How To Make A Bed

I spent part of this beautiful spring day making a bed — a slender flower bed, that is, curved like a sickle moon around a fat magnolia bush.  It will be the new home for ten or eleven young plants of Meconopsis “Lingholm.”  Or at least grown from seeds obtained from my single plant of “Lingholm.”  If all goes well — and with Meconopsis you can never assume that it will — I may have a vista of blue next spring, with luck while there are still a few dark pink blooms on the magnolia.

New Bed for Blue Poppies

That’s the why. As to the how, I have a method developed in the process of making much bigger beds, stripping acres (not really, but that’s how it felt) of sod. Why do people never think, when they allow garden space to run to lawn, about how hard it is to remove the wretched grass.  Because it’s hard work, even in light, sandy, stone-free soil such as mine.

First you outline the area to be stripped, using string or a hose or lime or whatever works for you. Then you cut the sod with an edging tool, to make sure the line is straight. Then the work begins. Plunge a stout, square-nosed spade into the earth the full depth of the blade, cutting out about an 8″ x 8″ square or a 6″ x 10″ rectangle.  Then slide the spade horizontally about 3 or 4 inches below the surface, cutting the grass and most of its roots away from the block of soil. Set the turf aside and dig out the soil, putting it into a big bucket or piling it on a tarp. Once the hole is a foot or so deep (and of course deeper is better) lay the sod in the bottom, grass side down. Then move on to the next square or rectangle and repeat, except this time put the removed soil into the first hole. Repeat and repeat and repeat until the job is done. Dump the soil saved from the first hole into the last one.

If you have to deal with rocks or roots, the job will be harder. If your soil is too wet, it’s best to wait, especially if it’s clay. The worst things I encountered in sod-stripping were big white grubs, ugly and startling. I would do a little Grub Dance every time I came across one.

I am glad to report that I encountered no grubs in this latest sod-stripping job, but I didn’t manage to execute the method as I described it above perfectly. Magnolia roots were the problem; although not nearly as formidable as Norway maple roots, they did make it impossible to cut nice straight-sided holes. Therefore I was able to bury only about half the sod. The rest is stacked up next to one of my compost heaps. Sod can be used in a number of ways — transplanted into a spot where you want grass, stacked up to form a temporary barrier (think of sod houses!), or simply allowed to break down until it can be composted.

After the sod removal job was done, I added a wheelbarrow full of mixed peat moss and compost to the new bed and dug it in. I’ll let the whole thing settle for a few weeks, and then will plant the blue poppies, hoping for the best. By rights I should have done this digging last fall, as I’m sure Henry Mitchell would have advised. I also hope that I did no harm to the magnolia by removing a few small roots. I’m thinking of this as “root pruning,” which sounds relatively harmless.

On a less hopeful note, the buck with the injured leg came back a couple of days ago. Bad leg notwithstanding, he managed to snack his way through a lot of stuff. Casualties so far: all bergenia flowers (he didn’t eat the leaves, fortunately), most of the tulips, an astilbe, some small hostas that were just sprouting out, ditto epimediums. Daylilies and thalictrum were nibbled, as were scillas and Centranthus. I am hoping (gardeners do that a lot, I’ve noticed) that most of these plants will recover. The question is what else will the creature eat? He seems to have decided that my place is the best snack bar on the street.

Stubs of Deer-Eaten Tulips

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