The summer is winding down and I need to jot down the creation of the flower garden in the meadow before I only remember the good times, lots of trial and error. Sort of like looking back after your children are grown and only remembering how wonderful they behaved.
The field was just that, a field. Sometimes we would mow it all and sometimes mow a path where we could go for walks and let the 2 dogs run. It was sort of nice having the field knee deep in grasses of all kinds, some with wispy tops, some with tight white grains and then a wild flower here and there; even the purple flower of the Canadian thistle peeking its head above the grasses was pretty until you remembered it was prickly and very invasive in Montana.
I am not sure why I decided to put it in the middle of the meadow, but I think it was so I could look out my window and see flowers when I woke up in the morning or when I would be sitting on my patio. Well, it was so far away, I couldn't really see any of the flowers until the swath of sun flowers began to appear, and that was in August..
In the summer of 2018, we decided that we needed to brighten up our large area with some flowers and wanted to be able to see them out of our windows, so we decided to make a flower garden in the middle of our center field.
The first thing we did was mow an area in the meadow, 100’x40’, as low as we could get it. But it became obvious that we needed to get rid of the grasses and weeds, so we covered the entire area with black plastic, leaving it for about 8 weeks.
In the mean time, we decided that we would mow another area the same size. After we removed the plastic from the north side, we covered another 100' x 40'.
The plastic did turn everything brown, but it was impossible to dig into. What we did dig up turned into cement if it rained. It was going to take a lot of work to turn this compacted soil into soil that would produce beautiful flowers.
My daughter, who is a Master Gardener in Boulder CO, had been studying ways to prepare soil for planting without tilling, which seems to bring more weed seeds to the surface, and disturbs the underlying micro-organisms. The idea is that once you establish your bed, you do not disturb the surface.
She introduced me to “lasagna gardening” which is usually used in smaller areas. It is often used in garden boxes or creating a garden in a yard. The reason it is called “lasagna gardening” is because all the amendments needed for a healthy soil are layered on your specific area. This can even be done with no preparation of the soil, even on top of grass and weeds. However, we chose to till to a depth of 5 inches and then raking up the grass (hay) and saving it for later.
To kill any future weeds and grass, cardboard or newspaper should be put down covering the area you will be gardening, making sure it overlaps so that no weeds can peek through. Then you can put amendments that are recommended for what you will be planting, compost, manure, peat, and maybe lime, if needed, ending with mulch to keep in the moisture and keep weeds at bay. Layering makes the soil surface spongy, making it easy for young roots of newly planted seedlings to work into the soil, which is virtually impossible with clay and compacted soil.
Since we were creating two new plots, we decided to do an experiment as well, doing “lasagna gardening” on one plot and preparing the soil on the other plot, adding the same ingredients to the soil, but eliminating the cardboard or newspaper, and adding crimson clover, a cover crop, to a middle section of the plot and planting the rest of the area with perennials.
Finding enough cardboard for the "lasangua garden" was going to be a challenge, so we approached Cooper’s furniture store asking them if we could have some of their large boxes. They were thrilled and it was good for us because they had already broken them down. It took 3 trips to their store to get enough cardboard for a 100’x40’ area.
After we placed all the cardboard, we watered it down completely so that it would lay flat and then immediately covered the entire area with straw. We hauled in around 10 cubic yards of manure (Kalispell Creamery, manure compost for $20 a truck load), and same amount of soil. We received over 10 yards of free wood chips that we put on top. We did end up with an area that was about 8 inches higher than the 2nd plot. Proponents of “lasagna gardening” suggest that the area sit out the first season, allowing it to turn into a healthy soil for easier planting. However, we decided to plant the seedlings I grew in my garage green house.
We prepared the 2nd lot by tilling also about 5 inches into the ground, which upturned the dry grass (hay) which we raked up to add to the pile to be used later.
We then covered the whole area with manure, soil and wood chips. When no chance of frost we planted our perennials.
Before we planted the flowers, we needed to put in our Critter fence. We had put in 8 foot t-posts, but I had forgotten that 2 of the 8 feet would be in the ground and the Critter fence was 8 foot tall. So I got on line hoping to find extensions for a t-post and could not find anything. But I did find a youtube video showing someone extending a t-post with 3 inch white poly tubing. We attached a 3 foot tube to the top of the t-posts thus extending the posts to accommodate the fencing. Because the white poly tubing stood out, we painted them green, making them less obvious from a distance. One thing I liked about the fencing is that from a distance you couldn't really tell there was fencing. I made gates out of poly tubing.
We planted the annuals into the north side by pushing away the wood chips, putting in some bone meal, compost and soil. into the hole before adding the seedling. And then I turned on the sprinkler, which was on a timer. I left for the day and came back to a flooded "lasagna garden". I thought all my work had just flooded away. I immediately lifted off much of the mulch so that the garden could dry out. I was lucky this was dry Montana and not tropical Florida. It took at least 3 days to dry out and longer for the seedlings to recover; they eventually did, but the zinnias and bells of Ireland never really looked as good as they should have. Shortly after this incident, we put in our irrigation, using the drip system which was on a regulated timer. One thing I realized after planting the seedlings I started is that I did not have enough to cover the north side. But since we weren't sure how the flowers would do the first year of the "lasagna garden", it was best to let most of it set until 2020.
In the first third of the south plot, we planted 5 rows of perennials 10 each of Bee Balm, Salvia, Coneflower, Lupine and Maltese Cross.
In the middle we planted crimson clover and sunflowers.
At the far end we planted 2 grass plants, 9 phlox, 3 peonies, 5 pearly whites and 6 Russian sage. Along the side we had a small plot of lavender.
Our plan for 2020 is to plant several different varieties, many that are not usually found in floral shops because they do not travel well and need to be purchased locally. There is a movement within the floral farm industry to get florists to purchase flowers locally, and one way to get the movement started is to plant flowers that have to be purchased locally because they do not travel well and are quite beautiful.
We are looking forward to our u-pick gardening to keep the blooms coming throughout the summer through customers deadheading our flowers.