Creating Garden Magic
How I Transformed My Backyard into a Secret Garden
I loved my backyard, but after a rainstorm it turned into a lake! I decided to do something drastic- completely get rid of the grass and transform my backyard into a beautiful, peaceful flower garden retreat.
I would not only be adding soil to the low spots which will help redirect or absorb the water, but I would create a beautiful space where I would much rather spend my time with the flowers and plants than cutting the grass :) Huge undertaking, but I psyched myself up for it!
So, how to get rid of the grass and weeds already coming up? (I started this project in April 2013.) I really did not want to have to pull up all that lawn! Somehow while researching on the internet, I came across a gardening technique called "lasagna gardening" which sounded yummy! (Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with that delicious Italian dish that I love so much!)
Here's the connection- lasagna gardening calls for putting several layers ON TOP of your grass- you don't have to pull out your grass with this technique- so much easier. The grass (and weeds hopefully) dies and the paper decomposes over time. The layers that are placed over the grass include newspaper and/or cardboard, compost and mulch. Usually, I think, it is used for smaller vegetable gardens. I decided this was the way to go for me and my future secret garden!
How I Replaced my Backyard Lawn with Secret Garden
Lasagna Gardening Magic 1-2-3
Layer Your Grass with Paper, Garden Soil and Mulch
1. So I got started! Having done some research into lasagna gardening, I began collecting newspaper and cardboard boxes for the first layer. It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be since not too many of my friends and relatives had stacks of newspaper as I had imagined they would :(
Neither was it easy to get cardboard boxes. I drove around the neighborhood and collected as many as I could from the nearby stores and shops.
I was anxious to begin so we took my little stack of newspapers and began to cover the backyard with them. We used up all of the newspaper I had and then put the cardboard boxes on top of that. We made sure to water the paper as we went along. (My next door neighbors were wondering what the heck was going on next door!) Watering the paper helps to get the decomposing process going. But after all that, I had barely covered HALF of the yard!
I got tired of running around begging for cardboard boxes- there had to be a better way! Then I had a brainstorm- which does happen to me once in a great while :) I thought of using the large brown paper yard refuse bags that we use to gather up leaves and grass clippings to finish covering the rest of the yard.
There was a sale on those bags ($1.88 for pack of 5) and I ended up buying them up and using 55 bags to complete covering the yard with the paper. The bags were a lot easier to use than the newspaper and cardboard boxes. (Separating the newspaper and tearing down the cardboard boxes was really a pain! Although, I still ended up with blisters from having to cut open the 55 bags!)
Any way, we finally had finished covering up the entire backyard with one type of paper or another. Hooray! We then "watered" the paper-covered yard again (to help-along the decomposition process).
First lasagna layer completed- CHECK!
2. In "real" lasagna gardening, you top off the paper layer with compost. Since I had none, and, I am an impatient gardener (I wanted to start planting my flowers as soon as the weather was warmer!) I did the next best thing (in MY mind)- I took a shortcut! I found a good deal on "premium garden soil mix" from a nearby lawn supply center. The garden soil mix contained topsoil, organic compost and peat. This would be my second layer. Being new to all of this, I only ordered 5 yards of the garden soil mix. When the soil was spread, it only covered half of the yard! So I had to order 5 more yards. The second layer was complete- CHECK! The yard was looking good!
3. But that was only the second layer and now came the top layer- the mulch. I ordered 10 yards of mulch (learned my lesson from ordering too little soil) and spread that over the dirt. I ordered the red mulch because I thought the red would contrast with the green plants and also, it would match the brick on the house and garage. Now, it seemed too bright, I should have gotten brown or black. However, I think that with time it will fade and hopefully, all of my plants, flowers and ground cover I've now planted will grow so lush that you won't be able to see the red mulch so much (anyway, that's my vision!). Third lasagna layer complete- CHECK!
The yard was now ready for this novice gardener to continue the transformation from grassy backyard to secret garden! Let the gardening magic games begin!
Use the large brown paper yard waste bags instead of newspaper or cardboard!
Covers more area than the newspaper and is a LOT easier to work with than cardboard.
