I have such a special treat for you today as we get closer and closer to spring! You’re going to get a tour of a gorgeous urban backyard garden down in Australia. It’s truly amazing what this rawkstar has done in such a small space.
I’ve had the pleasure of starting a garden + raising chickens (and a duck!) in my backyard in central Florida for 2 years now. Growing food for my family has been such a rewarding journey, and I get a lot of questions from the SGS community about how they can start a garden, as well.
I know that each person’s living situation is unique, and there are sooo many ways to get started and be involved in growing your own food. That’s why today, I want to introduce you to Lee Sullivan, a lovely gardener + rawkstar from Australia. She’s been growing food for her family in her small urban backyard garden for almost 2 years too! Yet I think she’s had better success than I have, so I wanted to hear how she’s done it.
Lee has tons of great advice on how to start a garden in a small space (aka: urban backyard garden) and is truly an inspiration for backyard gardeners everywhere. Please help me give Lee a warm welcome to the SGS community. We’re so lucky to have her sharing so much goodness with us all!
Meet Lee + her urban backyard garden
Hello, everyone! My name is Lee, and I’m so grateful to be with you today to share a little about my life + my urban backyard garden experience. I hope it helps inspire anyone who is interested in growing their own food—especially those who feel that they don’t have the space or don’t know where to start!
To give you a little background on me—I’m 31 and live in a little beach town called Swansea in Australia. Apart from gardening, I love the outdoors, the beach, and music (I studied classical piano and singing for over 10 years). I also have a 3-year-old son, who was really my inspiration to start growing my own food.
It runs in the family.
Now, to be fair, I didn’t grow up a stranger to gardening. My grandparents on both sides of my family have vegetable gardens, and my dad also grows his own food, so I guess you could say gardening runs in my family. However, even though I grew up helping my family in their gardens, I really had no idea what I was doing when I first started growing my own food. Up until that time, I quite frankly had thought gardening was boring and not for me!
The turning point for me came after having my son three years ago. After he was born, I became very interested in health. That interest led me to realize how unhealthy many store-bought fruits and vegetables are—sprayed with who knows how many chemicals and often traveling thousands of miles before even landing in the supermarket. I decided that I wanted to grow my own food so I knew exactly where it came from and what was on it. Fast forward to today, and I’ve been growing my own food in my small, urban backyard garden for almost 2 years. Everything I grow is chemical-free, and I can happily say that gardening and growing food for my family is now one of my greatest joys in life!
This whole gardening journey has come with lots of learning experiences. My greatest challenge is one that is common for many backyard gardeners—lack of growing space. My space is very limited, so designing my garden to maximize the space I do have has been a journey for me. My growing area is around 8m2 with my backyard being around 40m2 (more like a courtyard than a backyard).
Strategic urban backyard garden planning
When my garden was first installed I had eight 90cm x 60cm raised beds along my back fence. A few months later, I installed another five raised beds along the adjacent fence. Since then I have added three 2.5m high arched trellises. I also have bamboo fencing lining the fence that the beds back onto which acts as a trellis for climbers. For me, everything that has been installed in the garden has been put there in an effort to be able to grow as much as possible in a very limited area. I’m a firm believer that you do not need a large amount of space to be able to grow an abundance of produce!
As for what I grow, well, that’s pretty simple—really it’s as many vegetables as I can in a small area! Specifically, I try to grow things that my family eats so that nothing goes to waste. I also choose what I am going to grow based on the season and what vegetables/fruit thrive in those particular conditions. At the moment, I have corn, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant, radishes, beets, chilies, kale, lettuce, pumpkins, herbs, strawberries and blueberries.
Advice to first-time gardeners
If I had any advice to give to someone who’s interested in starting their own garden or growing their own food, this would be it:
1. Make sure your soil is healthy.
This is a big lesson I have learned over the years—if you ‘feed’ your soil, your plants will thrive. I think I can blame a lot of my past failures on the quality of my soil at the time. I now have a few tricks up my sleeve to make sure my soil is always healthy and has plenty of organic matter. For instance, at the beginning of this past spring, I prepped all of my raised beds with a mixture of sheep manure, compost, blood and bone, organic slow release fertilizer and trace elements. I also grow broad beans as a cover crop in winter because they fix nitrogen in the soil. At the end of winter, I chop them up and dig them back into the garden bed.
2. Research what vegetables to plant and when.
When I first started growing my own food, I tried to plant peas, a winter vegetable, in an Australian summer. Needless to say, it did not go well. It is important to plant things in their right season, otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.
3. Seek out advice.
I cannot tell you how much I have learned from other gardeners, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. They are great platforms to meet people growing their own food and learn from their wisdom and experience.
4. Get the kids involved!
I’m lucky that my little boy has never been a fussy eater, but I have noticed that since we started growing our own food, he is much more likely to eat something that he been involved in growing.
5. Just start growing something.
Often people are overwhelmed by the idea of growing their own food, particularly if they have no previous experience or knowledge, and never end up doing it because they don’t know where to start. The very first thing I grew was a tomato in a pot. It was a complete failure—but you have to start somewhere! Work out the best place to start for you, whether it be pots, a windowsill, a small raised bed, etc. and do it!
Eating as close to nature as possible
I can’t tell you how much growing my own food has changed and improved my life. My family’s vegetable intake has increased dramatically since I’ve found that when you have so much quality produce coming from your garden you want to cook with it. Also, organically home-grown vegetables have so much flavour compared to store-bought…there really is no comparison. Finally, after researching and learning about the benefits of growing my own food, I’m definitely much more conscious about eating as close to natural as possible. That is generally what I try to do for myself and my family—and so far, it’s been a blast!
CONNECT WITH LEE: To see more photos of Lee’s beautiful urban backyard garden, be sure to follow her on Instagram @urbanveggiepatch.
Interested in being featured on the Rawkstar Garden Tour?
Please email us here and tell us all about your lovely garden. We’re looking for school gardens, tower gardens, big gardens, indoor gardens… you name it!