Instant Garden: A Guide To Greener Pastures
I’ve never had much of a green thumb. As I drive down Belle Meade Boulevard in the summer, I risk being arrested for distracted driving because I’m hanging my head out the window to take a gander at the rows of fabulous Annabelle Hydrangea blooms. I longingly covet the Volkswagen-sized lilac bush in my childhood yard. I peruse the aisles of Moore & Moore Garden Center, drooling over the rows of azaleas, gardenias and geraniums.
But if you believe Lisa Beath of Beath Professional Gardeners, gardening can — and should — be easy. “The trick is to choose hardy native plants, give them good organic material to grow in, and water a whole lot. Then, just get out of the way and watch them grow!” While this sounds overly simple, I swear it works.
“You’ll never pull weeds again,” says Beath with confidence. “They key is layering your garden like a lasagna.”
First, choose an area for your garden. “Start small: even a 2-by-2 foot square can yield incredible results,” says Lisa. Cover the area with newspaper or cardboard right on top of the grass or soil. Don’t dig a hole or till the ground. Next, saturate the cardboard with water. A good, long soak for an hour or more will help the cardboard break down and encourage worms upward out of the ground.
Once you’ve watered the ground well, you can start making your bed. Spread thick layers — 1-2 inches each — of bagged organic materials and compost over your wet cardboard. Lisa recommends topsoil, soil conditioner, sand (for drainage), manure, and Miracle Gro Moisture Control garden soil. You can also layer in grass clippings, leaves, and any other brown or green plant matter. She recommends avoiding mulch, which is too acidic for most plants. When you’re finished with your layers, you’re ready to plant.
Choose plants that require the amount of sunlight your garden will provide — part shade, full shade, or full sun. In Nashville, you’ll need plants that tolerate heat, resist drought, and like the humid Tennessee summers. If you’re like me and you love big, colorful blooms, try flowering shrubs like hydrangea, azalea, and lavender. For fabulous ground covers, I love hosta, Russian sage, and verbena. And for the best results, watch your little garden for a couple of days and take notice of what time of day it gets sunlight.
Because the garden is built on top of the ground, the soil is loose and filled with air. This makes it easier for water to reach the roots of your plants, and easier for the roots to reach out into the soil and create dense root systems. The cardboard also keeps weeds and seeds that were already present in the ground from polluting your beautiful handiwork, and when new weedy seeds germinate in your garden, the loose soil makes them easy to pull. “You can weed your garden with two fingers,” says Lisa.
The only regular maintenance you’ll need to invest in is good, soaking water. My favorite trick? Turn the hose on to a piddly drizzle, then lay it a few inches away from the base of a new shrub. The trickle of water soaks the bed thoroughly, and keeping the water away from the center of the shrub encourages roots to grow outward. I like leaving the hose running for an hour or more, ensuring that my plants get the quench they need.
Planting is as easy as pushing aside a pile of dirt, sitting the plant inside the hole, and covering around it. My gardens are lovely, low-maintenance, and they give my home a beautiful splash of color in the summer. Also, there’s something incredibly rewarding about planting your own flowers, watching them take root, and caring for them as they grow.
Photo by Michael W. Bunch