Garden Design Top Tips #5: Raised beds

garden design

Raised beds are a good way to add form and structure to your garden. They can be constructed a variety of materials, from bricks or blocks to timber materials such as railway sleepers, wooden stakes and even old pallets. The beauty of raised beds is they do add an extra dimension to your garden and can also help to height to an otherwise two dimensional space. Once erected, depending on the material used, you can paint them, tile theme, cover them and if you use gabions (strong, wire-mesh boxes), you can even grow plants through them or fill them with just about any decorative material you like.

This is how to construct a simple raised bed from pallets:

Collect old wood shipping pallets. Many shops, builders merchants and other places of business get their products delivered on wooden pallets, which they may be willing to give away, especially if the pallets are damaged. Factories and your local refuse tip are other good places to pick up a free pallet or two. Hardwood pallets will look nicer and may last longer, but a softwood pallet will do just as well – a coat of timber preservative or wood stain will help keep them in good condition.

Carefully dismantle the pallet with a crowbar or claw hammer, taking care to avoid injury on the exposed nails. Some pallets will be very well made, so to avoid damaging the timber when prying the boards apart, you can saw the boards at either end to aid your demolition job.

Trim any damaged, splintering or rough ends of the boards with a saw.

Sort the wood into similar sized pieces. You will be using the boards to build squares or rectangles that are two board-widths tall. As an example, let’s say we are building a raised bed that is four feet long and two feet wide, so we will need four four-foot boards and four two-foot boards, plus additional pieces for to cut to size for reinforcements.

Lay two boards flat on the ground side by side and measure their combined width. Use a saw to cut a piece of wood that long. This will be the timber you use to fix and reinforce the panels. Nail the reinforcement board across the two boards flush with the edge at each end. Repeat this process to create enough panels to build your bed.

Arrange the sections to create a rectangle, making sure a reinforced end is on the inside of each corner

Nail the sections together, driving the nail through the reinforcement plank.

Line the inside of the walls of the bed with tough plastic sheeting to protect them from water and prevent soil from leaking through the joins.

Lay the raised bed on the ground and fill it with a soil and compost mix. Finally, plant it with garden plants of your choice.

Of course, a raised bed has many advantages beyond not having to do much prep work at the beginning of the season. The soil dries out quicker in spring, and it warms faster than regular garden beds. If you choose to build your raised beds out of bricks or blocks you may need to get the help of a professional. Remember you must dig good deep footings and fill them with concrete before you can start building.