Urban Homesteading…. Parisienne Farmhouse Style

Nov 13, 2010 | Gardening, Homesteading | 24 comments

The big gardening project.  That’s right, the one I have been alluding to for the last month or so… I finally found a moment to tell you about it.

Dear Anne at Nada Farm knows how badly we would like a farm of our own so she sent me a YouTube clip about that family in California who created an urban farm on their 1/8 on a acre… the exact same size lot that we have.  Joel and I watched it together and he was completely inspired!  Within days we were digging up the sod and planning the rather large expansion of our Potager and an equally as large expansion of the cutting/rose garden – which the kids have dubbed “Petit Giverny” as we are studying Monet at “Whole Heart School.” We aren’t finished yet and we are praying for some more days of warm sun to finish up. (turns out it’s 70 degrees this week and I am out of town!)

This whole “Urban Homesteading” it’s kind of  hilarious to me and I love to sit and ponder how the entire thing came about… there have been definate influences…

 like Homemaker Ang
and other random blogs…
even catching occasionional snipets of the Glenn Beck program in the car…
wanting to know how to do more for myself if the you-know-what ever hits the fan…

I would say it really started for me about three years ago when our painting company took a turn for the worse at the same time the ecomony did…
back then it became apparent that the big kitchen cabinet faux finish jobs were going to drop of 5 or 6 a year to 1… if.
 The swanky Venetian Plaster jobs…
all the high end customers we serviced for so many years…
It became almost impossible to pay the mortgage.  It became impossible to get nice haircuts and the occasional new lipgloss.   It became apparent that my distain for cheap grocery stores like Aldi was going to have to step aside.
 Praise God that Joel has had his “new job” for officially a year now, praise God for the people that bought us groceries and kids clothes during that time, Praise him for the people that DID hire us to work… but I tell you what… it was that shopping for cheap food that did the trick for me.  I hated that.

I wanted control.

I was no longer satisfied with my little potager that grew hobby carrots, lettuce for salads and handful of green beans and basil.  I devoured everything I could on canning and preserving what I grew and soon pretty quarts lined my basement shelves.  I became to crave to know all I could about growing my own food, doing what I could for myself (like making my own laundry detergent and shampoo)… I even imagined if I could ever bring myself to “process” a chicken…. or at the very least, grow my own eggs.  (Let me assure my neighbors who read this website that I am NOT butchering chickens behind my new fence!  I PROMISE!)  I also wanted to learn everything I could so that, if we were ever blessed with a “real” farm of our own someday we would have many lessons under our belts already.

Now, all you city girls, don’t loose me here!!!

  I KNOW!  
These things sound crazy. 
 And they don’t take away from the fact that I still dream of owning a Louis Vuitton… they don’t take away from the fact that I can navigate you thru the streets of Paris better than I can the streets of Chicago… it’s just that I am a control freak... and when I lost so much control of our lives when there was no paycheck… I turned my eyes and skills towards what I could learn.  Because I LOVE to learn.  And I have so much to learn but boy have I learned alot…

Fast forward to today.

After careful review of the annual amount we spend on groceries (which I think is pretty modest compared to most due to “from scratch” cooking) we decided to go the whole, nerdy, Motherearth mile and produce as much as we could from our corner lot in the country burbs of Chicago…  Rain barrel, compost pile, cold frames this spring and all winter long we will be pouring over seed catalogs and studying “Square Inch Gardening.”  You know, all those things you read about “real gardeners” doing.    We have spent the last few weeks building raised beds, putting up a privacy fence (from which we will grow much of our short rooted produce like lettuce and radish in gutter gardens) and doing other things that we hope will slash our trips to the grocery store in the year 2011.  We will even be turning our ancient cistern into a root cellar to store homegrown root veggies and apples all winter long.
This is going to be quite a step for our family.  And it’s cool cause for the first time the garden seems like it’s about the family and not just a hobby for Momma.

I tell new gardeners to be prepared to be patient because gardening is always about next year. 
 That’s never been more true for us than now. 
 We are full of anticipation.
The view of the original Potager from the rooftop of the house.
Rented sodcutter – $15 a day.
Expanding my rose garden area – Priceless.

Looking down the path, thru the arched apple trees to the Potager expansion.

My Blue Collar babies.

Raised beds.

Daddy’s Hands.

No more GRASS!!!!

For now we are using the raised beds for kitchen scraps – free compost.

The sandbox used to be just after the stone Potager but here you can see that we have removed that and expanded with our raised beds.  They add a formal sense with their symetrical layout, the paths will be all pea gravel just like the rest of the gardens… it will be very French when complete of course.  And here you can still see into the neighbors garden but today there is a privacy fence! 

