Lazy Organic Gardener: In Praise of Garden Beds and Weed Whackers
A few weeks ago, the garden looked lush and wild and beautiful, but my enjoyment of it was dampened by the prospect of weeding and preparing for spring planting. Even sitting on the deck thinking about it tired me out.
I haven’t planted anything yet, but this weekend I will, and getting ready hasn’t been as tough as I anticipated. Because, well, the title says it all. This lazy gardener is eternally grateful for his garden beds and weed whacker.
I built the garden beds the winter before last. I loved the look of my garden, with its gentle curves and the way the cultivated areas were tucked in pockets amidst the wild. The yard is long and narrow, with the back forty (square feet, not acres) almost entirely wild, a sprawling and gnarled old plum tree surrounded by ivy growing on the fences, on the ground, and, until last weekend, up four or five of the tree’s main trunks.
I’ve got a plastic compost bin on one side and a metal shed covered entirely in ivy on the the other, and some piles of junk here and there, like stacks of terra cotta pots, and old hoses, which are mostly hidden by vegetation.
Here’s a photo of the southeastern corner of the yard.
But for the middle of the yard, where I get enough heat and sunshine to grow vegetables, keeping the wildness at bay has requires vigilance. (If I went away for five years, the entire garden, probably the house as well, would be smothered by morning glory and ivy.)
Over the years, I designed, and defined, the garden with a series of curves, anchored by a meandering flagstone walkway that bisects the garden. I used plastic bender board to set apart the cultivated areas, and put in some shorter paths with stepping stones, chunks of sidewalk concrete, or bricks.
You can see in the photos below how the tomatoes and the peppers behind them are integrated into the space between the pathway and the sprawling shrubs.
Because the natural world is full of curves, I hesitated introducing the hard geometry of rectangular planting beds. I was concerned I would lose that feeling of wildness. But every winter after the rains and every summer once I turned on the drip line to water the vegetables, I had to push the wild back to the edges and out of my vegetables. Which made it harder to be lazy.
Setting out the drip irrigation lines so they would feed my thirsty vegetables, which were somewhat randomly placed, created a spaghetti-like maze of black tubes with as many tentacles as a school of octopuses. The drip lines ended up watering the weeds as much as the food and flowers.
So the winter before last I built two 4 foot by 8 foot garden beds, a foot and a half high, out of scrap lumber and a few new redwood boards for the ledges around the top. And now that I’ve had them for a year and a half, I don’t know how I managed without them. When they were first completed, the right angles and the straight lines were a little stark amidst the curves and the wildness, but as you can see in the photos below, once the plants started growing, the beds fit right in, without damaging the organic undulation of the garden.
As for the weed whacker — I guess the generic term is string trimmer — let’s just say that after a couple hours one evening last week and another hour or so on the weekend, I was mostly done. My arms got tired and the string got tangled a few times, but the whole experience gave me more appreciation for why farmers use machines.
I still had to devote a couple hours to pulling the grass and weeds growing in the middle of the Peruvian lilies and lavatera, but that’s almost finished as well. You can see the difference between the two photos above. The top one, which looks a lot greener, was taken before the weed whacking, the bottom one afterward. (You can see the most evidence of the haircut in the background by the chairs. The garden might look better with all that green, but now that the rains have stopped, that green would be brown soon enough.)
Another indispensable tool is the broom — I gave the walkways a couple of passes with my sturdy outdoor broom. Then I sat down on the deck with an iced coffee and admired my work.
This weekend, I start planting. It should only take a half hour or so to clear the beds and set some seedlings in. Tomatoes, peppers, squash. Not sure what else. The drip hoses are already set up. I might be able to get it all done in a day or two, then I can be lazy for a few months and just watch my garden grow. Or so goes the theory.
— John Byrne Barry, a.k.a. Lazy Organic Gardener