Photo Gallery: Lasagna Gardening in my Backyard - THREE LAYERS over the Grass- Paper, Garden Soil and MulchClick thumbnail to view full-size
Links to Lasagna Gardening - What you need to know about Lasagna Gardening
Lasagna Gardening is a method of gardening whereby there is no need to remove the present grass prior to planting your garden. Layers of newspaper or cardboard, compost, soil and mulch are placed on top of the grass (and weeds). These layers prevent the grass and weeds from growing and eventually decompose and add to the richness of the soil.
- The basics of lasagna gardening by Patricia Lanza
Article by Patricia Lanza describing how she originated the process of lasagna gardening for her vegetable garden.
- How to start an organic garden through lasagna gardening
An easy to read description of lasagna gardening, and how to create your organic lasagna garden
- Video on lasagna gardening
Video on how to build a lasagna garden
Planning Your Secret Garden - Start with Your Vision, Plan out Your Garden, Select Your Plants
MAKE A PLAN
Once I had cleared my back yard of grass, I had my blank slate (or rather, BLANK GARDEN) on which to begin the artistic process! Oh-oh! I had a completely empty backyard now and felt a little overwhelmed as to how to begin. I had a case of gardener's block! Where to start?
First, I decided to try to make a plan by picturing what I wanted my secret garden to look like. I wanted to have a couple of stone paths, I wanted an area to sit and enjoy the garden, I wanted a LOT of flowers (mainly perennials so that I wouldn't have to be planting flowers every year), I wanted an area where my daughter could lay out in the sun (when she's home from college) and I wanted an area for my grandchildren to play. So I took a picture of the backyard, printed it out and began to plot out with a magic marker the pathways and the areas I wanted in my secret garden. (If you prefer, simply draw your plan on a sheet of paper!)
SELECT YOUR PLANTS
Having sketched out the basic lay out for my secret garden, I needed to figure out which flowers to plant. In the main part of my yard there is no shade, so the majority of the plants had to be sun lovers just like me :) There are a couple of shady areas under the two trees I have, so I needed some plants that like shade. I wanted a variety of colors, sizes and textures. I also wanted some vines to grow along the fence for privacy and beauty. I also needed to find out which of those perennials would grow in my area (Michigan- which I discovered is "zone 5").
I went to some websites like better homes and gardens (bhg.com) where I found some nice plans for garden designs which also named the flowers included in the designs. I looked at those that I liked and jotted down the names of the flowers I liked that grew in zone 5.
It was still too early to plant (in Michigan, we still get frost warnings at the end of May!) However, it was not too early to start some of the flowers from seeds nor to order some online.
I painted my thumb green :) and bought about 10 packs of seeds (perennials and vines) and planted them in seed starter pots. My grandchildren helped me plant them- they really enjoyed it! I searched online for a company in this area to order perennials (they would be delivered to my home at the appropriate planting time!) The garden centers had already started selling plants, so I began collecting perennials.
I was ready and eager for the warm planting season!
CREATE YOUR GARDEN PATHS
An important part of my vision for creating my secret garden was having a stone "path" which would take you through the garden to an inviting seating area from which to enjoy the view. I had to decide where the path should begin and determine a focal point in the garden. I decided that the path should begin from the driveway and take you to the seating area as well as to the area in the back of my garage.
I looked at a LOT of garden path photos on pinterest and went to a local lawn supply center that had a large variety of stones and paver rocks. I found some flagstone rocks that were large enough for a pathway, but not too heavy that I could not take them home in my car. I selected the ones I liked and was helped loading them in my car (I had to make two trips- I think my poor car dragged all the way home from the weight of the rocks!).
Once I got them home, I laid them out to view the sizes and shapes and then laid them in place to create the first path
As usual, creativity takes you in many different directions... so it happened with my garden paths. Once I had the first one down, I decided it definitely needed another one to lead to the seating area. Then, putting that one down, I decided I needed another one, of course :)
So in the end, I had one main path with two junctions and another path from my back door entrance to the pine tree. I found some cute stamped concrete path stones which I purchased to create those new junctions and I used some slate stones that I already had to create the last pathway from the back door entrance to the pine tree. As they say, "There's more than one way to reach your destination."
TIME TO PLANT!