Joel got those post holes dug in a matter of hours!  And Aidan was thrilled to stick his legs down there!

The side of our house has always been very shabby.  It’s along the neighbors driveway and was of NO use to us!   Dreadful.  Now it is encased in privacy fence and we can actually USE it!  We will fill it with pea gravel next spring and have our compost bin out there… I am also going to decorate it… maybe make a potting table out of an old dresser or something fun.  Hopefully a simple outdoor shower too so no more garden dirt makes it upstairs to our bathroom and bedrooms!

 Another view.

You can see how this long area along their driveway was wasted property.  We never even went over there.  Now we can exit out the back kitchen door and walk our fenced “alley” to our flagstone terrace… it’s so cozy… a wood burning bread oven and stove will be built next spring right where the watermark is on the photograph.    Perfect for those days when I bake bread ALL day!  I hope it makes the entire block smell like a bakery.  

On the next sunny day I will run out and take photos of the fence and I can’t wait to share with you the “pretty” side of the project…
“Petit Giverny” as my Chickens call it.  I even planted over 200 tulip bulbs!
Like I expressed earlier…
Next year is going to be wonderful.


  1. Joannah

    Genius! I can’t wait to see more.

  2. Lisa@Pickles and Cheese

    All I can say is WOW! Inspiring!! Incredible because of the function and incredible because it’s all beautiful to look at. Can’t wait to see it next summer!

  3. Alice

    Wow, there’s a lot to take in here. I admire you for taking on such a project that will change your entire lifestyle, and require dedication. We have three acres of ground and how I would love to do something like this, even if on a smaller scale.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the progress on this project.

  4. * French Farmhouse 425 *

    Wonderful post Angela!! πŸ™‚ Thanks for being “real”~*~LOVE your garden!! Hugs, Rachel

  5. Mrs. B.

    Very, very exciting! You have been busy little beavers. πŸ™‚

  6. Blondie's Journal

    All of your hard work is going to pay off. And next spring is going to be a magical time!


  7. Adrienne

    Call me impressed! I hate grass (even though I have acres of it.) If I lived on a city lot there would not be one blade of grass.

    Hubby did a wonderful job on the raised beds. You’ll have so much fun next summer.

  8. Stephanie

    Wow. By far the most inspiring post of ingenuity and sheer effort I have ever seen. It’s rendered me almost speechless! Almost.

    It’s going to be amazing and I am so impressed how you’ve taken control and done something like this.

    Now I must get off the couch and do something productive!

  9. Ann at eightacresofeden

    Wow Ang – hey I do admire your honesty and I think this path will really bring forth a harvest – and not just fruit and vegetables in the literal sense – you will get so much pleasure from your ‘new’ garden.
    I wish my garden could be as pretty but I have to face reality – I live in the Australian bush and unless I fence and net the garden we don’t get to harvest anything – possums eat everything so my raised beds are now in what I can only describe as a prison exercise yard! No one can see it as we have no neighbours. The dream of the potager had to go but I am now able to grow our own food. You can see it on my recent post of my review of ‘The Free Range Cook book’.
    You mentioned disdain for Aldi – I would love to go and shop at the French style deli with its shelves of fresh flowers popping the gourmet items into my basket but also had to swap that dream for Aldi and it saved us a fortune, you know they actually do sell some quite good food here – great feta, greek yoghurt, organic beef. Veggies not so great but that is where the garden (prison yard)comes in!

  10. Musings From A French Cottage

    Wow! What an amazing project ~ and inspiring too. I would love to do something like that. What I need to do is just DO it!! Have a great weekend!

    God Bless,

  11. Parisienne Farmgirl

    Ann, you are totally right about Aldi. I was SUCH A SNOB about that store until I had to shop there. It’s a two minute walk from my house and has come in handy many times!

  12. Gwynie Pie

    Oh my goodness. I am so very excited for you. This is the kind of thing I dream about. I live on acres and have access to many more acres of land, however, it’s all taken up with farm crops (that get sprayed with various non-organic things – yuck)and I’ve always been leary of having our few little garden plants too close to the crop area because of that.

    Anyway, every winter I start dreaming of that big productive garden and canning jar after jar of truly good food for my family. You’ve inspired me to re-think the whole yard/trees/landscaping thing and look at it with a different eye. This oughta be fun πŸ™‚

    I look forward to watching your garden take shape.

    Gwynie Pie
    @ The Pink Tractor

  13. Cathy Field

    I’ve long been inspired by the Dervais Family and their Path to Freedom garden. It really is incredible what they produce on their city lot, how they feed and support their family of four from the proceeds, how they live off the grid in the city. I’ve always loved my raised beds. Wouldn’t garden any other way, and I also use the “Square Foot Gardening” principle. I commend your young family. You will love the journey!

