at the front, which faces west. Tons of sunlight. This is 3.5 feet wide and I was hoping to get a hedge of Saskatoons between here. Looking at the varieties however I am thinking that Northline – gets 6 feet tall and I can control the spread easily- will be my best bet. Hedge of Saskatoons and then mulch to keep the weeds at bay.


vacant area at the front of the house

The other side of the front yard.

I need a 2.5 inch caliper tree and 8 bushes. I have contacted a local nursery and I might just be able to get a large caliper fruit tree, I will know next week. I moved my Honeyberries with me so I have three bushes.

I would like all fruiting bushes in the front, if I have to have 8 damn bushes for the landscaping requirements.

This is over 11 feet wide and 21 feet to the corner there.

Fruiting bush suggestions?

the other side of the front yard with vacant lot

Oh god, the back now.

Lord help me.

the back yard with lots of vacant spaces

The yard faces east, so this is my hot little micro-climate once the fence is up. It radiates heat back so fiercely. You can see the lines I have drawn in the dirt, that’s 6 feet out from the fence. 6 x 27 feet to the back.

All veggie beds? Raised? Not raised?

the backyard with dried soil and grasses

Standing at that back corner now. Again, 6 feet marked out. All garden again?  The problem I have is that I would LOVE fruit trees planted across the back yard, but that means  that those trees are going to grow and eventually shade this area, making it not so great for  gardening. This is the conundrum I can’t figure out. Plus those trees have to be 5 feet forward to make sure the roots don’t crack the concrete swale.

view from the back corner of the back yard

Speaking of that swale, this is also on my property.

This is 40 freaking feet by 2 feet of dead space. All my neighbors have grass or rocks.

I’m thinking raspberries and mulch to keep the weeds down?

Do I really need 80 sq feet of raspberries?

Lord love a duck.

The kids will be thrilled and  the swale will help keep the raspberries from suckering out into the rest of the yard. Plus I do love raspberry jam….

Thoughts?  Has to be something with small roots, no trees or very large bushes.

vacant lot space near the fence

View from where the deck will be.

What about 3 fruit trees on that right side, where it’s muddy in the picture? If I can’t grow them along the back, maybe along the side? How far from the fence, about 5 feet? That allow enough for spread?

view of the muddy part of the back yard

View of that side. So remember we are facing east right now. The trees will still get sunlight enough is they are moved away from the fence and there is still room for a climber/swingset for the kids.

vacant space in the backyard facing east

Arial view. Through a screen.

the aerial view of the back yard

Ok gardening people.

Hit me with your garden loves, hits, misses, favorite fruit tress, fruit bushes, all of it.

What have you learned from YOUR yards? What were your mistakes? Successes? Best thing you ever did?



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Karlynn Johnston

I’m a busy mom of two, wife & cookbook author who loves creating fast, fresh meals for my little family on the Canadian prairies. Karlynn Facts: I'm allergic to broccoli. I've never met a cocktail that I didn't like. I would rather burn down my house than clean it. Most of all, I love helping YOU get dinner ready because there's nothing more important than connecting with our loved ones around the dinner table!

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  1. Kerri Buksa says

    I’m a Landscape Arch Tech and do residential and commercial work in Edmonton and surrounding areas. I just discovered your site while looking for a Saskatoon jam reciepe. My best advise for you for your yard is hire a professional to do all of your planning at the least. This way you have the big picture and can do parts of it over a few years if budget and time is a concern.

    There are lots of people out there that think “it’s just landscaping”, those people are the ones that make big mistakes that could have been prevented with paper, pen and a professional. We all can’t be good at everything, that’s why I have a doctor, hairdresser etc.

    If you decide to hire a professional to do your design ensure that you have seen there design work and it works for you. Make sure they listen to your want list. Most times we an get you what you are looking for if we can’t there is a reason and it should be explained to you..

    Good luck going to make jam now.

  2. jasonshwartz1224 says

    It is completely understandable that you are feeling overwhelmed with this landscaping job that you’re working. Something that really is standing out is that this project is going all around your house. That can be something that is stressful for anyone that isn’t in the business of landscaping. It really would look incredible if there was some kind of way to look at finding different ways to see the potential that you lawn can have with this much room. Thank you for sharing, and good luck. 

  3. JohnnyShi1 says

    Wow that is a lot of work to do. I think that your right, we always want more garden space. We build two small garden boxes in our yard. You don’t necessarily have to plan a lot of garden space now, but in the future it would be simple to add a garden box or two. I hope that everything works out better than you expect it will.

  4. Mycah Braxton says

    My first impression is that the mossy grass alongside your fence would be a great place to grow salad plants. If it’s regularly shaded, you might be able to grow through them the summer. Just place a planter over that space, or work it down 6 inches deep, build a raised bed, and run a drip irrigation line under it.

