A Bed for Salvias

June 1, 2015 perennial bed 021


I wanted a bed dedicated primarily to perennial Salvia, and other sun-loving, heat tolerant perennials which appreciate good drainage.

And I didn’t want to dig.


The bed is located in full sun on sloping land near the bottom of our garden.  Our bamboo forest grows out of the ravine to the left in this photo.  The leaves littering the ground have fallen from the bamboo in our recent hot weather.

The bed is located in full sun on sloping land near the bottom of our garden. Our bamboo forest grows out of the ravine to the left in this photo. The leaves littering the ground have fallen from the bamboo in our recent hot weather.


I’ve been fantasizing about a bed here for more than a year, but the 12’x12′ enclosed raised bed I drew back in February remains on the legal pad.  I didn’t marshal the necessary resources; beginning with my own energy, to build it.

But I have made a start. 


May 28, 2015 garden 023


That is the secret, you know, to all worthwhile accomplishments:  Begin!  Once you begin, things fall into place in delightfully surprising ways.

So I led my partner to the spot, one afternoon a few weeks ago, and explained what I wanted to grow here.  And we agreed on the boundaries (the lawn is his, remember) before heading out to visit our friends at Homestead Garden Center to buy compost and gravel.


Bamboo tried to poke up into the new bed here.  We break the new growth off at the surface.  Eventually, I'll bring compost down to topdress this entire bed, covering the intruder.

Bamboo tried to poke up into the new bed here. We break the new growth off at the surface. Eventually, I’ll bring more compost down to top dress this entire bed, covering the intruder.


Now, it is simply not practical to dig on this sharply graded hillside.  Not only do we constantly fight erosion, but this area is laced with hefty bamboo shoots and runners just below the surface.  I realized that the area is too steeply graded to simply lay blocks or timbers to “build” a raised bed.  No hugelkultur here, either, unfortunately.

But there is  an easy and inexpensive way to establish a new planting bed which requires little more than paper and soil…. and time….

After agreeing on the dimension and boundaries of the new perennial bed, my partner marked its edges.  I used the string trimmer to cut back the existing ‘grasses’ to the ground.   We cut open brown paper grocery bags, and laid them within those boundaries to completely cover the existing soil, anchoring them with handfuls of compost as we worked.  There is some overlap, but not a great deal.  I covered the paper grocery bags with several inches of compost, mounding it a little deeper where the first plants were to go.


May 20, 2015 garden 016~

After the entire bed was covered in compost, and the outer edges of the bed marked with handfuls of pea gravel, I began planting the Salvias and Lavenders I had collected for this bed directly into the compost, on top of the paper.

When using this method, it is especially important to loosen the outer roots on the rootball before planting, to encourage them to grow into the surrounding soil more quickly.


Two weeks of growth in this bed, taken from the same spot as the previous photo.

Two weeks of growth in this bed, shown  from the same spot as the previous photo.


The Iris have had the most trouble with this planting method, since they are division, and didn’t have large root systems when they were moved.


June 1, 2015 perennial bed 011~

Now, you might think this is “extreme gardening.”  Extremely lazy, you’re thinking? 

Don’t worry, I’ve done my time “double digging” beds and borders in previous gardens.  And since then, I’ve learned that it is much smarter to be kind to the soil, and its complex web of life, by disturbing it as little as possible.  Like cats and children, soil will find its own way if we just remember to feed it regularly….


This  large creamy Marigold is one of my favorite varieties.  The Patton family grow these from seed each year to offer at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.

This large creamy Marigold is one of my favorite varieties. The Patton family grow these from seed each year to offer at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.


The soil is actually pretty good here.  While there is solid clay at the top of the property, there is pretty good loam on this slope.  It is more than sufficient to feed the flowering perennials I intend to grow here.


June 1, 2015 perennial bed 019


As the paper decomposes, and earthworms gather beneath it, the paper and compost will be carried deeper into the Earth, mixing  into the existing soil along with the earthworm castings through their life processes.  It is an elegant system, designed by nature millions of years ago.  All I need to do is understand it and work with it.


June 1, 2015 perennial bed 015


The toughest time for this scheme is the first month, as the plants begin to grow.  You see, we’ve had a heatwave these last few weeks.  The perennials didn’t really get a chance to sink their roots through the paper and into the Earth below before the weather shifted from gentle spring to full-on summer.   But with a little  watering, and a good rain or two, they are all showing growth.


May 28, 2015 garden 025


The bed now holds four varieties of Salvia, including a golden culinary sage; two varieties of Basil; two Lavender plants;  Asclepias incarnata; Rosemary; Coreopsis; Santalina; German re-blooming Iris dug and transplanted from other parts of the garden; and some beautiful cream marigolds.  I selected these plants to attract and feed butterflies and hummingbirds.  All of these varieties remain unattractive to deer, and should not entice them into the garden from the nearby ravine.


May 20, 2015 garden 017


This is an extension of the  ‘butterfly and hummingbird garden’ growing further up the slope.

I expect all of these plants to show a lot of growth in June, and this bed should bloom from now until frost in various shades of blues, purples, creams, and gold.