  14. Sherri

    Angela, your garden is wonderful! Can’t wait to see more pics!

  15. Lylah Ledner

    Angela…I LOVE your story…..and the journey you’ve been on. Over 3 years ago I saw the title “Home Grown Revolution” on a friend’s blog and emailed it to my husband – not having a clue what it was about. He watched the video clip – got thoroughly inspired (might have been the freedom thing with the garden trowel at the end) and started digging out hedges and also building raised beds. We threw ourselves into gardening and now it’s been one year ago that the opportunity to rent this home we’re in and lease the land (3 acres) came across our path. We found amazing renters for our other home (where we’d gardened) and now started “farming”…sure it’s a simple farm (as we call it)…but those 3 + years laid a foundation to do what we’re doing now….

    I’m so excited for you and your family….

    blessings on you!!!!!

    xoxo lylah

  16. Selina

    Hey Ange, Thanks so much for sharing about your garden, it is absolutely gorgous, and I can’t wait to see more photo’s as it grow’s. I am sooooo wanting to up my potager to a farmlet with lots of food production. Like you, I have been reading up heaps about gardening and permaculture and trying to decide what to do next, but for now I am enjoying eating my broccolini, tomatoes and herbs.
    I went to Paris in September and October. My first trip to Europe, and Paris is amazing. I loved it, it was like a fairytale, and the people were really lovely and kind.
    Thanks again, Selina.

  17. Kalee

    I love this and can’t wait to see more on it!

    Oh, and in your veggie scraps pile I noticed something that looked suspiciously like beet or turnip greens and I thought I might mention they are delicious cooked! Just a way to use even more and get tons of vitamins!

  18. Julie

    This is so inspiring! I’m house hunting for my first house, and I have HUGE plans for my garden. After more than 20 years of apartment living in So. Calif., I’m looking for a home in the Central Valley in CA (our agricultural area) with enough room to grow a big garden. I can’t wait to cook a meal from food that I’ve grown, and to pick flowers from my own yard for the table centerpiece.

    I am furiously taking notes from this post (and your other gardening posts) to add to my file of all my garden plans. I’m looking forward to reading your future posts about this project.

  19. Carissa

    This is beautiful and so inspiring!!! I can’t wait to see more. I have been insprired to try raised beds in the garden now. πŸ™‚

    Question: How did you dipose of your sod? We always run into that problem when expanding the garden.

    Thank you so much for sharing. Great Post!

  20. WhiteWhispers2u

    Simply Amazing! This is how I grew up my parents had an amzing garden full of everything, fruit trees and they would buy or trade for farm raised beef or hunt for deer meat.We ate turkey eggs, chicken eggs from farmers.Then my mother would can everything she could get her hands on.Her weekly bill for groceries was 20.00 a week at the most.We were very healthy and all my friends wanted to eat at my house, which my mother never turned away a hungry child.

    I feel we waste so much money on food and I try really hard to buy from farmers, co-ops and grow our own as well.My best to you and can’t wait until next year to see how fabulous it becomes.~Cheers Kim

  21. Sweet Life Garden

    So happy to have found you! Once you have one box you always have to have more. More new seeds to try and new tastes to savor. Have a splendid time and keep in touch.

  22. Homemaker Ang

    I am really diggin” (no pun intended) this!

    i KNOW anything you put your hand to will work amazing!

    Don’t put nerdy earth girl with the negative though! The most chic and ingenious thing you could and can ever do is grow your own food. It is the best food you will ever taste.

    I am the earth girl but I am also now a food snob as I know my honey, grass fed beef, pork and chickens, eggs, herbs, own milk (goat and dairy), grapes, raspberries, apples and pears, maple syrup and veggies galore are the best around! And nothing could ever compare πŸ™‚

    There is nothing more satisfying that sitting down at your own table and eating everything you grew… Its such a blessing!

    Godspeed my friend…

  23. ChristyLyn

    I absolutely LOVE your landscaping, paths, rocks, and raised beds. I love changing things up. This past summer I built raised beds and had the best garden ever. I am new to blogging and just started my own. I love to visit your site often.

    Stop by sometime, http://www.alaskacollegemommy.blogspot.com


  24. Christi

    I know this is an older post, but I hope you still see this comment! Your potager was my inspiration for my first year of gardening (although mine is definitely a work in progress & nowhere NEAR as beautiful as yours).

    My question is: where did you find the rocks that make your beds? Where they already on the property, or did you purchase them? I love that look, but would definitely have to purchase them, and have no idea where I would begin!


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