Make a No Dig, Perennial Garden

Densley planted perennials make the easiest care, best looking gardens of all. Herbs, picking flowers, nectar/ pollen rich flowers for bees and beneficials, fruit, natives – you name it!, jam them all in together for a garden that beats out weeds, flowers year round and provides food and medicine. Beautiful and useful – my kinda garden.

Perennials are plants that are permanent – clumping out from an enduring root system year after year. Some are evergreen – renga renga, feijoa and flax for example – and retain their foliage year round but most are winter dormant, loosing their leaves and retreating into the root over winter to gather reserves before bursting forth again in spring.

The perennial advantage

Perennials lay a strong foundation for building and improving our soils because of their permanent root systems. Beneficial soil fungi build in this undisturbed space and stretch out into surrounding soils enhancing immunity and nutrient exchange 100 fold, making them the perfect companions to surround the often disturbed soils of the vegie patch. Bigger gardens may consider strips of perennials throughout.

My no dig recipe

Autumn is such a great time to do this, by spring you’ve got prepared ground for planting.

no dig bed
Prepping for a new fruit tree

Work out the Shape

Unplug your hose and use it to mark out the shape of your bed. Marinate on it a while. Can you access whatever it is you need to access? Ponder shade from trees and buildings, ponder work-a-bility. Play with the shape.

Or simply join on to an existing garden, stretching it out a little further. Take this modular approach and do a little more each year, before you know it you’ve transformed all the lawn/ grass into a thing of beauty.

Manage the Weeds

Before you begin you need to sort the serious weeds, and by serious I mean convuluvulus, blackberry and kikuyu. Its no good making a new garden on top they’ll penetrate and continue to smother. Perhaps start a new garden in another less weedy spot while you tackle them, here’s some smart weedy ways to help you.

Weeds like dandelion, plantain, clover and yarrow are the opposite of a problem, they’re a mineral gathering blessing, hardly serious. Others in the not serious brigade are deadly nightshade, scotch thistle and grass. As are dock and buttercup – though they be meaty, they too transform over time.

If non serious weeds are your lot, simply whack/mow or slash them down to ground level. Sprinkle gypsum if you’re on heavy clay and lay cardboard on top. A double layer is best.

Mulch + Wait

Woody mulch - scrapings from beneath last years wood stack

A woody mulch is the best here. Its dense and heavy – nothing transforms grass like it. Woody mulch also happens to be what trees, shrubs and perennials thrive on, but don’t hang out for perfection – in the absence of woody mulch, anything dry and brown will do. A mash up of leaves, bracken, seawrack, fine twiggy stuff – forage imaginatively.

The rumpity looking stuff in the pic above is from the bottom of the woodpile – partially decomposed sawdust and bigger lumps of wood. In a years time it’ll be disguised beneath plants and one less chunk of grass to manage.

Spread the mulch thickly – about 15cm worth and wait. This pause is precious. It gives nature the opportunity to fully express herself. The cardboard and turf return to the earth, the worms hear the call and come in droves and the OM breaks down as a village of microbes arrive at the latest housing development you’ve so kindly provided. How long you wait is up to you. The more broken down the mulch the more life and the less compost/ soil required for planting.

Nicely rotted woody mulch ready to plant into

Oh wow! Check that rotten mulch out (worth the wait huh). Grass is gone and your new bed is in credit, full of life. Make pockets in the mulch, fill with good soil and/or compost and let the planting begin.

Heres some inspo to help you gather a guild of useful, beautiful, soil building plants together

And heres my favourite perennials to bring you year round flowering

If its a vegie bed that you’re starting, the approach is similar just with a compost pile instead of a woody mulch. Heres how I do it


  1. Yvonne Teale says

    Hi Kath thank you for your inspiration I love your style when I read your words all so positive I have bamboo which I am trying to get rid off so I can extend my garden any ideas I tryed over the last 2 yrs but it just grows back

    • Oh so tricky bamboo. Check out the cut n paste website for bamboo buster.
      Even so, depending on what variety and your climate, it’ll likely be a long time before a new garden can grow there – if ever. In part cos bamboo are alleopathic and roots exude chems retarding growth of other plants – which can be handy for keeping back invasive weeds, but is not great for vegies (presuming this is what you are planting.)
      Consider a new place for your vegies – in containers or using another part of your yard or even your neighbours, and if your bamboo is clumping, not running consider keeping it and managing its spread rather than eliminating it… excellent wind shelter, mulch, garden stakes, building materials for arbours etc, living fence…. so very many uses!

  2. Hi Kath with what tool do you ‘slash’ your plant material?

    • Good question Lisa. Depends on the plants as to which tool. Most stuff my Niwashi deals with – love that tool! Dry crunchy stuff I just stamp down with feet or hands. Other options are loppers and for big areas and/ or big stuff, outcomes the weedeater.

  3. Thanks for responding. Niwashi is new to me. I just watched a couple of vids… mostly people seem to use them in the ground, but do you use them above ground to chop & drop ?