    My second suggestion- for your dead space- is to look into a book called “edible forest gardens.” Not that I’m suggesting that you plant a forest, but they introduce a very practical concept of succession gardening and permaculture. You can find some of their ideas on this site : You’re a busy woman and a mother and you want something that will manage itself, rather than a farm! What this means for you is that you can build up your backyard in a pattern- for example, with little areas of (dwarf) fruit trees that are ringed by shallow-rooted flowering plants, surrounded by berry bushes, and separated from other areas by a path. This will give you the best of all of those crops by reducing competition and weed growth by the careful management of ecosystem niches. Planting a few niches with local, native plants will help reduce the workload of your garden. More ideas, adapted from the book for gardens, can be found here at :

    Also, the last aerial view shows what looks like, but probably is not, a small river running through your yard. That may instead be the drainage pattern for your lot and you should maximize its potential quickly by building a french drain or a decorative/functional streambed. If left uncontrolled, it may cause soil erosion and weaken the foundation of the house. Basically, you want to dig that area out, line it with landscape fabric, and fill it with gravel or make an artificial channel. Stream areas can provide a nice variation in ecosystem “feel” depending on how you landscape them. French drains can also be easily covered with pebbles to make a nice path.

    I also wouldn’t hesitate to add some variation to your back lot. Some areas shaded by large trees (ie hazelnuts, which are cheap and grow fast) are very refreshing on a hot summer day and could even provide a nice climate to grow salad greens and cool-weather crops in during the summer. Do everything you can to control weeds- mulch, landscape fabric and newspaper, and competition from ground cover and native plants are all great solutions. And wherever you put those raspberries in the end, remember three things: 1) they, of course, love full sun 2) they spread like bamboo so consider planting them in underground containers and 3) new stalks have to be regularly pruned and stalked to stay productive and attractive, so consider getting a thornless variety. There’s also a dwarf version on the rise:

    Lastly- and most importantly- your neighbors’ yards seem to be pure bermuda grass! I would lay out black plastic on the borders of your yard all summer to cook any rhizomes that may be left. Maybe even cover the whole yard. You don’t want any of that stuff handing around. Plant a barrier or a competitor between your neighbor’s yard and yours! That or a well-watered ground cover can do the job. Best of luck!

    • Karlynn says

      Holy smokes Mycah, thanks! I have actually taken a permaculture course all about forest gardens but I lack the confidence (and memory of everything I learned).I’ve seen it in action here in Edmonton and it can be amazing, utterly fantastic.

      That small “river” is my fault, it’s the eavestrough drainage and that water will be going into a large rain barrel. I left the downspout in the same place for months and it eroded the soil, just like a river.

      I have also considered mushrooms in that shaded area…

      Thank you so much for all the links, I can tell this is something you are quite passionate about!

  5. Deb says

    Hmm, that’s a tough one. Part of me says start with a few things you are absolutely sure about and then let the yard evolve. I am a Mom of two boys and am finding that my initial plans of taking this out here and putting that in there are changing as I see how the boys use the yard. For example, I initially wanted to use the space made available from moving a shed for more flowers and a small seating area (which I thought would be very English garden/pretty/good for Mommy’s sanity). But now I’m realizing that trying to keep the boys and their paraphernalia (soccer balls, hockey pucks, bikes etc) out of it would just drive me to drink, so I’ve given up that plan. Perhaps I will revisit it if we are still here when the boys are older.
    I really enjoy our back yard, but I enjoy watching my family enjoy it even more. So, for now at least, I am grassing over the old shed area, letting the boys have a net on both sides of the yard and experimenting with plants/flowers/fruit/veggies in my current cut out spaces and looking forward to changing it up when it can be a little more of a grown-up space.

  6. Monica I says

    Wellllllll. I have heard that the topsoil we get isn’t as “clean” as we think. If you are going to garden food plants, get Garden soil… hopefully less lead and other pollutants in it. I second the raised bed/stepped bed concept for gardening – everyone gets sun!

    Food is BEAUTIFUL as flower beds! Cabbages, potatoes, zucchini, lettuce etc, and raspberries? Why not! Yeah – the containters make less future maintenance! We missed the The Great Raspberry Lane Project session on Saturday with Anita Gregoire onborrowedground_dot_com Maybe contact her for a little loving help?

    Cheers! Feel better.


    • Karlynn says

      Oh lordy yes, I would NEVER garden with the topsoil that’s put on yards. The crap I’ve picked out of the clay rough grade is bad enough! I dig out the beds and buy “organic ” (I put that in quotations since there are no real standards) soil from Superstore and fill them up., Costly, but I do NOT trust what is trucked in. I just have to get it done for my final grade approval then its GONE for gardening LOL!

      I’ve learned with my squash that flowers are a MUST in there somewhere, but I do want mainly vegetables. Delphiniums bring in the bees for pollinating like nobody’s business, so those will be along the fence.

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