Our Tiny Urban Food Forest

May 01, 2024 by Lianne Downey, in Gardening
Wild and garden flowers growing together
Fairy-planted bouquet
Happy May Day 2024! Did you leave May baskets on your neighbors’ doorsteps? Ring the bell and run away? It’s an old custom we love. But in this time of digital social connections, we’re taking it as a day to celebrate our fledgling urban food forest.

In late November of 2019, weeks before the pandemic lockdown of 2020, Joseph and I moved into our first real home together after too many years as move-around renters. The house is tiny, 1281 square feet, because we love it that way. Cozy, and so much easier to clean! And it has a panoramic view. Most important to us was the fact that the lot boasted a few mature fruit trees and vines (grape, lemon, fig, and orange) to give us a head-start on our “urban food forest.”

The total lot is only 10,089 square feet. Once you subtract the house and the separate garage, plus a long, uphill driveway that makes a sharp right turn at the top, we were left with 2,880 square feet, about 1/10th of an acre of space for plants. Much of that is made up of steep banks. But we were determined. We built a retaining wall and planted on them anyway.

What with writing and publishing books, not to mention tasking ourselves with entering a ballroom dance competition as an amateur couple this spring (what?! Yes we did!) we are the kind of gardeners who like to see what happens and then pluck out the things we don’t like. In other words, time-strapped!

Many of these plants are perennials that come back every year. Others were what we call “fairy-planted.” They sprouted from fallen seeds, or seeds transferred by rabbits, squirrels, birds, coyotes, and other garden helpers. I’ve marked the fairy-planteds with  a star*.

For instance, we let the red romaine go to seed last fall.

Here’s what came up this spring, mixed with scarlet pimpernel and calendula sprouts.

They mix of plants seems to be encouraging the lettuce to grow taller.

Normally cherries need cold but this hybrid is exceptional!
Here’s our current edible inventory. We hope it inspires your own back yard urban food forest!

Fruit-bearing Trees:
Surinam cherry
Reed avocado
Royal cherry
Meyer Lemon
Black Mission Fig
Mimosa (tea blossoms)

Bushes & vines:
Red Flame grapes
Native golden currant
Native elderberry

Herbs & vegetables:
Garlic chives
Onion chives*
Big Boy tomato
Red Dock
Garden sage*
White sage
Lemon balm*
Lacinato kale*
Red romaine lettuce*
Thyme (3 kinds)
Johnny Jump-ups*
Wild mustard*