Gardening is a rewarding hobby; in return for modest efforts, a gardener can enjoy beautiful flowers or a bountiful harvest of food for an entire season. Regardless of the specific type of garden, the basic needs remain the same: sunlight, water, and quality soil. While sunlight and watering needs are easily met, the task of providing nutrients through the soil can be more challenging – especially if the ground at the garden site isn’t particularly fertile. One solution is to build raised garden beds, rather than working directly in the ground.

Raised beds in useCredit: By Photo by Ron Francis, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (USDA NRCS Photo Gallery: NRCSTX99002.tif) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Advantages of gardening in raised beds 

Raised beds allow the gardener to provide plants with exactly the right type of soil, without having to amend the existing soil at the garden site. This makes it easier to provide nutrients via compost or other organic matter.

Another advantage of raised beds is that they provide excellent access to the garden, especially for gardeners with mobility difficulties. By bringing the surface of the garden up a few feet, the gardener no longer has to stoop over or crawl around on hands and knees. 

Since the dirt is contained within the boxes, the walkways between gardens can be kept quite clean. This significantly reduces the amount of dirt and mud that is tracked around.

Finally, the raised beds effectively prevent people from walking through the garden. This protects the plants from having the soil compacted around their roots. 

Designing the raised beds

Building raised bedsCredit: By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Indy Garden 1) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsRaised garden beds can be strictly utilitarian in design or they can be highly ornamental. The decision on how elaborate the design should be is limited only by the gardener’s budget. The principle remains the same – providing a 4-sided box to contain soil – but the overall aesthetic appeal can vary wildly. 

Regardless of the type of design chosen, some important factors should be considered when building and installing a raised garden bed.

1. Consider the types, quantity, and size of the plants to be grown. Sketch the garden on paper in order to determine the required size. It is better to make the edits on paper, rather than discovering that the garden is too small after it has been installed. 

2. Consider access to the center of the bed. Plants grow best when the soil isn’t compacted around their roots, so avoid walking through the raised garden bed. Ensure that the center of the garden can be easily reached from the walkway around the outside.

3. If multiple raised beds will be placed in close proximity, carefully consider how much spacing is required between beds. Depending on the type of gardening to be done, it may be necessary to fit a wheelbarrow or a garden cart between the beds. Ensure that the spacing between beds is adequate for the necessary tools that will be brought to the garden throughout the season. 

4. Avoid using treated wood if edible plants will be grown. The chemicals contained in pressure-treated wood can leech into the soil, eventually finding their way into the plants. Instead, select building materials such as cedar, which will hold up to the outdoor environment without added toxic chemicals.

5. Consider the intended longevity of the raised beds. A temporary, one-season raised bed can be constructed quite differently from a bed that is intended for many years of use. Ensure that the construction is sturdy enough to contain the soil, especially when the soil is soaked and very heavy.

A well-constructed, raised garden bed will provide many years of valuable service to the gardener. Well-designed beds allow the gardener to more easily work the soil and reach the plants, while protecting the plants from soil compaction. An aesthetically pleasing bed can even allow a vegetable garden, normally confined to back corners of the yard for its utilitarian looks, to take a more prominent position in a refined landscape.

Raised bedsCredit: By B. Blechmann (vom Autor) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Recommended kits for raised beds

Greenland Gardener 8-Inch Raised Bed Double Garden Kit
Amazon Price: $109.99 $34.49 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 3, 2013)
This kit uses recycled materials to provide an attractive and functional raised bed for your garden.
Greenes Cedar Raised Garden Kit 4' x 8' x (10.5"-7")
Amazon Price: $111.95 $79.95 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 3, 2013)
Use the natural strength and weather-resistance of cedar wood to build your own raised garden bed.
Bosmere N426 Raised Bed Connection Kit
Amazon Price: $22.00 $21.53 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 3, 2013)
This kit contains connecting pieces to be used with your own wood. It makes garden bed assembly easy and straightforward.