Raised Ambitions

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”
– William Morris

There is a patch of land beside my driveway. According to the plans of the house it is our front garden. In reality it is a moss-filled patch of scrubland that the neighbourhood uses as an unofficial litter tray and bin. We rarely tend to it. Having initially pumped a lot of money into it buying various pretty plants which inevitably died in the winter frost, it now consists of more hardly lavender bushes and heathers which can survive the changing seasons and stand their own against the encroaching weed population. It is neither useful nor beautiful.

But I have a plan for it; a kitchen garden in raised beds.

C38. Raised Ambitions

Why Raised Beds
One would obviously get more vegetables per acre without them, but they are a solution in three particular circumstances which are relevant to my garden.

  • The first is that this land is of poor soil which has been drained of nutrition by weeds over a number of long years. I include grass in this weed classification; weeds being an unproductive plant that is growing where you would rather it not, draining the soil of nutrients. These weeds will also represent a challenge for resources to my fledgling seedlings. With raised beds I have the opportunity to increase the quality of the soil where I need it most, while creating a barrier to reduce the threat of these weeds. I will line the base of the bed with cardboard and paper; this will create a physical barrier for the weeds beneath. I will then add nutrient rich grass-cuttings on top and then compost from my composer to fill the bed. This will give the seedlings the best chance to grow strong, and hopefully result ultimately in strong healthy vegetables.
  • The second problem is the neighbourhood. Despite how rude it is, some parents do not think it is an issue if their child is running amok in your garden searching for a ball that landed next door and some dog owners do not think it is an issue if their dog soils on your grass. I say this as both a parent and dog owner; some of us suck. However both offenders recognise that it is a problem if their dog/child is wandering all around your rockery. I am hoping that a raised bed will receive the same respect as a rockery, and more respect than the patch of green masquerading as grass.
  • The third issue is curb-side appeal. No matter how people try, it is hard to deny that an allotment outside of bloom is simply an unattractive brown field. While any gardener can see the potential brimming just beneath the surface, they would be still hard pushed to claim the field was visually attractive. I am hoping that well-maintained painted raised beds and a few strategically placed potted plants will help this. I also think that once the growing season is finished I can unroll grass sod over the top of the beds for the winter. As this will be outside growing season, so I am hoping that the grass will not need to be mowed over the winter, and, as the roll comes with netted backing, I am hoping that the grass will be easy to roll up and remove after winter in time for next year’s growing season.

Layout of beds
The garden is a quadrangle roughly 12m squared. I believe I could fit 3 raised beds with a walkway between each. The raised beds I will construct from timbers screwed to a stake (see image above) whereas the walkway I will build a frame upon which to screw threads (see image above). Blackout material beneath the walkway should prevent weeds creeping up. In the space not required for the beds and walkway, I will place decorative pebbles on blackout material to fill it.

While raised beds can be as long as required, if accessible from both sides, it is important that they are only just wider than your arm-span. This means that the centre of the bed is in easy reach from both sides and you will not hurt your back leaning across a bed which is too wide.

The height of the beds is also an important consideration. In order to fulfil my requirements above, the height of the beds has to be sufficient enough to establish them in the rockery category (rather than being some sort of landscaped garden) while not so tall as to require tonnes of compost to fill them or for them to become a convenient bench. I have decided about half a meter tall should be sufficient.

Order of events
This project will have a number of elements

  • 1. Removal of the lavender trees to allow the painting of the perimeter fence (white).
  • 2. Planting of seeds to have seedlings ready for transplantation.
  • 3. Construction and painting of raised beds and walkways (yellow and white).
  • 4. Laying of raised beds, walkways, blackout material and pebbles (white and sand).
  • 5. Transplantation of seedlings.

When to start
If I am honest, I would start this project today and begin to move the lavender trees around to the back-garden to begin painting the fence, but in reality I will have to wait for rainy April to pass before I do. I will probably also have to wait for fairer weather to initiate the construction element of the project (and by ‘initiate’ I mean the coercion/blackmail/bribery of my husband/ Dad / brother-in-law to help me, as at 7 months pregnant I am not in an ideal position to be lifting timbers). However, ideally I will start this process by the end of April, with the framework of the garden being ready to receive seedlings in May at the latest.

In the meantime I have begun to sow the seeds for the plants I hope to eventually transplant to the raised beds. I will propagate these in our porch until they are big and strong enough to be moved outdoors. I use the porch because I haven’t got space for a greenhouse, and it’s a space I can lock the inquisitive and accidently destructive dog out of. This provides an area which, because it is out of the wind, is warmer than outside but only by a degree or two (unlike the house which is heated), so there is no temperature shock for the seeds as they move outside for transplanting. It is also an area with a lot of light because of all the glass, which aides photosynthesis. Once the seeds are seedlings, I will probably place these in large pots to move outdoors until the raised beds are ready. Generally I propagate seeds indoors or under cover for about a month before I transplant them directly into the ground.

For more information on the planting of seeds, please see our article on the topic. Or go to GIY  – which is just a font of information on all things organic.

So that is the plan – turn the useless ugly scrubland of a garden into a pretty productive kitchen garden. It always looks so simple from the planning stage.

You can keep up with the ideas for the Front Garden at http://www.pinterest.com/cyclopeswife/front-garden-ideas/

About Cathy Clarke

Cathy lives with her husband, offspring and so many animals that her household often feels like a small petting zoo. She is one half of the team behind AHomeMadeByCommittee.com (an Irish Lifestyle blog) where she discusses motherhood, weddings, DIY, GIY, and everything in between. And she is one third of the team behind IrishWritersPodcast.com, a podcast which discusses topics interesting to writers. Follow her on twitter at @CathyCClarke.
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