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Lasagna Gardening

Let’s talk about Lasagna Gardening specifically, and organic gardening generally!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

June 3, 2007

In the absence of photos to illustrate the topic here, some additional current shots of my own (not all organic) garden. Above: just a few of our Bluebells [Hyacinthoides non-scripta] (now going to seed so they’ll spread even more) and Rhododendron ‘Fred Peste’ with Rhododendron ponticum variegatum just coming into bloom in the background. Below: two shots of our carmine lupines, the first vertical shot with a pink hardy gloxinia (Incarvillea delavayi) in the lower foreground, and the horizontal shot also included Rhododendron ‘Lee’s Best Purple’ just coming into its best; and at the bottom, Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ still blooming after a month or more. Author photos.

In Donna Dawson’s absence at the Chelsea Flower Show, her husband Tom sent me the following note from Maureen Hardie, of unknown location, with a question I’ve heard before, and which I believe is a topic based more on hype than good gardening practice. Here’s the question: “I was up north last weekend and on Monday went to a nearby garden nursery. I picked up some printed sheets on different things and noticed a write up for a Lasagna Garden. It was hand written but when I asked they said they had no copies. They offered me paper and pen to copy it but my girlfriend was finished shopping so it was not possible to do.

I was wondering how one does it and if fall is the best time to do one. I checked on the internet but was not happy with the info I found. It all sounded more complicated than the one at the nursery was. I asked my landscaper but he is just starting up his business so he said he'd never heard of one. I'd appreciate it as usual if you or Art Drysdale can give me some more info on this type of garden for flower planting. Thanks.”

As far as I remember, Lasagna Gardening first turned up in the publication Organic Gardening, and in Mother Earth News, a way back in the 50s and 60s! The name does not refer to the food known by that name, but rather to the technique of layering various materials in which vegetables are grown. It really goes back to the days of Ruth Stout who began what is now more commonly known as “no-till” gardening. Ruth was a character of characters, and wrote articles for Organic Gardening from 1953 to 1971. Back in those days, I knew the executive editor of Organic Gardening quite well, and we often discussed Ruth and her methods.

Basically, Ruth was known as “Le Grande Dame of Mulch” and in numerous books and articles preached the regimen of tossing out the forks and spades, and instead, applying at least 20 cm (8”) layers of various mulches (news-paper, cardboard, corn stalks, spoiled hay, wood chips, pine needles, seaweed, grass clippings, compost, fallen leaves, saw dust etc. etc.) to both vegetable and flower gardens. Among the ingredients often used are a layer (5 cm) of barn litter mixed with clay soil, all then covered with 5 cm of peat moss (obviously you could use Coir as well) followed by about the same thickness of newspaper and/or cardboard and then 5 cm more of peat moss. Additions of two to five cm of grass clippings, and about the same thickness of compost, will yield about 15 to 20 cm (6 - 8”) in which to plant your vegetables and flowers.

One important aspect of all this is the fact that many of these ‘ingredients’ when they begin to break down (saw dust is a prime example) use up considerable nitrogen to do so, and if it is not present in abundant quantities, the ‘ingre-dients’ will steal it from the surrounding soil in order for the break down to continue. Ruth Stout used to get around that by applying cottonseed meal (high in nitrogen) or other similar organic fertilizer on a regular basis. This factor is very important.

Another concept that goes back several decades is called Lexigrow. Back in 1982 Jack Miles Langston authored a book Lexigrow--A New and Easy Gardening Concept. It was a sophisticated adaptation of a horticultural process used by the Mayan Indians. It is basically a no hoeing, no raking, no cultivating system, which with some modifications, may also be used on apartment and condo balconies. The author, Jack Langston, was not a horticulturist but did travel the world observing similar types of gardening, and after publishing the book, embarked on an extensive series of lectures on the subject. The book is still available from used-book sources on the Web today for under $10.

Now, having written all of this, I have to add that even with all of the publicity that no-till gardening, or Lasagna gardening, or Lexigrow have received over many decades they are still anything but main-stream! Both Organic Gardening magazine and Mother Earth News have been around for decades, and both have always dedicated a large percentage of their pages not only to organic gardening and no-till gardening but also to organic farming. They have likewise devoted a tremendous amount of energy to knocking standard gardening and farming methods, and of course are some of the main proponents of the banning of pesticides, genetically modified (GM) foods and glypho-sate-resistant corn and grass crops.

It’s still a free country, and if you choose to go along with one of these ‘alternate growing methods’ it is your choice. I would suggest moving ahead on any of these schemes very slowly. Try them in a small area.

Keep in mind that one of the main thrusts of organic gardening is that plants do much better if the nutrition supplied is organic. That is simply not true. Though organic gardeners have tried and tried to demonstrate that organic fertilizers are superior, no peer-reviewed research has ever shown it to be a fact. No plants can tell the difference between nutrition from organic sources vs. from chemical sources. It is a fact, however, that fertilization from organic sources is much better for the soil (land), and if chemical sources of fertilizer are used exclusively, additional organic material should be added to the soil. Annually there are more and more sources of organic fertilizers becoming available and slowly Canadian gardeners are switching to them, as they likely should!

It should also be remembered that when the water-system deaths occurred in Walkerton Ontario (May, 2000), the actual cause was the application of raw manures to nearby farmland (organic farming), as well of course, as the two brothers who were supposed to be monitoring the water system, and who did not, due to their drunken condition.

Organic farming, organic gardening, Lasagna gardening or whatever you choose to call it, is all one and the same, and may be worthy of an experiment, but I don’t recommend changing everything you do in favour of these anytime soon.

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