Gardening in a Courtyard

Australia is a big country and latent is this idea that everyone is entitled to a quarter-acre block (I don’t even know how big that is in, you know, comprehensible terms like how many sewing machines and overlockers can I fit in that space (other than LOTS)?) I don’t think very many people would clearly articulate it, but it strikes me that this idea is implicit in home and garden stores, nurseries and hardware stores, even in/near Melbourne’s central business district.

You know we have a New House, right? Well, it is the bank’s but it will be ours once we pay the bank after just a few short decades. The New House is on an oblong (squarish) block of land. It was built in the era when houses were built right up to the edge of the land owned, leaving around a metre of space to the neighbours’ land on two sides (south and east). To the west of the house is the garage, which goes right up to that neighbour’s land, as does our neighbour’s to the east of us. However, to the north, there is a patch of dirt* (less than a metre wide by perhaps three metres long), and a reasonable amount of concreted courtyard. All sides have walls, presumably for privacy purposes. The north and east walls are brick; the south wall is wood. Part of the north wall is wood too.

This is now my garden space.

The north courtyard gets a good amount of sunlight all day, but especially in the morning. This is great. It is sort of a large square with a long tail. Our living room looks out on the tail; our dining room looks out on the square. This will be where the bulk of our garden is. This is where our washing line is as well but that has to go. I like looking at my washing strung out on a line, but I don’t like it so much when it is in prime planting position. We’ll put up a washing line somewhere else.

Real Estate Photo of the L-shaped Courtyard, view from squished up in the corner near the washing line, and with a fishy eyed lens perhaps, to make those edges look larger than they truly are.

And this is what I have done to the steps: added a miscellany of potted plants, some from the Old Flat, some newly planted It occurred to m to take the photo only after I’d watered, hence the unsightly water trails.  In this pic, from Leftish to Rightish, you can see: passionfruit, lemon balm, basil, coriander (now dead), mint, succulent, more mint, more basil, parsley (currently struggling), rose geranium, rosemary, Vietnamese mint. 

East is mostly shaded, but I reckon will get reasonable sunshine during summer. It is almost entirely in shade in winter. At the very least, it gets a good amount of light. East is a little over a metre wide by many metres (I don’t know? 10?) long. Basically, it’s a long corridor, made more clearly corridor-like by the fact that our neighbour’s garage’s brick wall runs the full length of it. And that brick wall is high. Well above my head height (and just because I’m short does not mean that “well above my head height” is not high in normal human size terms. What I’m trying to say is that, objectively, that brick wall is high). The kitchen window looks out to this patch. The bricks are not attractive. They’re this unpleasant orange colour. They’re not lovely aged bricks. They’re uniformly hideous pale orange. Also, some long time ago, someone painted graffiti on this wall. It is not attractive graffiti.

The East corridor, with hose and sun flare for a bit of interest (or I am a crap photographer…)

South gets barely any sun, and barely any light, because it is south and always shaded by our house. Also, it is a very narrow space; only one person may pass at a time. (We have a resident grumpy troll who enforces this rule.) Lucky it doesn’t see much traffic. Both the study/guest room (his room) and the sewing room (my room) look out onto our south – um, er – rectangular patch of concrete thing that doesn’t even deserve the term corridor. There is a wooden wall that screens us from our neighbours (and them from us, unless it’s one way wood.) Our southern neighbours also have a lovely lemon tree that I gaze upon jealously. I’m trying to work up the courage to go round, introduce myself and ask if I can have the excess lemons that they are clearly not picking, and which are shrivelling and drooping on the tree. I will return in thanks with lemon poppy seed muffins, or lemon cordial, or lemon curd, or preserved lemons. It hurts me to see lovely lemons go to waste.

The South corridor; the worms’ current home.  You will never see such unsightly pictures on my blog ever again. Pinky promise.

In all honesty, I probably will not work up the courage to do this. If I saw our neighbours just accidentally in the backyard, I’d chat to them. It is much, much harder to walk up and knock on the door. Maybe I should drop a note into their letterbox with a link to this blogpost? Our entire home is set up specifically so that we do not interact with our neighbours. Still, I’m chatting to the cockatoo that lives to the west of us, and occasionally clucking at the chickens who are, I think, to the east of us. I’ve not seen either, but we have good “rarch, rarch, ello?” and “bok bok” conversations. I’ve not heard neighbours to the west or east, so I’m not sure what they think of the unseen human making cockatoo and chicken noises at creatures she cannot see.

There is a lot we want to do with this space; some of it to grow food; some of it grow The Pretty. It would be lovely to look out from the kitchen onto greenery, and not ugly orange brick not quite covered by ugly peeling graffiti; and from the spare rooms onto something other than weathered wood. (I do prefer the weathered wood to the hideous brick.) So I’m reading and pondering about what best (and how) to grow in each of these spaces, and trying to remain patient. I remind myself that it took two winters and a summer before our courtyard at Old Flat looked lovely.

