Monday, July 12, 2010

Instant Garden

A few fine folk among you have expressed interest in my garden-making technique. I make no claims except to say that has worked for me. I hasten to add that I didn't invent the method, so it, therefore, has some credibility.

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.

  1. Outline the area that you will make into a flower bed and cut the grass if necessary.

    Outline the flower bed

  2. 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 with newspaper

  3. 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.

    I spread 4 to 6 inches of soil on top of the newspaper

  4. 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)

    I remove sod from the bottom of the planting hole

  5. 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.

This year's garden from last year's planting using this method

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.

Grrrr! What awful mulch!

  1. You could use landscaping cloth, but I just use newspapers that I already have lying around.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

An Echinacea for your viewing pleasure: just because I can.


Bernie said...

It looks great A/C and I like how you explained your planting method, I think even I can do this. I would like to get away from the annuals and perhaps I may use your suggestions this week, won't be as big a garden as yours as I only have a small area. Thank you my friend......:-) Hugs

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Thanks for the step-by-step commentary with photos too - nicely done. I agree with Bernie's comment to get away from annuals, which are costly and more work and need replanting each year. This year, I limited the annuals to 2 containers on the back patio. FInal word...replace the mulch when it's on sale.

Diana said...

Oh AC you have given me such HOPE!!!! My husband wants nothing to do with gardening, I do it all, but he's only 48! Maybe he too could wake up on his 50th birthday and want to help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You are right too we always take the turf off first, that is one thing that he usually does for me. But I already did it your way! I will post later about it.
It worked very well, Thank you for the inspiration!
Love Di ♥
P.S. I always use cedar mulch too, I've tried others but have found that the squirrels dislike the cedar!

Mara said...

It looks so easy when you put it like that. I might just get to do it. One day...

Anonymous said...

Can you come to our house and landscape ? About the only thing I grow well is tumbleweeds.

Donna said...

Thank you Ac for the post! I just needed a "visual"...Hahaaa
Your gardens are Always beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

That was a nice tutorial A/C. That touch of color in your yard is perfect. We used the red brick rocks and you are right they fade very quickly.

Garnetrose said...

You do it much like my husband and I. Love the coneflowers. It looks great.

Holly, the Old Western Gal said...

Oh, I love that mulch! It looks so ferny almost!

Your gardening system is wonderful!!! If I ever get somewheres out of the desert I will certainly try it!

Anonymous said...

Lovely looking perennial beds. I can attest to the use of wet newspapers. I even use them as a mulch in my veggie garden in-between the tomato and pepper plants. But your right.. wet is best.

Funny how the gardening bug seems to hit about 50. It happened with me as well. :-)

Kila said...

Thank you. Enjoyed this post.

Amrita said...

Wow this is very technical. We do it any old way