June 1, 2015 perennial bed 016


I will re-evaluate its progress this fall to decide whether or not we will move any closer to those grand plans I drew back in the winter.

I have some mail order Gooseberry shrubs growing in pots, which were ordered for the original plan.  They may find a home here, yet.  And the Okra?  There is still time to plant some seeds…. maybe when it rains….


May 20, the morning after this bed was planted.  The plants have shown good growth in the two weeks they have been adjusting to this new bed.

May 20, the morning after this bed was planted. The plants have shown good growth in the two weeks they have been adjusting to this new bed.


Woodland Gnome 2015


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

22 responses to “A Bed for Salvias

  1. I hope your salvia bed brings you lots of butterflies, hummingbirds, and pleasure. 🙂 Thank you for sharing how you did it. I am going to expand my scrounger’s garden, and this looks like a good way to approach it without the heavy work of digging.

    • Thank you for the good wishes, Robin 😉 This is definitely a way to expand gardening area without digging. If your soil is basically good, it should work beautifully for you 😉

  2. wow for the blue salvia !!!

  3. I hope your Salvia bed gives you as much pleasure as mine has this year. You might like to check out this link, it shows a very different way of creating a living edge I think it would work well on a slope. http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s4239808.htm

    • Sue, that is brilliant! I’ve never seen this idea before, yet it makes perfect sense. It will allow me to put a much deeper layer of compost in the raised bed, too. Wow! Thank you for this wonderful idea. Have you done this? I can see using this method for building ‘knot’ gardens and other interesting herbal layouts, too, where you lay the rolled up material exactly where you want the little hedge of herbs to grow. I want to try this, now! So simple, such good use of materials. I believe I may need to drive some metal stakes into the ground every meter or so to hold the roll from slipping while the plants establish…. by the way, we call ‘Hesian’ ‘burlap.’ Took me a few searches to figure this one out 😉 Thank you so much for this excellent idea! Anyone reading through the comments is encouraged to follow the link in Sue’s comment 😉 ❤ ❤ ❤

      • So glad you liked the idea. I haven’t done it yet but will try it. My first effort I think will be redirecting runoff from a neighbour’s lawn. Because we have slope everywhere water tends to run off rather than sink in but I think that kind of border will help establish a good boundary. My biggest problems though are tenacious tree roots which invade everywhere even making their way through double thickness weed mat!

        • That sounds like an excellent use for one of these clever rolls 😉 I’ve been pricing burlap/Hessian looking for a good deal. I’ll need about 10 meters of it, I think. Wholesalers online sell in various widths. I’m considering going with a narrower piece and not rolling so many thicknesses of the burlap….
          Roots sometimes grow up into raised beds I create. One of my beds is so filled with shrub roots that this year I have a pot sitting on top! Bulbs and Germander still live in the bed, but I’ve done my summer planting in a pot so it has a chance! I have to admire the spirit of these tenacious roots, though. however inconvenient they may be for me to work around 😉 Best wishes, WG

        • Thank you, Alex and Sue, for your brilliant idea. I made the border today: https://forestgardenblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/a-jolly-good-idea-living-border/ Best wishes ❤ ❤ ❤ WG

  4. I bought three of those blue salvias for my front bed, which are treated as annuals here. I love the color and they look so nice with the silvery artemisia and Russian sage. I once had silvery-leaved S. discolor, which I loved, but they aren’t so easy to find. Is your variety a yellow-leaved cultivar?

    • What a beautiful combination, Eliza. I haven’t grown Perovskia for ages! Your hummingbirds must just love that spot in your garden. I haven’t seen the S. discolor- sounds nice. Sad to admit, but I didn’t even look at the cultivar names. I’ve been searching here for interesting perennial Salvias all spring, and when these turned up (finally) I just grabbed them. That chartreuse leaf is something, isn’t it? It came that way, and I really like it in this color scheme.

  5. I recycle our newspapers (which pile up prodigiously) in this way.

    • It is a fabulous and efficient way to recycle paper, saving additional energy since they are recycled in place. My father uses newspapers in this way under mulch to stop weeds growing back through the fresh mulch. Every little bit helps 😉 Thank you for visiting, Rickii ❤

  6. And that’s adapting your gardening to your environment in an impressive manner. I’m not planning to introduce more beds into my own space, WG, but can certainly see the beauty of this method appealing were I to do so in a tough spot. And don’t you just love salvias. My black and blue survived the winter beautifully – some others did not. C’est la vie in the garden!

    • C’est la vie! How is your DA rose doing, by the way? I’m glad your Salvia survived OK… always a relief, isn’t it?

      • The DA is DOA. No, not really, but it’s not performing up to snuff at all. The bush itself is nice and healthy with great foliage and lots of new growth. But the roses, WG, the roses are awful. They shrivel up and wilt away before they open. I am not worried really. We’ll see how it does next spring and if I have the same problem, I ‘ll move it somewhere else.

        • So sad to hear, Barbara. I’m glad the shrub is healthy. Sounds like a problem with mildew on the buds… too much moisture of the flowers. I had a beautiful antique Bourbon rose which used to do the same thing if it rained while the buds were opening. Such a disappointment! And sprays don’t seem to make any difference. I hope next spring will be better for your DA.

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