I’ve spent the better part of 2012 working on my next book, which will focus on fun and easy designs for including more edible plants in our home landscapes - fruits, veggies, herbs and more. Over 75 experts from around the world have contributed to the manuscript, but after studying and detailing their designs for the past 12 months, I’m beginning to look at my own garden with a fresh perspective.
Autumn is a great time to re-think your ornamental and edible gardens and consider what changes or expansions you’d like to make. Personally, I’m a huge fan of no-dig, or lasagna gardening, pioneered by Pat Lanza in her book of the same name, Lasagna Gardening, published by Rodale Books in 1998 (Side note - Pat is a contributor in my next book!). Lasagna gardening allows you to create a new garden by layering organic materials like straw, compost, grass clippings and shredded leaves and letting them compost down into a loose, rich soil full of worms. But, you don’t need to wait for the composting process to finish before you plant (or, the lasagna to ‘cook’), you can start tucking in shrubs, perennials, bulbs, annuals, vegetables and herbs as soon as you assemble the layers.
If given the chance, I’d prefer to start a lasagna garden in autumn, which does give the layers a jump start on the composting process, but this past May, I had the ingredients and the space to extend my perennial border with this method and the results were spectacular!
For me, one of biggest benefits of a lasagna-style garden is that you don’t need to break your back digging up and removing sod. I started by mowing our existing grass/clover short and then covered it with a layer of cardboard, overlapping as I went. If you don’t have cardboard, you can also use 5 or 6 sheets of damp newspaper as a substitute. I watered the cardboard with my hose and then added 3 to 4 inch thick layers of gathered organic materials - half composted kitchen scraps, leftover bags of leaves and bales of straw from the previous autumn, the remains of a pile of topsoil, and so on.
Once the layers were built, I watered well and gave it a day to settle. Soon, I planted a selection of ornamental plants and continued to water well - mainly because the summer was so dry. When I first made the garden, it was about 10 inches deep, but over the course of the summer, the layers broke down into a 6 inch deep raised bed with lovely dark, crumbly soil.
To make life easier, I would recommend gathering up all your supplies before you begin. For the cardboard layer, I headed out on recycling day, driving through our neighbourhood and collected piles of cardboard that was stacked at the bottom of driveways for pick up. If you don’t have assorted organic materials - leaves, straw, soil, compost - sitting around, you might want to source these before you start laying the cardboard. If you have everything ready, a lasagna garden can be built in a very short period of time with no tedious turf removal and you’ll get a big head start on your spring garden.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs on News 95.7 FM April through October. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.