The Joy of Gardening

05 August 2012
When I was a kid, we lived in flats and I never felt grass under my feet. Then when I was ten, we moved to Newcastle and had a garden for the first time. I hated it. Specifically, I hated the yard work I was expected to do. I hated spending my weekends weeding and lugging pavers when other girls were playing netball and going to the movies. I hated being dirty and sweaty and hated being outside. And as soon as I was old enough to dictate how I spent my time, I renounced yardwork forever. From now on I wouldn't pull a weed if Gallery Serpentine made gardening gloves.

But as I passed my 30th birthday, something changed in me. It wasn't just the perky butt collapsing like a circus tent in a storm, or my newly developed fondness for ABC local radio. I wanted a garden. Sure, it would be nice after years of living in flats to not have to battle for communal washing lines and to be able to sit in the sun when reading a book on Sunday afternoon, but the truth was I also wanted to plant stuff. I wanted to plant my own herbs and veggies, imbuing all my cooking with a delicious taste of smug: "damn right we eat locally grown! You can't get more local than your own backyard!".

I had to wait a little while, what with career stuff, family stuff, and the arrival of BabyG, but three months ago we finally made it out of our one bedroom inner city flat and into our own house. After being so cramped, having three bedrooms and a huge backyard was like winning lotto. In fact our yard is ridiculously huge, over forty metres from the house to the fence. There's fruit trees and a cubby house and all sorts of things I'm only yet discovering; I've had gardens before, but this seems more like a property. Right away I was keen to get going on my kitchen garden, but something was standing in the way. Specifically a tree, with lavish overhang covering the intended garden beds, and which would need heavy pruning. Remembering my childhood chores, I put it off and put it off, until the day came when I was lent a pair of secateurs and just had to dive in.

I had a blast. Really. It occurred to me that I finally had permission to destroy stuff! I lopped and lopped and carted massive branches (me, who doesn't carry anything and hates breaking a nail), drunk on the power of affecting creation, exclaiming at one point "I feel so alive!" I was hooked, hopelessly and forever, on gardening.

What I started with
So my next step was to prepare the long-overgrown garden beds for planting. I cleared away rubbish and debris, then after researching how to prepare the soil, decided on lasagna gardening. If you want to try lasagna gardening, here's what you do. Read a how to guide on the process, think to yourself "gosh that sounds so easy and natural and wonderful", and tweet your discovery smugly. Then devote every spare minute over the next few weeks to the lasagna garden, tending to it as you would a problem child, as you realise it's not bloody easy at all and you'd have been better off just digging up the weeds and buying topsoil.

It started off easily enough, with a layer off egg cartons:

And I proudly surveyed my handiwork to that point. Then the problems started. You're supposed to build layers of the lasagna, to a depth of two feet. I added layers:

and layers:

and layers:

Do you know how deep two feet of garden material actually is? Deeper than you could ever imagine in your worst nightmares. Getting hold of layers to add became an obsession. I traversed the backyard on bended knee gathering grass, both green and dried; watched in dismay as a week's worth of kitchen scraps barely covered one half; hand-shredded a copy of the Newcastle Yellow Pages; and lamented no longer living in Sydney to avail myself of copies of MX (although spreading cow manure over Jeff Corbett's headshot from the Newcastle Herald helped alleviate some of my guilt at "cheating" by adding a layer of cow manure). I've been at this now for three weeks, and I can't see any sign that any of it is breaking down. It just sits there not doing anything except emitting a vague smell, and could therefore more reasonably be called the "me in my early twenties" garden.

Today I finally decided enough was enough. I've added twelve layers now, and it's finally starting to build up a reasonable thickness. The irony of this is, our natural soil is excellent, dark and rich and nearly black, and I could conceivably have used some of it on the garden beds. But I'm stubbornly determined to do it my way. I'll let you know in a few weeks' time whether it seems to be breaking down into the promised rich, fluffy soil, or whether I give up in frustration and head to Bunnings for topsoil, cursing wasted time I could have spent drinking instead.


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