The lovely mulberry tree at the back of my little suburban paradise – which shaded half the back yard and most of the house itself from the afternoon sun – contracted some sort of dreadful and ultimately fatal tree plague several years past. With sorrow my daughter and I arranged last fall with Roman, the Neighborhood Handy Guy to take it down in time for the regularly scheduled curbside brush collection. At least a quarter of the tree was dead, the rest of it didn’t look well at all, and the prospect of damage caused to the house by a falling branch, or even the whole thing toppling over in a high wind was not a comfortable one. So, the tree came down, leaving a bare and relatively unshaded expanse – and afternoon sunshine blazing pitilessly onto the back of the house from about three o’clock until sunset. I do have a row of three young fruit trees along the back fence-line (and a volunteer hackberry shrub on the far side of it), but it will be simply years before they are tall enough and leafy enough to provide even a portion of the shade provided by the late mulberry. I considered the matter, and decided after some research that some kind of arbor about four or five feet out from the house would do the trick – especially if I could encourage vines to grow up the support posts and romp freely over the shade part.
But the shade arbor was just half of the planned projects for this spring. At the same time as the mulberry tree was dying, so was the short gate by the front door which divided the narrow garden space along the side of the house into two unsatisfactory portions. My daughter had long wanted to see a tall new gate put up at the front. This would afford more privacy and an uninterrupted space from the front to the back of the house, which is really more of a cottage, long from back to front, narrow across the street-facing side (which aspect is mostly garage door, with a small portion of living space façade.) One of our neighbors, with a residence and lot size of roughly the same plan and dimensions – and with a gate in that position—showed us their garden some years ago, and we were bowled away. Yes, in a space about fifteen feet wide, by about thirty long – there was the possibility for a long, skinny garden, a meandering path to the front door, and thence to the wider space at the back, a garden richly planted, with charming resting places all along, paved with flagstones set in decomposed granite … and we were eaten up with envy. I don’t imagine that we can replicate their little patch of paradise, since James was a retired city landscape gardening supervisor, from a very large urban space, and he had professional education, life skills and expertise beyond my ken … but still. He and Bess did amazing things with a tiny space, a limited budget and with stuff they got from the local Big Box commercial outlet in season.
Yes, something like theirs was what I wanted – although they had a covered screened porch at the back, which made them a perfect little outdoors room, and shade from a number of their neighbors tall, established and healthy trees. An easy decision, therefore, to go with the fence and gate moved up to the front of the house. Really, I was amazed at how open it made the resulting space, although I should have expected that from seeing Bess and James’ place. No longer two small spaces, chopped unusably into two, with all the growing plants and vegetables crammed into one half of it. Because … Chickens.
Chickens. For the eggs, naturally. The suburban situation suits them, and we like the eggs. So far, I haven’t lost any to predators, although we had a close brush with an ambitious hawk, who had his eye on the smaller of the Bantam Wyandottes. But the chickens are death on just about anything within reach that is leafy and green, save possibly for the leaves of the potted citrus. This makes it necessary that either green and growing stuff be out of their reach, either through a fence, or suspended out of reach in hanging pots or baskets. So, I worked up a plan for another fence, a lower fence of lattice to the rear of the lot, something to keep the chickens at the very back of the yard. And – we could re-use the 4×4 posts from the demolished fence, as well as the hinges and gate hardware, and some 2×4 lumber left from the last fence repair project. The only thing new was the lattice panel itself.
Two weekends, and it has all been accomplished – we even had unused lumber, a lattice panel and some hardware to return for a refund. Now to finish planting for the spring, including some new grapevines to grow up along the support posts and into the trellis for additional shade. At the very least, this will take less time than to grow an entirely new tree for shade.