The no-work native garden

Benjamin Vogt doesn’t need to work on his garden for much of the year, thanks to his method of planting thick, and planting native. Here’s how he put his wonderful garden in Nebraska together.

I began the 1,500 foot garden in July of 2007 from scratch, just damp clay soil and 20 cubic yards of mulch. I grew up with a mother who had thousands of square feet worth of gardens, but I never learned anything–it was her space, her time, and sometimes I was allowed to help and escape outisde with her.
The gardening gene lay dormant in me for nearly two decades until I got married and my wife and I bought our first home. I spent 8 hours a day outside digging in plants, making trips to nurseries three times a week, or ordering plants online.
I quickly learned that clay soil required special plants–and there was no way I was going to haul out clay and replace the soil, disrupting the life in it. I have a Ph.D. in English, and as such I enjoy research.
As I spent hours upon hours online trying to find plants that work in clay–full sun, half sun, full shade, dry clay, wet clay–I began to use the research to inform a memoir I was writing about my mom and our roles in nature (Morning Glory). As I gardened and learned about landscape design, plant pests, and such, I was writing, and vice versa.
My experiences quickly led me to native prairie plants. 4 years on now, the prairie plants thrive while the non natives die out, leaving me with at least 75% natives. I don’t weed because the cover is so thick, and I mulch with what I cut down in spring. Each year the number of birds, bees, and butterflies seems to double. Since 90% of the garden is herbaceous perennials, I have a few days of hard work in March “cleaning up” and then I don’t have to do anything at all the rest of the year. No joke! Right native plants in the right place truly work.

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2 Responses

  1. chrissy d

    Your story is very encouraging. I also have clay type soil so I shall be taking some of your advice to continue on.


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