How does your garden grow? Secrets from 3 of Winnipeg's most amazing yards

A garden grows slowly and imperceptibly to the casual observer, but after working on his garden for nearly 35 years, Mohammed Mussadiq has noticed some changes.

The two evergreen seedlings his sons brought home when they were little kids now stand more than eight feet tall. Some of his rose plants have grown for 15 years.

Most of Musaddiqu's front yard of his property in southwest Winnipeg has been converted into a garden. He said he spends much of his time outside amid his plants.

"As long as I can stay. From early morning to late at night. When it gets dark, I feel sad, I have to go inside."

The rose bushes grow close to the house, where they can be easily protected during the winter. Bricks line the garden and a footpath leads to a bench, which sits underneath his sons' evergreens. Farther down the path, a bridge passes over the water fountain, where water flows down to a lower level.

Musaddiq built many of the stone features himself. "I wanted to make it look like a man made it. It's not natural."

He's not afraid to let nature take its course, either. A Virginia creeper rings a patch of lilies, protecting them from rabbits.

"This thing grew here, from the bird dropping, the seed got there and it grew there. Instead of taking it out, throwing it, I left it there and it came out like this," he said.

In his backyard, maple trees provide shade. Seeds blew into his yard from trees planted by the city behind his property.

"I left it, first few years it was just a seedling, and I covered it, protected it. Kept it from breaking from the weight of the snow," he said.

"So that survived one or two winters and then it took over and grew. So it looks like an umbrella."

Even dead plants serve a purpose in Musaddiq's garden. A fruit tree caught a "bug" and died, Musaddiq said.

Now it acts as a trellis, with a clematis climbing it.

'A food forest' and a secret garden

A bay window from Ewa Tarsia's studio looks onto something midway between a farm and jungle.

"I call it a food forest," she said. "I am going with permaculture systems, I don't even know the vocabulary, but it's according to sustainable principles, mimicking nature, creating more energy than you can use and just having food forests in front of my garden."

Tarsia's garden on her East Kildonan property includes apple trees and orb-shaped compost containers lined with grass. She grows carrots, lettuce, pineapple, cherry trees, and tomato plants.

Above the plants, the leafy arms of an apple tree provide shade.

"Apple trees are feeding the soil with potassium," she said. "Nothing gets wasted. It feeds itself."

Beneath the apple and other trees hang nets that were initially meant to catch falling fruit before it hit the ground.

"Then I noticed how beautiful a movement it creates, so I started suspending from spruces and apple trees using fish lines and ropes," she said. "They create kind of an umbrella, it's for filter[ing] lights, it's for movement, it's for aesthetics, it's for creating a little shade."

Soft crushed glass that you can tread barefoot forms a path through the garden. Strawberries, melons and beans sprout directly from Irish moss that lines several triangle and sphere-shaped composts Tarisa designed herself. Ponds in the yard provide attract birds.

For all the attempts at boosting biodiversity in her yard, there's one kind of vegetation that doesn't grow. She hasn't planted a single blade of grass

"I think grass is killing the planet. Everybody has grass. What if everybody had a few shrubs, flowers, sustainable," she said.

Tucked away in the very back, a shadowy passageway leads between thick evergreens beyond her back yard.

"It used to be a secret garden, but not anymore. People seem to know about this."

Tarsia has been planting a forest on the public land just off Lagimodière Boulevard behind her yard since 2011.

"When I opened that gate, I felt, 'I belong to this area,'" she said. "I was thinking, 'I don't care.' City didn't do anything for 16 years, because I've been in this house 22 years, let's plant something."

"I never met anyone who would be against it, although last year someone complained from our area and the city showed up and the guy was almost apologizing. He said, 'The city is very fond of what you're doing, but we had to show up.'"

Guerrilla gardening

Tarsia isn't the only one practicing a little guerilla gardening. Laura Rawluk put some raised beds in the back lane behind her house, growing vegetables which people passing by are free to take.

"When they took the autobins away, we decided that we would use the space. So we put raised beds back here and we grow, well, whatever we can," she said.

With a smaller space on her property in West Broadway, Rawluk tries to maximize the use of space. She has a plum tree with four different varieties grafted on, allowing her to fit more fruit into a smaller space.

Raised beds and tiers also increase the amount of available space. "We try to make use of all of the space, including the vertical space because it's such a small yard."

Fruit and vegetables grow in abundance, with tomatoes, peas, carrots, potatoes beets, raspberries, gooseberries and rhubarb all flourishing. The amount of food helps cut down on Rawluk's grocery bills.

"There's a lot of times in the summer when we don't go shopping for weeks at a time and when we do, it's just just paper products and milk," she said.

Rawluk said the work involved in planting and maintaining her garden isn't onerous. She said she spends about a week seeding and planting the garden in the spring, and another week putting it to bed in the fall.

In between, however, Rawluk still spends a lot of her time enjoying her garden. "We spend a fair bit of time back here. Mostly for pleasure, because gardening is a pleasure to me," she said.