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Happy New Year to you all and welcome to the first La-Di Dardy Flower blog for 2021!
I have been wondering what to write about as January is a bit of a quiet time in the garden. I am missing the flowers greatly, although I have had the pleasure of seeing and smelling the beautiful narcissi paperwhites and working with some of my dried flowers to make up some pretty flowery bouquets.
But something that has been happening in my garden, is the addition of raised beds.
Raised Beds that are Right for you
Quick Checklist for Raised Beds:
- Why do you want them and what are you planning to grow in them?
- Are they the best option?
- Where do you want to put them?
- Decide on size (remember 1.2m width), width, length, height
- Spacing between them and around them
- What will they be made of (purchase or self build)?
- Preparation for filling them
- What will they be filled with and where will you source materials?
- Do you want to grown in them all year round?
Any time spent on the cutting garden currently involves pouring over plant and seed catalogues and planning what to grow, as well as where and how. Given that I kind of ran out of space last year one of our main January projects is the construction of two large raised beds which I am still working on.
There is often a lot of talk about raised beds and it’s always going to be a personal choice. For me, it’s a case of what works best and where. The beds and borders currently established in the garden, are in areas where there is a decent depth of soil to work with and grow in. Hence, no raised beds are required there.
The raised bed area is located in an area, at the top of the garden, where there is very little soil depth. The existing turf sits on top of Victorian rubble and cinder (clay pipes), as well as a 1970s builder’s dumping area (evidenced by the wire and ancient plastic bags). Underneath this is bedrock of Devonian Senni Sandstone.
If you are considering raised beds, size and scale in respect to the rest of the garden is key for a balanced look. Personally speaking, we tend to regret making something too small rather than too big. Regardless of this, 1.2m is a great width, for raised beds, as you can still reach into the middle of the bed without having to overstretch or step onto the soil. Height seems to vary greatly but I keep mine to about 30cm or so. Our beds are also 50cm apart which allows for a wheelbarrow and lawn mower. After that, it’s just a matter of length and they can be as short or long as you like. It is worth planning where and how you want them to sit in the garden so don’t be afraid to stake them out and try different combinations. Look at them from as many aspects as you can. We used large pieces of landscape fabric and moved them around the garden to get the best configuration. Don’t underestimate the value of planning and the need for any access needed around them.
From left to right: 1 - Lift and flip turf; 2 - Layer of cardboard; 3 - Filled with 2 parts top soil, 1 part green mulch
Then comes the filling. And here the conversation veers between ‘no-dig’ to ‘deep digging’. I can’t dig but I do lift the turf, shake it out a bit, de-grub it, turn it upside down and put it back down. There was one year that I pursued the ‘no-dig’ method and ended up with vine weevil grubs eating the roots of my lovely new plants. I also know that we have chafer grubs in the lawn. The woodpeckers love them but I’m not going to risk leaving them in the base of my new beds.
Then comes a layer of cardboard. The worms love it and they convert it to organic matter and it provides a bit of a barrier for a while. On top of this, comes the soil. Conversations with fellow gardeners and a bit of research have indicated that for hardy or half hardy annuals the soil doesn’t need to be too rich. Over rich soil will mean that I end up with lovely lush foliage and not enough flowers. This means that the raised beds will be filled with two parts top soil to one part green mulch and ammendments. If you are intending to grow vegetables, however, rich soil with manure incorporated, is what you need, unless you are going to be growing root vegetables which will develop split stunted roots.
Following a few days of wheelbarrowing soil into the beds and filling them up I will try and let it all settle, before planting them up. My head swims with the combination of flowers I would like to grow in them. Additional aspects will be the need to add netting across the beds to provide support for tall stems. Over winter I would love to put caterpillar tunnels on them for the growing of hardy annuals. Before that we need to get to spring and summer. Gardening really is a forward looking, optimistic activity, full of hope and plans for the future, and it makes so many of us very happy.
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