Last season I planned new planting areas to soften the look of a newly installed fence. But these extensive future beds were covered with grass. I might have been able to tackle the job with a shovel and a lot of energy, until I broke my foot on Memorial Day weekend. No matter how hard I tried, I could not figure out how to dig up such a large area with a shovel and one foot in a walking cast. Fortunately, patience and ingenuity kicked in. Rather than rush the project along by begging for volunteers, I marked the edges of the beds with an old garden hose, collected all the corrugated cardboard I could, and placed the flattened cardboard over the grass I originally planned to remove. A few flat rocks held the cardboard in place then, when able, I covered the cardboard with wood chips. As my foot healed, I arranged collected potted plants so I could imagine, through the summer, how the beds might look in the future. By the time I was ready to attack this project in the early fall, the grass under the cardboard was dead, worms were abundant, and the soil easily loosened for its new occupants. After planting, any remaining cardboard held weeds in check between the new plants, and replenished wood chip mulch covered the beds.
You can use a similar process to create an instant garden, according to Lee Reich, author of Weedless Gardening and other gardening books. Lee described this instant garden method during his presentation at the Garden Conference, held March 13 at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. The method involves marking out the shape of the desired bed, covering the entire area with layers of newspaper kept in place by wetting the paper with a hose, and covering it with a few inches (Lee says 2 inches is ample) of good garden soil or compost. This top layer is ready for planting shallow-rooted plants. If planting deeper-rooted plants, Lee said to simply cut through the papers, plant, replace any disturbed papers and the top layer of soil and, voila, instant garden. In a short period, the papers will break down, but by this time the grass and weeds under the papers will likely have died; any that do survive will be weakened and easily removed. Mulch the area after planting to minimize the establishment of weeds in the new layer of compost/topsoil.
Either method uses a commonly available resource to ease a gardener’s chores so more time can be spent enjoying the garden’s beauty.