A raised garden bed is a great idea. There are plenty of plans out there to help you make one. But why should you consider a raised garden bed, and which types, shapes and edging materials should you choose? We’ve compiled this list of the garden bed plans to help you make the right choices for your organic garden.
Why Have a Raised Garden Bed?
Raised garden beds can be a great idea for a number of reasons. For example, they can:
- Allow you to quickly and easily create a new growing area on your lawn or patio.
- Make it possible to garden where there is hardstanding, or the soil quality is poor.
- Enable you to grow your own where the topsoil is thin.
- Some allow you to create a wider range of growing conditions in a smaller area.
- Create higher areas that are easier to access for those with mobility issues, or to garden without hurting your back.
Types of Raised Garden Bed
First of all then, let’s take a look at some of the best plans for different types of raised garden bed:
Lasagna beds offer an easy solution for making new raised beds quickly and affordably. They are a key feature of no dig gardening. Check out our no dig gardening article to find plans to help you make a lasagna bed in your garden. Basically, the method involves building up your raised bed with organic material. Over time, the material will break down and compost in place, just like the materials in a normal compost heap. This can be a cheaper and more eco-friendly method to using simply soil or compost.
New hugelkultur bed.
A variation on the theme of lasagna gardens is the hugelkultur technique. With this method, you will build up your raised beds in much the same way as above. But instead of creating a flat raised growing area, you will create a mound. Hugelkultur mounds have many of the same ingredients as the lasagna bed, but at their heart, have a structure of woody material (ideally partially rotted). These structures are nutrient rich, and also retain water far better than many other raised garden bed types.
Straw Bale Gardens
Another interesting technique for making raised beds is simply using straw bales as your growing medium, topped with a small amount of compost. To find out more about straw bales, check out our straw bale gardening guide.
Square Foot Gardens
Square foot gardens are another type of raised bed. While raised beds of this type can come in a range of shapes and sizes, those following square foot gardening techniques will tend to make their growing areas square or rectangular, with an equal number of feet on each side. The phrase ‘square foot gardening’ was coined by Mel Bartholomew in his book of the same name, published in 1981. Generally speaking, for this method, you create raised beds that are 4ft square. These beds are then separated into sixteen one foot squares, forming a grid. Each of these squares is then planted with a different crop, the number of plants in each square depending on the size and requirements of the crop planted in each.
A hot bed made using reclaimed bricks and an old window.
A hot bed is a method for creating beds that generate heat to warm plants gently from beneath. Creating this type of growing area is a great idea if you live in a cool or cold climate and want to keep growing food in your garden all winter long.
It is important to conserve water in an organic garden. You should always use it wisely. Creating self-watering wicking beds, ideally attached to your rainwater harvesting system, should help you do use less water. It will help you make the most of the water that is available. There are a number of wicking bed plans you could work from to create your raised bed, including these ones.
Raised Garden Bed Shape Plans
In addition to thinking about the type of raised garden bed you would like to create, it is also important to think about what shape your new growing area will be. Here are some of the options that you could consider:
Square or Rectangular
Many people choose to keep things simple with a square or rectangular raised bed. This wooden raised bed plan is just one of many examples:
However, you could also consider using all sorts of other materials to make your own simple raised beds (We’ll look more at potenial bedding materials below). Or, alternatively, you could buy a raised bed kit.
Curved or Wavy Shaped Beds
Techniques described above such as lasagna gardening and hugelkultur lend themselves extremely well to making organically shaped beds, with curved or wavy edges. You can edge these, or not, depending on your preference. It is easier than you might imagine to mark out your design. One option is to lay a garden hose out to mark the edge. Another is to mark the edge by sprinkling a line using flour. This is a more eco-friendly option than spray paints, and less fiddly than working with string or tape.
Circular Gardens/ Mandala Gardens
Round raised garden beds, or raised bed mandala gardens can be a beautiful addition to your garden. Round raised beds can be as simple as a round planter, or another container upcycled for the purpose. You can also make your own circular raised beds from a range of different materials. To mark out your circle, tie a piece of twine to a stake, plant this in the ground, and slowly walk round in a circle, keeping the twine taught and marking where it ends as you move around.
A keyhole garden looks like a keyhole when viewed from above.
A keyhole garden is often part of a mandala garden, but is a more specific type of raised garden bed design. Keyhole gardens are usually round, and have a slot opening to one side, leading to a composting area at the centre. These sorts of growing area take their name from their appearance from above. When viewed from above, the slot and central piece resemble a keyhole.
Spiral Raised Garden Beds
Another option to consider for your raised bed is a spiral form. Commonly, this method is used to create a herb spiral, though you could also use one to grow a range of other plants. The benefit of the spiral form is that it allows you to maximise edge, and increase the number of plants with different needs that can be grown in the same, relatively small area.
Multi-Level Raised Garden Beds
If you are feeling ambitious and have enough space available, you could consider trying to build a raised growing area for your garden with multiple levels. Creating adjoining beds of different elevations can help to create a sense of three-dimensional design, and elevate your garden above the ordinary. It could also be a neat solution if you have a slope in your garden. Check out this example for inspiration.
You could also consider stacking tiers one above the other to create a pyramid-shaped raised garden bed for your garden. Again, you can create a wide range of different effects by altering the materials you use, as well as the shape and size. Or how about this lower level pyramid planter?
Edging Plans for a Raised Garden Bed
By now, you should have a better idea of what sort of raised bed you are interested in. You should have a good idea of how big it should be, and what sort of shape. But you still have to decide, of course, what the edges for your raised bed should be made from. (If you need edging at all.)
Creating Edging With Natural Materials
A natural wicker raised bed.
There are so many creative ideas out there to choose from. In an eco-friendly, organic garden, using natural materials is always a great idea. It is better yet if you can source these from your own garden, or the surrounding area. Examples of raised garden bed edging made from natural materials include:
- Dry Stone Wall
- River Rock Raised Bed Edges
- Mortared Stone Bed Edging
- Vertical Log Bed Edging
- Horizontal Log
- Cordwood Bed Edges
- Wicker/ Wattle Raised Bed Edges
- Straw Bale Garden Bed Surrounds
- Cob/Adobe Bed Edging
- Earth Bag Raised Garden Surrounds
Creating Edging With Reclaimed Materials
A reclaimed metal edged raised bed.
You could also consider making edging for your raised beds and growing areas using reclaimed materials. Green living and sustainable gardening can often be about using things that would otherwise have been thrown away. For example, you could think about:
- Reusing timber from furniture, pallets, or other projects around your home.
- Recycled concrete/ breeze-block edging.
- Reclaimed brick raised bed edging.
- Utilising old pieces of sheet metal or roofing steel.
- Recycling wire fencing to make gabions for edging your beds.
- Reusing tiles or sections of ceramic pipework.
- Upcycling glass bottles to make your garden bed edges.
- Using old tyres to contain your raised beds.
There are lots of ideas out there. But the key things to remember are that you should choose solutions that work for your particular area, your specific garden, and your own personal needs and tastes. The best raised garden bed plans for one situation may not work at all in another. Use common sense, however, and organic gardening practices, and you cannot go too far wrong.
Elizabeth Waddington is a smallholder, permaculture designer and environmental consultant. When not designing food producing systems or advising growers around the world, she is to be found in her own garden. On her 1/3 of an acre patch of land she has a walled forest garden orchard (home to rescue chickens), a polyculture vegetable plot, a polytunnel, wildlife pond, wild woodland garden and more and is working every day towards greater self-sufficiency. She is passionate about sustainability and loves to inspire others about the wonderful things home gardeners can do for people and planet.