MORE THAN JUST PLANTS
Raised beds and structures can add an extra dimension to gardens

BY ED GREGUREK - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

November 15, 2007


Editors Note: As a master gardener in Victoria County since the first class in 1997, Ed Gregurek has volunteered in most projects doing physical work in trial plots and designing and building beds and structures. He either helped design and/or build most every structure at Victoria Educational Gardeners from 2001 to now, with elements in many of the 19 mini gardens now complete.
Ed Gregurek working on raised bed.
One day a gardener and a meagerly producing plant had a conversation.

The gardener asked the plant, Why are you doing so poorly?

The plant answered, I dont like it here, and besides the nutrients are inadequate.

The gardener asked, What do you want me to do about it?

The plant answered, Put me in a place I like and feed me better and I will produce for you.

Thus began the concept of garden containers and structures, from as small as a single plant container to multi-plant raised beds, including those that are handicap accessible, to full-size structures, trellises and arbors.

All of these can be either bought ready to use, or you can make them yourself.

MATERIALS FOR BEDS


The building material can be almost anything you can put together and make it hold the growing medium. In the case of edible vegetables, you need to use materials that do not contain chemicals or compounds that the plant may absorb and cause the veggies to be toxic and unfit for consumption.

WOOD AND TIMBERS


At the Victoria Educational Gardens, we use full-cut, rough-cut cedar, cedar fence posts and untreated landscape timbers to construct raised beds. Each has its own way of being assembled.

When using landscape timbers requiring more than one layer, nail each layer to the other using long spikes that will penetrate into the layer below it, enough that it will hold all layers together. Then drill some holes through all of the layers and drive a rod through all the layers about 15 inches into the ground. This will prevent the bed from shifting.

When building for handicap accessibility, get dimensions from www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm, the federal site of the American Disability Act.

For typical landscape beds, you can use landscape timbers as a vertical structure placed 24 inches into the ground or you can use 2x8 or 2x10 lumber for the sides of a bed to hold the soil. For the wheelchair accessible beds built above ground, build a strong frame made from 4x4 posts set at least 30 inches in the ground and 2x12 lumber for the sides and bottom. The aerial bed needs to be secured to the 4x4 posts with lag screws, and the floor of the bed needs to be screwed to the sides of the bed. The floor of the bed should be supported by an additional 4x4 into the ground and other bracing.

This is all necessary, because when you fill the bed with soil and it gets wet, it becomes very heavy and the bottom of the bed may cave in if its not strong.

STONE AND CONCRETE


Stone and concrete are excellent materials for raised beds. They are permanent, do not deteriorate and, if placed and put together correctly, using adhesives made for stonework, will resist misalignment caused by shifting soil pressure. There also is no danger of the plants absorbing toxic materials.

The most versatile of concrete products are cinder blocks. They are tall enough that only one level is needed to make a raised bed, and their wide, level surface makes them stable.

A large selection of stone products in many shapes and sizes can be used for raised beds. They are also decorative and can enhance the beauty of your garden.

ARBORS, TRELLISES AND MORE


To add to the aesthetic value of your property, try building arbors, arches, trellises, walkways, a dry creek drainage bed, covered structures with benches or swings or anything else you may dream up.

The abovementioned structures are more labor intensive and more expensive than raised beds. They may require digging many holes at least 30 inches deep, mixing cement and securing 4x4 or 4x6 posts that are 8 to 14 feet long into those holes, making sure they are the desired height and accurately set in all directions. When the cement is set and cured and the posts are sturdy, add the necessary lumber to them that will make whatever it is you want.

In most cases, 2x6 or 2x8 boards are used for this purpose, and they have to be secured with substantial fasteners like lag screws or long bolts.

To see for yourself what goes into some of these structures, visit the Victoria Educational Gardens at the Victoria Regional Airport.
Left: Cathedral Arbor and Right: Pergola--Two structures Ed Gregurek
helped to design and construct in the Expansion Area at VEG.
*******************************GARDEN STRUCTURES ***************************
Structures add great dimension to any garden. Below is a list of ideas to consider. Visit the Victoria Educational Gardens and see whats there. This will give you an idea of what you may be interested in and the amount of labor, building expertise and cost. Structures indicated with a star are existing structures built at the Victoria Educational Gardens.
*gazebo

*pergola

*raised beds

*handicap accessible beds

*arbor

*trellis

*fencing

decking

rails

*seats
swings

seating tables

plant potting tables

*fountain

*bridge

*wishing well

pavilion

*bird house

*dry creek bed

*information kiosk