Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces – Patricia Lanza (2004)

**Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces – a layering system for big results in small gardens and containers – Patricia Lanza (2004)**


We first heard about this book when a customer emailed us asking whether we could get a copy of it. Unfortunately, her request arrived during the time we were having our competition to suggest silly names for sustainability books that were never published, and we thought she was entering the competition rather than ordering a book! Upon further investigation it turned out to be a real book, and now what we have is the sequel to the original ‘Lasagna Gardening’.

Lasagna gardening is basically glorified deep bed mulching. It is an excellent system for creating deep, rich, no-dig beds in areas where there is no soil, particularly in urban back gardens. I have seen this system working very well in small scale urban permaculture gardens and it works. Lanza sets out very clearly and practically in the opening chapter what this system is, what is good about it and how to do it. It is written in a simple, straightforward style which is informative and never patronising. It makes so much sense that once you have read it digging seems like some odd activity our ancestors did, but which is slowly fading into the distant mists of time. In essence you cover the ground with wet newspaper, and then build your beds up in layers, much as you would a compost heap. In come the worms who dig it for you, you plant it up and away you go.

The only drawbacks with her system as far as I can see, are that firstly she advocates the use of peat moss, definitely a no go for the sustainable gardener, and secondly she uses a lot of compost. Unless you are a prolific backyard composter, good organic compost is a rare commodity. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but the only source in Cork just stopped producing it, and bought-in bags it can prove very costly. Here is a major gap in the market, an efficient and reliable network of local composting centres, taking in local organic matter and producing good quality compost for the local market. A goldmine for someone. Until we have a good source of affordable compost, this system will require quite a high degree of inputs. It is possible to use less composted materials, such as old silage, straw, manure and so on, but it just means the bed needs longer to settle in.

Aside from the first chapter, the rest of the book is about Lanza’s own system of gardening using the lasagne approach. As a permaculturist, I found this quite disappointing. This is a book that sorely needs the integrated holistic thinking of permaculture design. Her section on growing vegetables in a small garden is good, with some interesting ideas, but her garden design section is terrible, very traditional, with the veggie garden tucked away at the end of the garden.

She has a basic idea, which could potentially feed millions of people and bring food production into any urban area, yet she doesn’t seem to realise the implications of what she is proposing. It is this which I found most frustrating. She writes about this system as if it were any other gardening technique, and while it is a book with lots of good ideas for growing fruit, herbs and vegetables in small spaces, it also contains lots of stuff which is fairly lightweight and not particularly inspiring, about growing flowers and making rock gardens. The book comes across as stretching out a rather basic idea into a book too many.

Perhaps I am being too hard on her, it is a useful collection of ideas, but for me a gardening book should either be a comprehensive ‘how-to’ book, like Joy Larkcom’s ‘Grow Your Own’, or an inspiring ‘let’s change the world by gardening’ book, like ‘Gardening for the Future of the Earth’ by Harrisson and Shapiro. Lanza has a simple system which works, which anyone could understand and which could enable local gardeners to loosen the grip of food corporations on their communities by enabling them to grow local fresh organic food anywhere, but she doesn’t seem to have quite realised that, and seems happy enough planting flowers in containers.