Making a raised bed

Rob the veggie gardener’s staple, says Peter Dowdall and you can have an easily managed mix in your garden

Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in people growing their own food. People who before now, may well have thought that potatoes did actually grow on the shelves in the supermarket and are amazed to discover how easy it is to grow one’s own.

Some good seeds or young plants mixed with the right soil, correct amounts of water and levels of sunlight and off you go. This huge growth in popularity is due to several factors: More awareness of the health benefits of growing your own food; gardening programmes on television and radio; and economic circumstances.

Whatever the reason, it is great to see so many people out and about in the garden. Take a walk through any busy allotment or community garden now and you will see the place buzzing. Neighbours who might otherwise never really know each other, are out getting their hands dirty together and comparing the size of their rhubarb stalks. They might otherwise be cooped up watching television, living just feet from each other but not knowing the other.

The benefits of this resurgence goes hand in hand with the explosion in popularity of raised beds. They are a great way to grow many vegetables and also, it was believed in times past that plants performed better in raised beds as they were closer to the sun and to God. Who am I to scoff at these beliefs and what is certainly true is that many plants do better in beds that are elevated.

Again there are several reasons, not least is that by being closer to the sun they are therefore warmer and grow better. By creating a raised bed you can control the growing media that goes into it, for example if you want to grow carrots, parsnips and other root crops you can ensure that the soil is stone free and sandy, ideal for these plants. Also by raising the bed high enough, you can ensure that the carrot fly cannot get at the plants.

However I want to claim back the raised bed from the veggie brigade for all of us. It’s not just for fruit and vegetable gardeners. Ornamental plants will also thrive in these beds. Maintenance of your horticultural beauties is much easier in a bed that may be as high or higher than your knee as you are not stooping to get to the weeds. Believe me, it’s a long time since my fingers have seen my toes and to keep gardening from becoming a chore, such tasks as weeding, pruning, dead heading etc can all be made easier by raising the plants.

If you have ever been lucky enough to visit the RHS gardens at Wisley then you will have seen some fabulous beds created from stone and raised about 60 cm and used as alpine gardens. Artificial rockeries, and what a sight they are, are for me, the highlight of a trip to these Surrey gardens.

Again, the soil can be created to match exactly the well drained growing conditions that these little alpines like. But don’t stop there, anything can be grown in this way, bedding plants, Herbaceous beds, even shrubberies if you want. A working herb bed is never a particularly beautiful looking addition to the garden as the plants are constantly being harvested and picked at, and again. What better way to grow them than in a raised south facing bed. If you are not over-endowed with space in your garden and you cannot afford the luxury of allowing a bed to be used exclusively for herbs, then why not put some nice alpines into the same spot to give it the wow factor as both groups of plants like the same growing conditions.

Many materials can be used to create a bed like this and the design is limited only by your imagination. Just bear a few things in mind: take care of overall dimensions, make sure you can easily access all parts of the bed for maintenance, weeding and harvesting. Make sure the bed is on a surface that allows it to drain freely, don’t use railway sleepers for growing food crops as the creosote will leech into the soil and it has been proved to be carcinogenic.

There are of course ready made raised beds, kits and sleepers without creosote available at your local garden centre so enjoy making your new bed, planting it and sit back to enjoy the fruits of your labour.


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