by Mireille Bourgeois
I live in a duplex with my boyfriend. We do really love it here. It’s a bit out of the city, and so we have both a decent front yard and a good back yard. My complaints about being connected to the neighbours is that if they don’t keep their lawns trimmed, weeds under control, and cut down self seeding wild flowers, all those problems become our problem. Throughout the summer, I’m cutting back the wild grass coming through the back yard wire fence that threatens to take over my garden boxes, and more importantly, our front yard is over taken by weeds. So many weeds in fact, that in some parts, the front yard has patches of dirt, where nothing grows.
Now we’re not what you call “lawn people”, we’re not obsessed about having the greenest lawns, and frankly, I debated whether to even try, since the weeds from the neighbours yard will likely eventually overtake our lawn again… I’d rather have garden boxes full of vegetables in my front yard then grass. But it had gotten so bad, that walking across the front lawn was like braving an obstacle course, rolling my ankles on any of the large lumps of weeds and wild grass…. Ok, you get the point. So we set out to try to make our front yard stand out a bit, give it some style. My boyfriend rented a dethatcher to rip up and level our front lot, an aerator which pokes holes in the ground for air and seed circulation, then he sprinkled lime (calcium and magnesium) all over it which is suppose to fertilize the soil, and finally spread seeds everywhere to encourage actual grass to grow. Don’t forget to water well (with a cigar and beer… I hear that works the best)! I’m hoping it’ll work, but it was satisfying seeing our yard with no weeds on it…
On my side I decided to expand our garden bed. Our weeds had gotten so bad that they were taking over the flower beds, and weeding was almost impossible with all the mulch I had laid down last year. I didn’t know what I was doing last year so I basically dug out a shape, turned the soil, planted stuff and mulched it. Of COURSE the weeds would take it over… So I made my first “lasagna” style beds, which is suppose to be quick, easy, and helps reduce the amount of weeds. It took me two days, but that’s ok 😉
I started by edging a shape for my bed. This edger is the best 12$ I’ve ever spent!! (got it at evil Wall Mart) An edger breaks through the ground easily (I did have to jump on it to get through the weeds carpet) and move it from side to side, then towards you to gently lift up a portion of the grass. After you’ve shaped your bed (don’t worry about being too specific, you can fix the shape after) you remove the top of the grass, and most of the roots and weeds that still remain in the newly shaped bed.
TIP: dig horizontally with your shovel, then punch the top in squares so it’s easy to remove by hand. Take each square and shake the good soil from the sod, then throw in a wheelbarrow. TIP: I sit on a balance ball when doing work in the garden, it saves my knees and back… TIP: remove big rocks and grubs from the garden bed as you see them. Many grubs turn into other hard shelled creatures like beetles, and worms, well they are great so leave them in!
After the top of the grass is removed, till the soil and loosen it up. Adjust the bed and perfect it to your desired shape. Then remove most of the original soil and placed it in a wheelbarrow, set aside.
SIDE NOTE: despite the weedy grass, the soil under was rich and full of worms. Weeds have such deep roots that they are able to get the best nutrients deep in the ground. That’s why I like reusing the soil, it’s quite nice to work with once the weeds are all gone.
Now begin your lasagna building! First, put a layer of weed barrier plastic. Then a layer of old newspapers. Top that with some great decomposing leaves (From my wintered vegetable garden boxes. They were dark and had almost turned into soil… mmmmm decomposing leaves…). Then scoop almost all the original soil on top of that layer and start shaping the soil, patting down a good sturdy shape, with strong sides. Dump a bag of new, enriched soil on top and pat it down firmly. I had some things to plant and did this before the mulch was thrown on just to make it easier. At this stage, place your preferred edging (I used beach rocks I got for free from Kijiji!) surrounding the bed, trying to fill most gaps (you don’t want to have a moat when it rains!). Finally, top it with a heavy layer of mulch, pushing mulch through the remaining holes between the rocks. This will increase the likelihood of keeping weeds away, and keep your soil moist.
There you have it! Back breaking lasagna garden beds! Even through the work, and the moments where I thought to myself “I should just cover up the holes with dirt and forget about it”, it was worth the hard work.
I planted a rhododendron cutting on the left which I hope one day will be a beautiful ball of flowers, in the back we had a blue spruce that with a bit of trimming and fertilization we hope will grow taller than anything else in this garden bed, a hosta, some lilies which will give nice low structure to the design of this bed, and then a creeping carpet Juniper bush which will take over half the bed once it’s grown and will create a nice entry point for the eye. I’ll fill the rest of the space with a mixture of perennial flowers which bloom at different times of the summer.