By the end of May, the weather was warm enough to begin to plant! I was sooo excited to start creating my secret garden. I had laid out the stone pathways and set up one of the garden focal points (a stone birdbath and fairy that I already had). The perennials I had collected were waiting for me to plant them, the plants I had ordered had arrived and the seeds had sprouted!
My garden plan in hand, I began with the easy ones- the hostas. I planted the hostas and the huecheras in the shady area under the tree.
Since I had prepared the ground by doing the "lasagna" technique, I was anxious to see if the soil would be deep enough for me to plant some of the bigger plants. I tentatively dug in- it was hard- dug in deeper past the paper or cardboard and discovered the layer of dead grass. And, much to my delight, lots of worms doing their job! So, I was able to plant my plants and wait for my tiny (at this point) perennials to grow tall.
Creating Garden Focal Points, Stone Paths and a Dry Creek BedClick thumbnail to view full-size
BIRDBATH AND FAIRY FOCAL POINT
SOME IDEAS FOR GARDEN FOCAL POINTS
BIRDBATH FOCAL POINT
While planning my secret garden, I learned that it is good to have a focal point where the eyes will naturally go to. I decided to use a birdbath which I already had as my main focal point. I placed the stone birdbath somewhat in the center of the garden and arranged one of the stone paths to lead to it and curve around. I found a beautiful stone ball at a garden shop and placed it on the birdbath since I did not want to use the birdbath as a birdbath (hate mosquitoes and didn't want to encourage them!). My garden statue of a fairy reading completes the focal point. I planted flowers around it and planted a couple of vines (nasturtium and Spanish flag) to grow up the birdbath. I found some pieces of cement behind the garage and arranged them around the birdbath. So sweet.
DRY CREEK BED FOCAL POINT
An area close to the house was a problem for gathering water after heavy rainstorms. We had dug a little canal leading to the driveway where the water could run down to the sewer. I prettied it up by adding pebbles and rocks, accenting it with larger pieces of broken cement. I added a swan planter that I had.
Along the dry creek bed I transplanted some day lilies on one side and some black-eyed susans on the other. I placed some stepping stones to form a path from the back patio to the pine tree. A very peaceful scene!
RAIN BARREL AND HOSTA GARDEN
In my backyard, there are basically two areas where shade is provided by the trees that grow there. Next to the garage is a small tree at the base of which I have a beautiful purple clematis that comes up every year. I decided to make that the hosta garden. I planted a variety of hostas and huecheras which are also shade-loving plants. I have some yellow hostas and some green ones which contrast beautifully with the dark purple huechera plants. Among the hostas is a little angel carrying a tambourine. So playful!
By the garage, I placed a great urn-shaped rain barrel to collect the rain that comes in from the gutters on the garage. We've had so much rain this season that it is constantly full! I love my little shade garden!
my rainbarrel collects a LOT of water and is great to have to water the plants in the back!
A Few Helpful Sites for Garden Planning and Landscaping
My first step in creating my secret garden was envisioning what I wanted it to look like. I went to various gardening sites and looked at a LOT of pictures of gardens. I "pinned" all of the pictures I liked and all of the features I liked to my pinterest board. Then I started planning out my garden.
Here are some helpful sites with tips and ideas for garden planning and landscaping. Hope you find something worth your while!
- Designing a Garden Focal Point
a simple article about how to design garden focal points
- Pictures and Ideas for Garden Focal Points
great explanation of the reason for creating garden focal ponts, things to consider and lots of PHOTOS of different types of focal points
- Better Homes and Gardens- How to make a dry creek bed
Describes how to create a dry creek bed
Abracadabra- Garden Magic - Scenes from my Secret Garden in August 2013- Barely a Couple of Months After the First PlantingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tour of My Secret Garden One Year Later - June 2014Click thumbnail to view full-size
I began the ambitious process of transforming my grassy, soggy backyard into a peaceful secret garden retreat in the late spring. I used the "lasagna gardening technique" (which I discovered was used a lot for vegetable gardens) to prepare my soil for the transformation. Despite some obstacles and being a novice gardener, it worked for me. Have you used lasagna gardening to grow a flower garden? Please share your experiences with this interesting technique. Thanks!