Raised beds can make messy gardens look neat and orderly, or bring an exciting new dimension to an otherwise bare space. There are many benefits to growing plants above the ground – for example, it’s easier on your back, and containers generally limit the amount of upkeep each bed needs. Plus, raised bed gardening ideas are a fun way to add style and character to your garden aesthetic.
The only drawback to raised bed gardening is that you have to prepare your garden beds before doing anything else – so, without further ado, let’s take a look at how to get started.
What is raised bed gardening?
In case you need a reminder, raised bed gardening is a method that simply moves plant beds above ground, rather than in-ground. Raised beds are conventionally about a metre wide, and can be anywhere from 15cm above the ground to waist-height.
Raised bed gardening helps you control the condition of the soil within the beds, and makes it easier to conserve water (especially if you stagger raised beds down a natural slope in your garden). It’s also possible to implement square foot gardening principles and companion planting, allowing you to grow plants (particularly vegetables) much more intensively than conventional rows of crops.
Because of their size and shape, it’s easier to cover raised beds and protect your crops from cold and pests, extending the growing season. Being closer to eye-level makes it easier to spot pests in the first place, and to watch out for signs of disease. Dense planting also means that, once your crops or flowers get established, it’s much harder for weeds to break though (more tips on keeping flower beds weed-free).
Raised beds also keep plants out of reach of children or pets – useful if you’re growing anything that could be toxic – and, by the same logic, make it easier for adults to reach the beds. If you’re growing a sensory garden for people with physical impairments, raised bed gardening ideas are the way to go.
Planning your raised bed garden
A little planning goes a long way when it comes to a raised bed garden. It’s very difficult to change the materials of your beds, or rearrange them, once they’re in place, so take the time to figure out how you want them to look from the start.
Raised bed layouts
The best position for your raised bed will be somewhere that gets full sun throughout the day (at least 6 hours). The majority of crops need full sun to flourish, and if you end up growing vegetables that prefer shade then you can always create more cover at a later point.
You don’t need a lot of space to build your raised bed garden, and you can always start with one or two beds and slowly expand as they become established.
Another thing to consider is water access. Although you can obviously use a hose to take water from one end of your garden to the other, long-term you’ll thank yourself for keeping your raised beds as close to the spigot as possible. You’ll be watering your raised bed at least every few days, so having water within easy reach will be a huge convenience.
Materials for building raised beds
The essential thing to consider when you’re deciding on the materials for building your raised garden beds is that you don’t want chemicals to leach into the soil. This is important for the health of your plants, but even more so when you’re growing anything you intend to eat! Be cautious of pressure-treated timbers (which are often treated with chemicals), and opt for untreated hardwood, concrete, or reclaimed timber sleepers.
The safest option may be to buy prefabricated materials intended for building raised planters. These will typically be rated for food safety and offer the durability needed for outdoor conditions. Look for features like double-skinned walls (which provide insulation against sudden temperature changes and moisture loss), or options that come with plastic lids or covers for extra protection against the elements.
What’s your garden environment like?
Both the position and material of your raised beds will be affected by the weather exposure they get in your garden. As well as direct sunlight, you should take into account where your garden seems to catch the most wind, and where water runoff tends to pool. Consider how to protect your plants before you start growing – could you install a screen, or dig better drainage?
It’s always wonderful to see more birds and wildlife in our gardens… that is, until we notice them nibbling our crops and trampling our seedlings! If you have the pleasure of living in a rural location where foxes, rabbits and deer are frequent visitors, factor this into your raised bed design. For example, surrounding your beds with a perimeter of fences or nets.
When it comes to raised bed gardening ideas, there are no right or wrong answers. Just take the time to assess your outdoor space as well as your own growing goals before you start creating your beds. Happy growing!