That square space in the north is going to be our veg garden. So far, there are pots of basil and mint (four kinds – common, peppermint and two Vietnamese kinds (rau ram and rau rap ca)), a chilli tree, our little lemon tree, rosemary (all things that came from the Old Flat). I’ve recently put in strawberries, lettuce and rocket, tomatoes and borage, oregano, sweet peas and marigold. There will be espaliered citrus and other fruit trees (Stone? Apple? Pear?) along the east brick wall. There will be a shade tolerant, climber plant (hardenbergia?) along the back. There will be hanging pots and trellised lovely pretty things, and window boxes of colourful flowers and raised beds of carrots and beans. Oh yes there will. Ooh! And don’t forget the inside of the house!

But back to the point I started with. I am certain that in inner Melbourne – we are about 9km from the CBD –, most people have small yards like mine. Or even smaller (as we had at the Old Flat; a space perhaps 2 metres wide x 3 metres long plus the corridors around the flat, which were wider than the corridors around this New House). I am probably just at the edge of the suburbs, where people have “real yards” with access to lovely dirt. And yet, all the stores around where I live, including those closer to the city centre, do not sell things geared towards gardening in these smaller spaces.

Where are the large, but not too large, veg box / raised bed type constructions? I can find them online, but I cannot find them at the shops. No, not even Bunnings.  UPDATE: I drafted this and then somehow Bunnings got wind of my draft. They now sell exactly what I am talking about.

Where are the vertical garden type things? (Not that I would pay money for them, but, you know, I might.) UPDATE: Bunnings also got wind of my complaint and they sell wall garden pots.  Now what am I supposed to blog about?

Just because I have an inner-city urban courtyard does not mean I want “architectural”, low care plants in an interior-exterior designed space where I will ‘entertain’. I think a productive, edible garden in that space could be quite entertaining enough (Who’s for a round of Squish That Slug? – can also be played at night, with head torches. Yeah!)

I guess my niche is now large scale container gardening. I don’t think I’m alone in my niche (I actually think my niche is quite crowded), and I’d like things targeted towards me and my fellow smaller space keen gardeners of edible things (with the occasional pretty flower thrown in), please. Please?

Before I got around to posting this post, I found someone near me who makes garden boxes out of industrial waste pallets.  I bought everything he had made, on the spot.  And now my garden is almost lovely.

All going well this is going to be a magnificent pasta sauce (growing tomatoes and basil). Lemon tree lurking, stage left.

And in case you’re wondering, the worms are doing OK. Not great, but OK. I guess they don’t like moving. Also, we’ve not yet fixed on a suitable location for the worm boxes at this new house. The current location experienced a mystery disaster a few weekends back. Something, best guess is a cat, jumped on the box and it smashed. Disaster is fixed now but it’s perplexing (because we’ve not seen a sign of any neighbourhood cats) and worrying (because I worry about the welfare of my worms).

* Patch of dirt! Excitement of excitements! I got me a compost bin. Yes!



  1. All the best in your new home & garden! I hope you are able to conceal the nasty bricks with delightful fruit or berry baring greenery soon!


  2. Yay New House with garden! Those pallet-beds are lovely. I feel like I missed the boat in a past post though, because I found the worm-bits of the story confusing! I hope they’ll be ok though! 🙂


    1. I am obsessed with compost & worms. These current worms are ZOMBIES, having resurrected after the Great Heatwave Neglect Incident of December 2011.

      Perhaps I need to do a recap post where I link all my compost obsession posts … Short version: every time I move, I worry about how to compost. Then I work out a way and me & my worm buddies rejoice. The end.


      1. Ah HA! Now it’s all so clear. Well, I’m glad your wormies have survived the WormPocalypse that was your move to New House.
        I need to start composting, too, but I’ve never done it before, so I’m starting from scratch.

      2. I can be your compost guru! If you have a composting question, I’ll try to answer it! Most of the answers are: newspaper.

        Also, composting is not hard, ignore anything that suggests you have to test the temperature or whatever. It’s just gotta be a pile of organic stuff, and it will rot away.

  3. What self-respecting real estate agent wouldn’t use a fishy-eye lens to make things look bigger, wider, and more expansive than they really are? I will be of zero use when it comes to gardening, but I am enthusiastic about living through you for this (and Trent, who has our balcony packed to the brim with pots and vertical planters with herbs and edible goodness). The pallet beds are amazing!!!
    And can I also say a huuuge THANKYOU for your air suction bag thingies… they worked a treat!!!! I will be bringing them along with me on Saturday to return if you’re coming to social sewing 🙂


    1. Aren’t the pallet beds lovely? Of course, I still have styrofoam boxes growing things … They’re great for balconies too because they’re light.

      Yay! I’m glad the bags were useful to you! See you Saturday! Looking forward to hearing all about it (even if I’ve also been reading all about it!)


  4. Go and knock on your neighbour’s door!! Don’t be scared!! They will probably appreciate the lemons off to a good home rather than having to pick them up and put them in the bin. And you just never know, they might be really nice people and become really great friends…….


    1. It’s just that they’re our behind neighbours, which means going all the way round the block & finding the right house. It’s a bit too creepy / premeditation-y … I’m still hoping to see & wave at them from my sewing room, & then I’ll visit with my lemon begging basket!


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