Back in October 2017 one of our Directors, Hannah, decided to replace her front lawn with flower beds. This is how she did this without using chemicals, and a ‘no dig’ approach.
I decided to get rid of our front lawn. It wasn’t used for anything; it was unexciting to look at and not great for wildlife. I had heard about the Charles Dowding ‘no dig’ approach and thought I’d give it a go.
I covered the entire lawn in large, flattened cardboard boxes. I ordered some garden waste mulch from the local compost facility which was tipped on top of the cardboard from trailer on the back of a tractor. We had to spread out the compost by hand, I found muscles I never knew I had!
I added some top soil to give the soil some weight, and more nutrients. This was hard to spread out. If I did it again, I’d order smaller bags so there was less moving required!
The cardboard rotted down and the grass underneath was dead. We then had lovely compost to plant into. The top part was perfect for planting perennials into as it was very soft. When we have to dig deeper into clay for trees and shrubs it is much more difficult. As we dug we come across pieces of tape which are the only thing left from the cardboard boxes. The cardboard had completely rotted down into the soil.
I wanted the planting to be relaxing and tranquil as we go to and from our cars, which are parked next to the flower beds. I chose blues, whites and acid greens which is a departure from my normal go to colours in the back garden; purple and yellow.
I was sure of my planting scheme on paper, but then I made lots of changes as I lay the plants out. It makes me really appreciate the skill of garden design. Planting continues into Autumn.
2019 and 2020
Each Spring I add more mulch to ensure that there is lots of organic matter, which the worms will take down into the clay soil. The garden brings us a lot of joy, we always stop and look at the flowers and the wildlife on our way to and from the car. There are so many insects now, and we have left a wild patch in the corner with nettles and weeds.
The colour scheme has worked really well, and only a few purples have crept in for Spring colour; Hellebores and Cyclamen. A few perennial weeds persist, but the majority of weeds and all the grass was killed by the cardboard.
- If you want a natural looking garden plant self-seeding plants in year one, this will give you many more plants in the years that follow. Foxgloves and Cosmos have been the most prolific.
- The no dig cardboard method does work – but it is hard work. I took on quite a large space, but would do again in smaller areas. It works particularly well on top of clay soils, which can be hard to dig once they dry out.
- Annual mulch is worth it, it keeps down weeds and keeps moisture.
- Review your planting every season, and ensure you always have something of interest. A mixture of bulbs, seeds and plants has worked really well.
- Give your flower beds some structure. I used the birch tree, a few small shrubs and a mix of gravel, bark and corten steel edging. My black pot also provides a focal area, and will contain more dramatic and taller planting in 2020.
- Vary foliage types – mix grasses with larger leaves for example. This adds interest.
- The mix of flowers has attracted lots of pollinators
Best performing plants
- Geranium Rozanne – flowers for months and gets quite big but you cut it back each year so it won’t overtake
- Brunnera Jack Frost – stunning foliage and bright blue flowers
- Alliums – white globe on sticks which are stunning in May/June and seed heads remain into winter
- Foxgloves – plant one and you will have them every year. Easy to pull up if they grow in the wrong place