Over the past couple of years Jim and I have been creating a stroll garden in the back yard. I have tried to present the method of building beds that I have used, but I’m not sure if I have been clear. So today, I have a series of photos that I took during the work project yesterday that I hope will elucidate exactly what I have been doing out there.
First, if you are going to create a large project like this, it helps if you have some resources accumulated. I have rocks galore. I acquire the cardboard I use for a light barrier from a local appliance dealer. Stove cartons are PERFECT. For putting around edges, I like beer flats or feed sacks. It is helpful to cultivate a liquor store, they’re usually happy to stockpile beer flats for you if they know their pile won’t get too big.
A few years ago, I went to an auction and purchased a large collection of rocks that an old couple had been compiling for 35 years. Their house was scheduled for demolition to allow a street “improvement” and they actually listed their rock collection in the auction bill. I went and bid on it, and Jim and Jesse helped me move it home. It took 18 trips with our pickup to bring them all back.
In addition to the rock pile, on the left you can see the big pile of shredded tree limbs and bark from the ice storm. I used the manure pile that is just behind the rock pile to mix with the wood chips, and that has been “cooking” for a while. In addition, we have had a local hauler bring us road base, which is a quite useful thing to have around.
You would not believe how difficult it was to find pictures of my resources for garden making. Apparently, piles of rock and dirt are not subjects for photography in the ordinary course of my day. Ask me for a picture of a praying mantis or a butterfly, and I can find dozens of them!
Anyway, it is probably quite clear that we have a lot of space to store piles of stuff, which makes the creation of a garden a little easier. Granted, it is quite a ways to haul rocks from the pile to the work area, but it is easier if you have the raw materials for your project nearby when you start.
I’m not sure, but I think that having all the raw materials nearby is probably what motivated the project in the first place! Jim was getting tired of mowing and weed eating around the rock pile. We thought we might be able to use it up in the creation of this project, but I’m afraid that we are nearly done with the rock work and there are still a lot out there. I actually had a client ask me yesterday if, when I was finished with this project, I would let her have the extra rocks. Apparently even in rock rich areas like this, there is room for rock envy.
Okay, so the “lasagna” method of building gardens is not new. I’m not sure exactly where I came across it the first time, but I have been using it around this place ever since I moved here.
This is what the new garden area looked like when we began working.
Notice the outline of the intended bed made by the hose.
A little side note here: If I had it to do over again, I would create the bed we are working on now FIRST, and then put the horse shoe on the outside. As it is, the outer bed is in the way of hauling rocks and mulch to the new bed, and consequently the wheelbarrow loads of rocks have to go several dozens of feet farther than they would have to if the other bed was not there. But I digress.
It is important to cut off any grass and weeds that are going to be under your “lasagna” from the outside. I have neglected to make this step in the past, and I am here to tell you that Bermuda, zoysia and crab grass only appreciate the mulching you have done for them if you do not cut them off from parents and or scions that are exposed to light. Hence, the first thing you should do is cut a trench around the new bed. I am making this trench wide and deep because I intend to separate my beds from the grass paths with large rocks.
Additionally, if you intend to use the stuff you cut out of the trench to build a mound with in your bed, it is important to lay down a layer of cardboard before you start digging. This is how it looked after we had put down the initial layer of cardboard and begun cutting the trench.
Jim and I both worked on the digging, and less than an hour later, it looked like this.
Notice that all the clumps of dirt are laid carefully on the cardboard with the grass and weeds of the lawn facing DOWN. This is fairly important. Apparently, if you do this the grass and weeds die before they have a chance to figure out they need to change direction. It is very important that the cardboard that is covering the lawn you are changing into garden does not have any holidays where light can possibly penetrate. You can see how I have carefully overlapped my large cardboard sheets.
This next picture was taken after I lined the trench with beer flats. Amazingly enough, when Jim went to the friendly liquor store and went through its dumpster, the amount of flats he brought home was EXACTLY the right amount to finish going around the trench. I’m not sure how he managed that.
Again, notice how I have overlapped the cardboard pieces so that no light will be able to get through once I have put the rocks in the trench and covered it all with mulch. The rocks are there to keep the cardboard from flying away in the wind. Once it is all covered with mulch, those rocks will be moved into the trench.
Then we started moving rocks from the rock pile.
We will finish the rock edge today, and then it will be time to haul mulch. The entire bed will be covered about five inches deep in mulch.
We have an incredible resource at our city public works department. They make mulch out of yard waste people bring to their site plus all the trimmings the parks and power department bring in. Anyone who cares to can haul as much mulch away as they want. We have hauled about a dozen pickups of mulch in the last year.
If you do not have a source of mulch like this, you can collect leaves and store them in black plastic garbage bags over the winter in a sunny spot. If you water the leaves in the bags well and then turn the bags over a couple of times during the winter, you will find that by spring you have pretty good mulch. I used that source of mulch for the front gardens and vegetable gardens for years before our fair city finally established their community mulch pile. I’m not sure, but sometimes I think Jim and I are the only people availing themselves of the mulch opportunity, and I have been telling people about it for the past two years.
Anyway, this method is what I used last year when I created the rose garden, and this is what it looks like now.
Okay, so it’s how it looked last October. It doesn’t look that different now, except for the fact that the roses are dormant and the grass has died back for winter. Anyway, I haven’t had any trouble with weeds in there, I had to pull about ten this spring, all henbit and bluets.
So,in a nutshell,this is how we have gone about the task of creating new garden beds. By the time my pawpaws and blueberries arrive, this bed will be ready for me to dig a few holes and plant the new babies. That amount of disturbance probably won’t encourage any weed growth. By the time I am digging the holes, the grass underneath will be dead or very close to it, and the worms will have gobbled up all that stuff and aerated the soil beneath.
Happy gardening, everybody.