At the end of July, I started building a lasagna garden. First, I used rocks to outline the bed.
Next, I laid a layer of newspaper, five to seven pages thick, over the whole area, and watered it well. Cardboard was another option, but, thanks to my church pastor who seldom visits the recycling center, I had easy access to a lot of paper!
Most of the material, however, was free! I made liberal use of the entire content of my compost bin, fresh grass clippings, partially decayed leaves from year-old piles in the forest, and the rich soil that was under those piles of leaves.
I tried to alternate green, nitrogen-rich layers (mostly fresh grass clippings) with brown, carbon-based layers (leaves, decayed wood, and compost), and I tried to make the brown layers twice as deep as the green. Every time I completed a layer, I watered it well. By the end of August, I had layered on about twenty inches worth of material, and deemed it enough.
I let the bed sit for a few weeks, watering it well three or four times each week. The layers soaked up the moisture like a sponge, and, in fact, the bed felt spongy, springing back up easily when I gently poked it. While it sat, the layers began to decay and transform into rich, loamy soil, and I perused on-line catalogs.
I searched for plants that are both deer resistant and lovers of partial shade. Some parts of this bed receive relatively little sunlight for most of the year, while other sections, in the height of summer, remain in full sun until early afternoon. None of it ever bears the brunt of full, hot afternoon sunlight. I also tried to choose plants that will bloom at different times throughout the growing season, from early spring through the fall.
In mid-September, my first shipment of plants arrived!
Locally, I purchased an Astilbe ‘Vision in Red’, Lamium ‘Purple Dragon’, Anemone ‘Robustissima’, and Chelone ‘Hot Lips’ (Turtlehead). Additionally, I moved some established plants from my own gardens up to the new bed: an Astilbe which was too crowded in the front garden, some Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’, which were also too crowded, some old-fashioned Coral Bells which received too much sun where they were, and several shoots of Lamb’s Ear. There already were a few Foxglove there, which I was careful not to bury as I piled on the layers!
Planting in the lasagna bed was a joy. During its rest period, I never once stepped on or otherwise compacted the bed, so the layers formed beautiful, loose, dark soil that is easy to push aside to make room for the new plants. Aside from a thin layer of leaves on the very top, there is no longer any evidence of the original layers of material.
Here is what the bed looked like the morning after I planted it:
I am still waiting for another shipment of plants to arrive; Jackson and Perkins promises I will receive another Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ , an old-fashioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis), Vinca minor ’24 Karat’, and ‘Last Dance’ Ligularia by the end of this week.
Three weeks later, all of the plants appear to be settling well. Unfortunately, their deer resistance has been tested. On the second morning, I noticed that both Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’ and Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ had been tasted.
I had hoped it was a fluke, that my visitors were merely taste-testing because it was new and different, but this morning when I walked up the hill, I found several more of my new babies had sustained damage. Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’ had even been dug from the ground!
A few plants remain intact: the Astilbes, Anemone, Lamium, Chelone, and Helleborus Foxglove, and Lamb’s Ears were all untouched.
As this bed evolves, it appears that my main challenge will be to choose plants that indeed will be distasteful to the deer, while at the same time giving me something pretty to look at as I gaze up the hill!