Ever dreamt of a plush, thriving garden but hit rocks and roots every time you pick up the tools? Perhaps your outdoor space is more of a concrete jungle than a floral escape. Or what about if you’re renting and you haven’t got complete freedom to transform your garden the way you want to? These common dilemmas can be settled through raised-bed gardening!
Raised garden beds can be placed almost anywhere, whether you’re setting up on concrete pavement or your lawn, as long as your garden bed has access to plenty of sunlight, you're good to go, it’s that simple!
What is raised bed gardening?
Raised bed gardening is a form of gardening in which the soil is bound by 1-2 metre containment units made from either wood or concrete. The soil is raised above the ground and can be enriched with compost and other organic matter.
How to create a raised garden bed
Raised garden beds can be constructed from a range of materials such as timber or corrugated iron. Stone and brick are popular choices too but are permanent structures that can’t be reshaped or moved around with ease (not advised for rentals). However, if DIY isn’t your thing, you’ll have no trouble finding pre-made garden beds from your local hardware store.
If you’ve set your garden bed on a hard surface, you’ll want to line it with matting before filling with soil. Start by placing a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard on the ground, then line the sides and base with weed matting. If you’re working with natural soil underneath your bed, you also have the option of leaving the base surface as is and allowing the roots of your plants to penetrate the natural soil; the choice is yours.
The most common way to fill up a raised garden bed is to layer it with a blend of soil-friendly organic substances like potting mix, compost and/or manure, which helps generate vigorous, fertile soil that not only drains well but is properly aerated to help your plants to flourish.
Is there an ideal size for a raised garden bed?
Several factors can play a part in determining the size of your raised bed, but the most obvious one is the existing space you have in your garden. When working out the dimensions of your raised garden bed’s frame, ensure that you’ve got adequate room to walk around it and can comfortably enjoy the rest of your outdoor space at the same time. You’ll also want to ensure the width is set at a size that allows you to reach the centre of the bed from either side without needing to step on it, which would compress the soil. For most people, this means limiting the width to about 1.2m.
Most raised beds range from 15cm to 30cm in height and, as a general rule of thumb, the poorer the quality of the underlying soil, the deeper you’ll want your bed to be to maximise the amount of healthy soil available to your plants. Greater depth means more room for roots to grow as well as increased water retention from your soil, which reduces the frequency your plants need to be watered.
6 benefits of raised bed gardening
1. It’s better for your soil – Raised bed gardening sets up your soil for the most straightforward style of gardening, and that’s gardening that doesn’t require much maintenance! As opposed to raking, digging and replacing old soil, raised-beds can be preserved by adding extra materials on top.
2. Keep the pests out - The tall sides of a raised garden bed make it more difficult for insects and slugs to force their way into your bed, or at least slow them down and provide an opportunity to catch them before they start eating your plants! You can also mount hardware cloth on to each side of the box that completely covers the bed and stops pets and other forms of wildlife from getting to your crops.
3. Raised soil drains better - In areas prone to flooding or uneven yards that tend to pool after rain, a raised garden bed takes away the stress of dealing with over-saturated soil. The most popular depth for a raised garden bed is approximately 30cm, and for most crops, this depth leaves enough space for adequate drainage and ensures the plants don’t get bogged down in wet conditions.
4. They’re aesthetically-pleasing - It can’t be denied, the wooden sides and box-like appearance of a raised garden bed will make your outdoor space look neat, tidy and organised as opposed to the sprawl of a traditional garden layout. Raised beds also provide an element of safety for your plants as they’re clear to see and easy to walk around and they’ll also protect you too, saving your back from hours spent kneeling on the ground.
5. No spot is permanent - If you sow directly into the ground, you’re often more restricted in choosing the ideal location to plant in as you have to go where soil already exists. This can prevent you from having a garden at all if the available ground does not get enough sun or the soil doesn't drain well, for example. However, raised beds are much more flexible as they can generally be placed where you want them to go and can be designed to fit any size space.
6. They’re ideal for beginners – Although it might seem like there are more steps and a more significant cost involved, the process of raised bed gardening is much smoother and easier to follow than traditional gardening. Raised bed gardening eliminates the need to repeatedly till your soil and remove weeds, not to mention you’re dealing with a much smaller enclosed space, so progress and hurdles are easier to pick out and stay on top of.
What should I plant?
Gardening in a raised bed is all about making the most of the limited space that you have, but with that comes the challenge of overcoming the temptation to overcrowd the area with every plant species and crop you can think of! Overcrowded plants rarely blossom or reach their full potential because they're deprived of air circulation and compete for water, nutrients and root space, which in turn leads to unhealthy, stressed-out flora.
Choosing what to plant very much depends on what’s in season and what you enjoy eating. Herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, lemongrass and tarragon could provide real inspiration in the kitchen. As summer approaches and outdoor dinner parties take centre stage, consider salad vegies such as zucchinis, tomatoes and snow peas for their vibrant colour and freshness. To reduce wastage and ensure a regular supply, try fast-growing, leafy green vegetables like spinach, lettuce, rocket, swiss chard and watercress.
Whatever you grow, make sure to treat your seedlings like babies that need nurturing to grow and flourish, and persist if things don’t work out on your first attempt. After all, the garden is full of great lessons!