Eight years ago we bought a 1970s ramshackle ranch house with an amazing backyard, as big as some of the urban pocket parks in London. We took on the ratty little ranch just to get our hands on that deep, wide space with its towering fir trees, Oregon grapes, huge cherry tree and ancient camellias. There were also a lot of bare space and mud pits.
Being sustainably minded — and on a budget — we had two garden ethics: no annuals, ever, and all recruits had to stand on their own after their first two years. That meant tough soldiers who could survive without watering and pampering. We rarely use chemicals so being disease-resistant was important. I figure we must have put 2,000 plants into both the front and back yards in eight years. We’ve had some spectacular flameouts, but over time it has knitted together into a treasured respite. My only regret is that I don’t have the sun to become a full-fledged urban farmer like the three families we profile.
The house is small, purposefully so. There’s just us two, so 1,500 square feet was all we wanted. Given that our previous house was 850 square feet (not a misprint), it seems cavernous. But its size also keeps my Crap Quotient low. Like Jill Cropp, if I could change one thing, I’d have less stuff.
Being small, my home is naturally more energy efficient; it has four-foot overhangs and sits under a generous tree canopy so stays very cool during the summer. We’ve added insulation and replaced aging energy-sucking appliances. With each project, we try to reduce our energy and waste output. I envy the Portland homeowners who started from scratch to build their green dream. Most of us work within a budget and with the house at hand. But as our Kitchen Conscious story reminds, we can go green in many ways that suit any budget.
My green efforts are a work in progress, as yours might be. I hope this issue of Green Living gives you some great ideas for keeping that progress going.