Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Gardener Tip (and Story) Day

I said I would publish some tips from gardeners on Tuesdays-but don't hold me to it! I should have said I would publish tips and garden stories. The following is from a friend of mine in my garden club. I love the way Esther speaks of her gardens. She said I didn't have to use her name but I think it is important to mention her (at least her first name). She knows who she is though. The following is her story and tips in her words. She sent this to me after she read the newspaper post and I thought you all might enjoy it. It does concern newspapers, but it primarily concerns a gardener who loves to garden.

The way I got into using newspaper was about nine years ago when I moved back to Tennessee and lived in Erin. I was in a rental house and asked the landlords if they minded if I planted flower beds. They said no. They had apologized for an ugly black tree stump about 5 ft high in the front yard that they had attempted to burn. I told them "No problem. I love old tree stumps." I had found years before that not only do they provide an interesting natural look but they are constantly rotting, providing rich nutrients for the soil for years to come.

Anyway, I put a large square of cement blocks around the tree. I found these discarded in the yard. I then planted a whole pack of morning glories close up to the tree and trained them to grow over the stump. They twined and twined and grew to be thick, beautiful and showy. They completely covered the stump and were so dense I had to constantly keep them trimmed back. Then I planted various flowers all around the base filling up the square.

The cement blocks I had sat up on end and filled the holes with dirt. In these I planted parsley one year, carrots another year, and petunias in still another year. People passing along the road used to stop when I was out working in my yard and tell me how beautiful my yard was and what a miracle I had done with the old stump. Morning glories covered it from spring to fall. My neighbor said "You have taken an old ugly stump and turned it into a thing of beauty." They all said how much they loved to ride by my house just to enjoy seeing my flowers and that my yard beautified the neighborhood. Of course that made me happy.

Then I wanted more flower beds but the grass was thick. I did not dare attempt to hoe or shovel it with my back problems. I pondered and pondered how to kill all that grass so I could grow flowers.

I finally came up came up with this plan. I collected newspapers from where I worked and spread them out about an inch thick over the area where I wanted my beds. I figured it would take a good two years for them to rot and in the meantime they would smother the grass. I then placed my landscape timbers around the areas to hold the newspapers in place and to define the beds from the lawn mowing man who cut my yard. Then I started filling them with topsoil, potting soil, manure , humus and anything else I could get my hands on that would rot and make good dirt.

I always try to get the dirt rich enough to get the earthworms to come aerate the soil for me. The newspapers get wet with the rain and rot down under all the dirt. They were so thick that it took a couple years for them to rot and in the meantime they smothered the grass. Worked like a charm.

I bought dirt at Walmart everytime I went to town. I also buried food peelings in the dirt. I spent more money on dirt than food I think. I started with one bed and kept on until I had lots of them. I did not have a lot of money and grew tomatoes and other veggies in my flower beds with my flowers.

Curly parsley makes a beautiful border. Dill and Sweet Basil are lovely accents and smell so wonderful. In the spring I planted my beds first with all types of lettuce. I ate lots of good food from my flower beds.

When I moved here to Clarksville, I have used the same method to plant my flower beds here. There are pros and cons with my methods. Raised beds defined by landscape timbers are essential to keep the man who mows my yard from running all over my plants. (One yard man girdled both my little dogwoods trees with the weed eater and killed them. I had to start putting down newspapers and mulch around my trees to KEEP him away from my trees.) Also, buying dirt and such does get expensive. Another consideration is that with the newspaper under the dirt, I could only plant plants that have a shallow root base for the first couple years until the newspapers rot and the roots can get through enough to stablize a larger plant. I have found that bought dirt has been sterilized and it is sorry dirt for the first year. Plants simply do not grow and thrive in it. This past year I invested heavily in more expensive premixed dirt. I mix it about 1/2 and 1/2 with the cheap dirt. I also put down mulch in some areas in the fall so that rots each year and adds nutrients to the soil and increases the quantity of soil. It is amazing however, that in the fall when I pull up everything and clean the beds for the winter how much soil (quantity) I lose in the roots of the discarded plants. I thump as much as I can off but still lose a lot.
Thanks Esther!

in the garden....


  1. This was a very nice piece --and it's nice to hear about other people using the paper for the flower beds. I also think it was great that you could grow some veggies and flowers together --that was some practical and pretty together --great combination. I'm sure the stump looked awesome with morning glories covering it --I can visualize that in a front yard --very, very nice:)

  2. I was about to say the same thing, nice idea for the stump. I don't have luck with morning glories, don't know whyyy, Emery grew them out of a LL bean boot and that was cute.
    Well, made it thru the day, the appraiser seemed to have alot of knowledge and is a independent unlike the other one. He called our style "New England'', quait with charm. Tried to pin him down to a estimate, told me depending on comps. (I knew that) Said we had chose good material and he did not see anything out of place about the construction. Thank God!
    Any way, Jack of all trades is still fine tuning the zones and has the basement the way he wants it. Oh yah, the appraiser said he was doing alot of radiant housing lately. Whew!
    Ps I alway use cheap dirt with bought soil, just doesn't hardly seem worth while to use all good.

  3. That was a wonderful way of using the old stump! And how smart to use the holes in the blocks! Good tip indeed...

    Dawn with Peaches, It sounds as though it has been a long road to get that house just right. You must be proud of all the hard work...

    I am going to plant some Morning Glorys this year... Can I plant them near the gourds on the fence Tina or will they fight?

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    I am glad you liked the post. Esther I think says it best for us all about how much we love gardens, and her idea of veggies and flowers IS very good.

    Hi Dawn with Peaches,
    Quaint "New England". I hope that means warm and cozy. I am sure it is beautiful and he will get it to what you all need. No doubt.

    I am wondering why you don't have luck with morning glories up there. They are so beautiful down here. They also reseed so they can grow everywhere. Anyone know why dawn with peaches might have trouble with morning glories up there in new england? Were they in full sun? They would surely need it there.

    I think for sure the morning glories and gourds will fight it out. Those are probably good plants to get to fight it out as I don't think one is any weaker than the other. Give them lots of room and bring on the battle! I am thrilled you bought some gourd seeds. I think you will very much like growing them and a veggie garden.

  5. I am going to shoot for the fence with the Gourds and Morning Glorys! I dont want the gourds to run crazy on the ground...

  6. Morning Glories usually grow good in Maine so I don't know why they would not grow for Dawn. They used to grow wild at the tak farm on the beach.