What continues to astonish me about a garden is that you can walk past it in a hurry, see something wrong, stop to set it right, and emerge an hour or two later breathless, contented, and wondering what on earth happened.
The Palm Garden is the name chosen for a large garden bed started in 2018 at the farm. It is far from the most ideal spot to plant roses because there is a huge Date Palm right in the centre of the garden. Nonetheless, you have to work with what you have and do what you can to make it suitable. The good point is that the palm tree is lovely and provides welcome shade in an area with intense, summer sun even though it probably soaks up some of the nutrients from the soil.
Challenges are what makes life interesting overcoming them makes life meaningful
There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare, or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.Gertrude Jekyll
Either side of this long rectangular garden bed that was once lawn, is a path with concrete edging sitting up in peaks. It was built by the Italian prisoners of war, who were billeted out nearby for work during the 2nd World War. Beyond the high kangaroo proof fence are paddocks of wheat and canola crops where sometimes we graze sheep. This is the rural backdrop to the garden that at times is an astonishing contrast from the lushness of the garden to the golden wheat and at times the red, dusty, dry land beyond.
The Palm Garden is now home for well over a hundred roses of various types. Some heritage roses like Maman Cochet, Anna Oliver, Jean Ducher, Perle d ‘Or, Gruss an Aachen and Felicia and many hybrid teas and bush roses.
Roses were underplanted with Lambs Ears, Lavender, Thyme, Nepeta, Dianthus, Sedum, Delphiniums, Gypsophila, Salvias, Rosemary, Society Garlic and Perennial Geraniums in the shaded area.
Not knowing the best way to prepare the soil for a new rose garden many hours were spent researching and listening to the expert rose growers in Victoria for their advice. This was in the main to….
Let the worms and compost do the work for you and don’t dig too much. The more you dig the more weeds you will bring to the surface that will germinate. So, in a nutshell a ‘no dig garden’.
The ‘No Dig’ method has been around since the 1970’s and popularised by Esther Dean the author of No-Dig Gardening and Leaves of Life. I had previously been to a demonstration by Esther at a garden fair in Sydney in the 1970’s, so knew the basic no dig method. It is all about layering organic material like compost, straw, leaves, sugarcane mulch, wet newspaper, wet cardboard or even carpet straight on top of the soil or on any other surface even concrete. The layers are built up and are usually inside a frame with seedlings planted directly into the compost. See No Dig Gardening For my rose garden I used a simpler no dig method with no frame and less layers.
ROSE GARDEN MINIMAL DIG METHOD
After thoroughly watering the winter dry lawn for a few weeks, the process of chipping away the top layer of lawn began, no need to be pedantic about it, just get the main top of lawn removed. (the lawn was dormant anyway)
Then the area was spread with cow manure and dolomite and left for some time and watered occasionally. I was told it did not matter if the thick old lawn was removed or not.
Quite large, deep holes were dug for all the roses and filled in with the loose soil plus plenty of good compost. I placed an old plate on top as a marker so we would know where the holes were.
The entire garden bed was covered with more cow manure and dolomite. We left it alone through the winter whilst away from the farm. It was occasionally watered too. On our return the soil had become friable, full of worms and all ready for planting new bare root roses when they arrived via post. The new roses were planted with no new compost or fertiliser into the holes and the plate discarded.
A range of perennial companion plants were planted in amongst the roses and the entire garden was covered with thick wet newspaper. Any type of organic mulch you have is suitable such as wet cardboard, even old wool carpet, aged manure (not dry), straw, lucerne hay or sugarcane mulch. If planting in a frame you alternate the layers to the desired height.
My garden has compost and sugarcane mulch spread across the top leaving room around the roots for watering. All in all, the layers of compost need to be between 5-15 cm thick. Use whatever mulch you can get your hands on.
Lastly, in the Palm Garden large stepping stones were added to give a platform to access roses for watering, pruning and picking. It is a good idea not to walk on the garden too much as (especially clay soil) becomes compacted and hard.
To my complete surprise everything grew and blossomed all season long. There were a few weeds but mostly on top of the mulch and probably from birds dropping seeds or from the wind. All in all, this system was a very hassle free way to start a rose garden and a complete success. Here we are now a new season on and still not too many weeds, just some areas that need more compost as naturally the compost has decomposed.
The Palm Garden now has plenty of worms and the soil is quite dark, rich looking and friable. A far different soil to the rich, red, heavy clay I had started with. One tip I was given worth passing on, is that the soil you already have is the best soil and far superior to adding top soil from elsewhere, especially sandy loam. Clay soil, although often not well draining, is full of nutrients and can be made more easily drained by adding gypsum and also compost. Use a soil test kit to know the Ph levels and adjust accordingly. This minimal dig method is highly recommended to keep weeds down and lessen the hard-work usually associated with digging new gardens.
This season, 2019 some roses have been moved whilst dormant and other more suitable roses planted. Time will tell if the garden is a success for 2019. Images to come once blooming begins.
Quotes above Dorothy Gilman and Joshua J Marine http://www.perennialresource.com/article.php?CfgID=7040
Words and images by Di Baker All Rights Reserved