Mother Earth Living

Lasagna Gardening for the Herb Gardener

Jessy Rushing is a Texas gardener who fell in love with herbs after tripping into a rosemary shrub one day. The scent on her clothes cheered her up all afternoon. Her curiosity was aroused and since then her herb gardening has been part investigation, part experimentation and most importantly, part delight.

My husband, Norman, grew up planting no-frills veggie gardens to help feed his six siblings. He was skeptical of my plan, to say the least. “Too simple,” he said. “It can’t be that easy.” It sounded too good to be true to me, too, but I’m game for any garden experiment.

Armed with my highlighted and dog-eared copy of Patricia Lanza’s wonderful book, Lasagna Gardening, we got to work. We started small, still a little leery of this “new-fangled gardening idea.” I planted a 2 feet by 4 feet herb garden in the spring and by summer any lingering doubts about lasagna gardening were gone.

What is this magical method? It’s organic, chemical free gardening with no need for digging, double digging, tilling, heavy machinery or back-breaking work. Like my sister-in-law Lucy’s lasagna, the key to lasagna gardening is in the layers. Organic material and mulch materials are layered, creating a small ecosystem where your plants will thrive. As Patricia says in her book, “Organic mulches feed your soil, and the soil feeds your plants.”

I added layers of organic mulches to my own garden.
Photo by Jessy Rushing

The list of lasagna ingredients and mulches will vary around the country, but the basics are available nearly everywhere–newspapers, shredded leaves, grass clippings, compost, peat moss, manure, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds. Check your local Starbucks–the ones I frequent give away bags of free coffee grounds. Don’t use cat or dog feces. Their droppings may carry diseases or parasites. Also, no meat, fat, bone and fish scraps from the kitchen–they break down too slowly, attract unwanted critters and smell bad. 

Once you’ve staked out the area for your new garden and gathered your ingredients, you’re ready to begin. First, cover the area with a thick (3 to 4 inches) layer of wet, overlapping newspaper.  Don’t use the Sunday funnies, slick magazine inserts or colorful ads. I soak my papers in a #3 washtub, making sure every inch of them is sodden, then lay them down in sheets, overlapping as I go.  Next, cover the wet newspapers with 2 to 3 inches of peat moss (available an any garden store). Then, add 3 plus inches of organic material–grass clippings, manure, compost, leaves, etc. Add another layer of peat moss and continue alternating layers of organic material and peat moss until your bed is 18- to 24-inches-high.

Here’s the best part–your garden is ready for planting! Just pull apart the layers and pop in your plant and wait for it to flourish. You can plant seeds in your lasagna garden, too. Just top the bed with fine compost or damp peat moss, set the seeds on the surface, cover with some sifted peat moss, and tamp it lightly. The wet newspapers will keep out the weeds and the organic material will slowly break down, further feeding your plants–everyone wins!

Small knockout roses planted next to the herbs.
Photo by Jessy Rushing

With fall upon us I’m going to build a bed and let it “cook” until early spring. I’ll follow the steps above like I did in my small herb garden, then cover it with black plastic weighed down at the edges with bricks.

Since it’s going to cook all winter, I’ll put in about four times as much brown, high-carbon materials like peat moss, leaves, hay or straw as I do green, high-nitrogen goodies like grass clippings, kitchen scraps and fresh manure.

Jessy’s beloved rosemary in a lasagna garden.
Photo by Jessy Rushing

I wish I had discovered Patricia Lanza’s method decades ago. I could have prevented the wasted time, money and torture! The aching back, the cement-like ground and that runaway tiller are all a distant memory now. Do yourself an enormous favor and check out Patricia’s books. In addition to Lasagna Gardening, she has also written Lasagna Gardening with Herbs, Lasagna Gardening in Small Spaces and more. Your plants will thank you and so will your back.

Though an old man I am but a young gardener.–Thomas Jefferson 

  • Published on Nov 9, 2010
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