Lasagna gardening is a recipe for success

BY NIOMI ROHN PHILLIPS FOR THE ENTERPRISE 1. Choose a level spot 2. Outline the garden (using a flexible garden hose creates a fluid shape) 3. Mow down weeds or grass 4. Lay newspaper at least 8 pages deep (don't use the slick, colored pages) 5. ...



1. Choose a level spot

2. Outline the garden (using a flexible garden hose creates a fluid shape)

3. Mow down weeds or grass


4. Lay newspaper at least 8 pages deep (don't use the slick, colored pages)

5. Top with 3-4 inches of peat moss

6. Top with 3-4 inches of dried grass clippings, compost or leaves (if you are in a hurry, skip this part)

7. Top with 3-4 inches of manure

8. Cover all with small chips of pine bark

9. Sprinkle blood meal over all. (This helps deter deer and small animals, like rabbits and squirrels)

10. Water and wait at least 3-4 weeks

11. Cut through the layers to plant seedlings, or make a shallow trough to plant seeds. Continue to mulch on top during the growing season.


An old friend and master gardener sent me this new recipe for an Italian favorite. "Bon appetite," she said. "This is an easy way to create a garden - especially for an impatient and novice gardener."

Like cooking fads, variations of the recipe now appear in numerous gardening publications, for example:

1. Make a frame with 2 x 4

2. Cover soil with a thick blanket of newspapers, overlapping edges

3. Top with kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy products)

4. Cover with a thick layer of leaves

5. Add several layers of compost

6. Plant your seeds


Or -

Spread a layer of newspaper, peat, leaves and nutrient rich soil and plant.

This last is definitely not enough instruction for me. Even an experienced cook needs more explicit instructions.

The best time to make garden lasagna, my gardening friend said, is in the fall, so the garden will be ready for spring planting. Of course, I didn't get to it in the fall, but the first week in May worked. You still have time.

The area in our yard between pines and birches, where even dandelions struggle to survive, begged for the lasagna experiment. Granddaughter Sarah helped me place the newspapers methodically, making sure to overlap the edges. Then the wind joined us, lifting newspapers and replacing them all over the yard

Like any good cooks, we adjusted the recipe. Sarah soaked the newspapers with the hose. Before the paper could dry out, we covered it with the peat moss.

Skip Number 6 ... if you are in a hurry ... we are. Skip Number 7. We don't have any manure. Skip Number 8. Don't have any chips.

Sarah and I calculated that skipping No. 6 made the total necessary depth of layers 6-8 inches. We topped our newspaper, peat moss and blood meal with luscious compost from my reserved pile. Sarah pushed a ruler into the layers with every wheelbarrow we dumped, anxious to get to minimum inches.


Gardening in the shade

During the three to four weeks the lasagna cooked, I devoured information on shade plants and drew up a detailed plan - not serendipitous gardening this time - lasagna with appropriate accompaniments.

Hosta with its blue, chartreuse and variegated white and green leaf colors, of course, provides the bones (or in this case the pasta) for any shade garden. But the world of shade plants is as diverse and exciting as the chianti you might serve with lasagna.

Pulmonaria, Brunnera, Bleeding Hearts, Japanese painted fern, Ligularia, Astilbe, Tiarella, Bugbane and Lady's Mantle thrive beneath the birches. Feathery Goat's Beard and Meadow Rue with its lacey leaves add another dimension of texture and blossom.

Annual Impatiens, planted along the birch log-lined path, give a touch of red. Friends contributed Forget-Me-Nots and Virginia Blue Bells (Mertensia); I moved Heuchera 'plum pudding' and Lamium from other garden spots.

Annual alyssum and pansies, as well as perennial 'Blue Chips' Campanula, bloom all summer at the edges of the beds where sun filters through the leaves.

'White Nancy' Lamium produces white blossoms from July to near the end of summer. Lamium 'Beacon Silver' with its pink blossoms and silver white foliage also blooms mid-spring until July.

The Lamium lightens the shade and wanders in and around and among other plants, falling over the birch logs and between the steppingstones. It's a naturalistic carpet that smothers


weeds and pulls easily when it gets too vigorous.

Lamium is my substitute for mulch. Mulching is a popular means for maintaining a weed-free garden, but it also thwarts the volunteer seedlings that give this gardener the jumping heart delight of finding Pulmonaria, Lady's Mantle and even Tiarella seedlings in unusual places. With the main ingredients in place, serendipity is half the fun.

Like all gardens, this is a work in progress. I moved spring blooming, wild Nodding Trillium, delicate blue Hepatica and ferns from my deep woods to the outer edges of the shade beds to create a meandering blend from garden into the woods.

Planting Snow on the Mountain to brighten the shade, seemed like a good idea until it invaded the hostas. That necessitated placing a plastic barrier deep enough to deter the runners. Now, Snow on the Mountain also eases the shade garden into the woods, even thriving in the sandy soil where the lasagna didn't reach.

Shade gardening is not about bodacious color. It's about the serene shades of green and leaf texture. It's about quicken-your-heart small bouquets of pink and blue that will touch your gardener's soul spring, summer and fall.

In the bleak palette of fickle May, when your sunshine beds are still sleeping, you'll get an awakening burst of spring sometimes even before the first call of the loon. Pulmonarias with tiny pink and blue blossoms amidst glossy green or green/white leaves emerge from the leaf cover of winter. Blue and pink Forget-me-nots blanket the still sleeping hostas.

I give Forget-Me-Nots their freedom; let them spread their seeds and bloom everywhere; then pull them out of the way of Japanese Painted Fern and Lady's Mantle which emerge later. One area in deep shade beneath the birches produces blooming Forget-Me-Nots all summer. By the second week in May, Bleeding Hearts (shrub size in just two years) drip with pinky red.

In early summer, quiet, peaceful Tiarella 'Pink brushes' blooms, and when the color fades, the brushes still flutter in the wind.


In mid-summer, Astilbes ('Red sentinel' and 'Ostrich plume') put out their feather fronds with a brush of color amidst the greens that lasts until summer's end. Bugbane (Cimicifuga) grows 5 feet tall with bottlebrush-like wands of creamy white that turn to deep brown and wave over the snow.

In late summer, Ligularia 'the rocket' produces low clumps of large-toothed leaves topped by racemes of lemon.

A wise and experienced gardener friend introduced me to Toad Lily (Tricyrtis Hirta) - an unattractive name for a plant with arching stems and orchid-like blossoms. It prefers star status, the only blossoms in the September garden, and it may even survive the first snowfall.

Unless you have a good memory, it's important to label your plants with genus and species. It's easier to add to your "want list," if you know what you have.

This year, my list includes at least one more Pulmonaria ('Trevi fountain'); a heartleaf Brunnera called 'Looking glass' (tiny blue forget-me-not like flowers that form small bouquets in early spring that deer will avoid, according to the magazine); and another Tiarella too - 'Black Snowflake' with white spikes in the spring that supposedly last up to a week. And then there is the whole world of Helleborus to explore.

Embrace the shade and try lasagna gardening. Start with just a serving piece or two where the grass won't grow anyway.

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