Lessons from my Garden Rooms

The First Lesson is Covering the Soil

A reflection on what my garden has taught me and how those lessons will inform my new project.

My garden rooms aren’t finished. I suspect they never will be, no matter where I am. The pulsing, living nature of gardening makes it a constant project that can only be abandoned.

This one is being abandoned prematurely in some ways, but what I have learned will hopefully help my next garden flourish sooner.

Lesson One: The importance of covering the soil

I have a serious weed problem in the garden rooms, that would take weeks of consistent work to remedy and then consistent work for years to eliminate the seeds in the soil. This has taught me that I need to prioritise covering the soil when I plant.

There are two ways of covering soil that I want to focus on:

  1. Mulch
  2. Living Mulch (shallow rooted groundcovers)

I’ve learned a bit about mulch, not nearly enough! What I have learned is that:

  • Different mulches do different jobs
  • Some mulches repel water
  • Mulches don’t have to be botanical in origin

One of my new favourite mulches is shell grit, the kind you give to chickens. Shell grit is biological and porous. It offers plenty of holes for water to drip through. As it degrades it releases minerals into the soil, most significantly calcium and phosphates. Weeds are easy to see and remove. They even discourage some pests like snails and slugs which avoid the sharp shells.

Shell grit is particularly useful for mulching citrus trees which don’t like to share their shallow root zones and need calcium to maintain good foliage and fruit.

Another mulch that I can grow myself is Comfrey. Comfrey sends a long tap root deep into the soil and “mines” minerals and nutrients that have been washed lower than most root zones. Those minerals and nutrients are brought up into the leaves which can be harvested, chopped or ripped, and redistributed as mulch. This is a good option for “hungry” plants.

Decomposed granite is produced when granite weathers to the point of disintegration. It can stop some water from getting through but for plants that don’t mind a dryer soil it’s an aesthetically pleasing solution. Likewise, in very wet climates it helps keep water in the soil and it can’t stop all the rain from penetrating.

Living mulches are my absolute favourite. Plants that act like mulch but form part of the living landscape too!

There are a number of options. Basically, a living mulch should have fairly shallow roots and be somewhat drought resistant.

I use:

  • Viola banksia — a shade loving Native Violet
  • Myoporum parvifolium — a sun loving perennial groundcover
  • Mentha diemenica — a mint species that tolerates sun and shade

I am hoping to add to this list as I discover more plants that suit particular areas in my garden and pots.

Mulch is an integral part of a sustainable organic garden. After all, how often do we see bare soil in truly wild environments? Not often at all!

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