Let’s talk flower beds. My fall project was creating the foundation for a cut flower market garden. But, be warned! This is a Dirt Nerd post if ever there was one. If you aren’t enthralled with how someone tears up a lawn to plant flowers, then you might as well go do something else! But! If you are the tinsy bit interested is tearing out your zombie lawn (all lawns are dead zones) then stick with me while I show off my new garden.
Life throws us curve balls occasionally and one particularly curvy ball thrown my way included losing my farm in Texas. Oh how I loved that farm! Butterflies, flowers, kids, and lots and lots of dreams. But eventually life steered me to South Carolina where I landed on a great corner lot in a wonderful neighborhood in a very cool town. But with no farm in sight what’s a girl to do? Tear out the lawn and plant flowers of course!
That’s exactly what I decided to do last summer. Instead of lamenting the fact that I most likely will not have a farm anytime soon, I am making the most of what I do have.
In the beginning…
I started with a large blank space filled with Bermuda grass and two weirdly placed Japanese maples.
I lived with this space for a year (always a good idea) while my designer self toyed with ideas of creating privacy and ultimately a fabulous garden. I started with creating a lawn shape and taking in the perimeter for plantings that would provide some privacy.
How did I remove the Bermuda grass? The grass I fondly refer to as the grass from Hell? I’ll cover that on down. Suffice it to say, I did get it removed and the planting began with a perennial garden and trees and shrubs on the streetside edge that will eventually provide some privacy. You can read more about that project here.
The perennial garden was planted in the fall (foreground) and in this picture the plants are just emerging in the spring. As you can see, I am a huge proponent of putting those fallen leaves on your garden beds for mulch. I also added two raised beds for veggies.
This picture was taken in late summer. The perennial garden was very full and veggies were spilling out of the raised beds. The trees and shrubs around the perimeter are starting to provide some definition for the space.
I made up my mind in early fall to use what I do have to make my “farm” dreams a reality. Growing cut flowers has lingered in the back of my mind for years. I do love me some flowers and I do love putting the dead zone (the lawn) to use. Growing cut flowers is a choice I made for my soul and for the benefit of the earth itself. The insects are going to love this!
Adding an element of design…
It would have been fairly simple to mark out some rows and just get started, but I don’t want an urban farm. I want a market garden with all its efficiencies of growing and havesting, but a garden with some design elements as well. While I may be growing to take my harvest to market, you may be interested in a cut flower garden for your own pleasure. It is important to me to be able to demonstrate both. I do want my neighbors to be happy and enjoy the beauty without the mess (often perceived) of a farm. (urban or otherwise)
Out came the measuring tapes, stakes, ropes, and marking paint to bring some sort of design to the space.
Removing the grass…
Once a design was marked, it was time for grass removal. Bermuda grass is relentless and differs from other turf grasses in that its roots can grow as much as 6 inches deep. It does not smother, so the only really effective methods of removal are to spray it with an herbicide or dig it out. It is possible to kill it by solarizing with plastic, but this method takes several months to achieve.
The method that I use is effective, but it takes time and can be physically demanding. I start by tilling the area at a very shallow depth.
Once the area is tilled, I rake up all the grass and pile it up next to the compost pile. It is important to rake up as much of the blade and root as possible. Then I repeat this tilling-raking process at least three more times with each tilling pass going deeper and deeper into the soil. It will be necessary to use your spading fork occasionally to loosen up stubborn areas and dig out the grass. And, yes, there will be a patch or two that emerges over the next year that will require some digging.
Birthing a cut flower market garden…
Once the area for the cut flower market garden had been tilled 3-4 times at a final depth of 6 inches and every blade and root removed, I made nice, clean edges using an edger tool. This tool is amazing and a must-have for every gardener.
This edger cut through the grass that I left as pathways, and made deep, straight edges. The grass should stay in the pathway and out of the new beds because the grass roots will not extend out of the straight edge. It’s called air pruning.
Can you see the design emerging?
To make the planting rows, a central, narrow path was dug out with the soil from that path heaped up onto the rows. I used the edger tool and a shovel for this task. The resulting beds (no more than 4 feet wide) were raised about 12 inches. Compost will be added in the spring before planting.
Because it was fall, I started covering the finished rows with leaves that I scavenged around the neighborhood. Yes, I am the neighborhood leaf-bag lady!
The process of creating the raised beds was repeated until the entire garden area consisted of 18 beds. These beds are permanent beds. Annual cut flowers will be grown in these beds and then the beds will be prepped in the fall to reuse during the following growing season.
The neighbors joked that it was looking a bit like a cemetery!
With a thick layer of leaves, the entire garden area was put to rest for the winter.
There is something that tells me that sharing this new venture from the very beginning could be risky. After all, I haven’t even grown a single cut flower yet much less taken it to market. But even if you aren’t interested in growing flowers for market, you might be interested in growing flowers for your own pleasure as I mentioned earlier.
My intention is to focus on annual and perennial flowers that have their origins in North American and will perform well as a cut flower. This should dovetail nicely into my native plant philosophy and offer some great benefits to the butterflies and bees!
Now…on to some planning and starting some seeds!