I had no interest in gardening until about ten years ago. It's like I woke up one morning, just past the age of fifty, and out of the blue decided that I needed to plant a perennial garden. So ...
... in the typical exuberance of a fresh but naive convert, I went all out to prepare that first flower bed, even to the extent of double-digging. In other words, I dug up the surface soil, put it to one side, and then dug up the subsoil. If memory serves, I discarded the subsoil and replaced it with the former surface soil before adding new topsoil. That was total dedication, which I plan to never repeat, I hasten to add.
Ever since then, I've taken the lazy way. It is so simple that I hardly need to outline the steps, but here goes.
- Outline the area that you will make into a flower bed and cut the grass if necessary.
- Wet the newspapers down (see notes 1 and 2, below) and cover the grass to a thickness of about a half dozen sheets, give or take.
- Cover the newspaper with 4 to 6 inches of soil — the thicker the merrier, but when there is much to cover, I'm satisfied with the lesser amount (see note 3, below). If you do not need to raise the bed, such as I must do due to bedrock, I don't see why you couldn't make do with a thinner covering.
- Dig the required number of planting holes. Unless you are planting annuals, you will probably dig deeper than the newspaper, so make sure to remove the sod from those spots. While it might seem counterproductive to dig up the freshly laid paper, remember that you are digging a limited number of holes, which definitely beats having to dig up all of the sod. (see note 4, below)
- Lay mulch. Use natural cedar or the like. The dyed mixes like red, which are attractive to begin with, soon start to fade and lose their color, so you may as well begin with the natural look.
Presto! You have a complete garden. While I did the job in bits and pieces over several days, with proper planning you can amaze your neighbours by creating a fine looking garden replete with plants in a matter of hours.
Doing this job later in the season rather than early in spring, I was able to purchase everything on sale — soil, mulch, and plants — and complete this fair-sized flower bed for about a hundred dollars. While that sounds like a lot in a way, consider that I put in 18 bags of soil, 3 bags of mulch, 9 perennials (some a good size), and and 5 annuals. To me that seems to be a fairly reasonable amount for a garden that endure for a long time.
Based on previous results, this method works because that's what I did last year to produce the happy garden that you have seen in various, recent blog photos.
I hesitate to show the finished product because I absolutely detest the mulch. I've never seen the like. Next year, I will cover it with a thin layer of nicer looking stuff — if I can wait that long.
- You could use landscaping cloth, but I just use newspapers that I already have lying around.
- While it's possible to lay dry newspaper, the wet stuff will be more malleable and less prone to being blown about. It's just easier to work with.
- In my case I used bags of garden soil. In the past I haven't had much luck getting large quantities of dirt trucked in, for I have found it weedy. Your experience may be different, and if you have a large area to cover it will likely be cheaper and easier to truck it in. Also note that it may not be necessary to apply the best soil over the whole bed — see next note.
- Within reason, dig the planting holes deep and wide and backfill with a good grade of soil. As long as the planting holes are well nourished with fertile soil, it may not be necessary to lay the more expensive garden soil over the whole flower bed. I did in this instance, but it's your choice.