There are many ways to work in the garden, but with a raised garden, everything becomes easy! A raised garden is especially useful for growing vegetables, organizing flower beds, and setting up herb patches.
Raised garden quick facts
Name – raised garden
Similar to – standing garden
Initial setup – intensive, DIY
Maintenance – easy & comfortable
Cost – minimal to expensive
A raised garden is a great way to garden without bending over, solving the common ailment of almost every gardener: back pain!
What is a raised garden?
A raised garden is a garden where the soil level is brought up in some places. The gardener can walk around it and can work the soil directly while standing up. Pathways and growing beds are clearly marked.
Having a raised garden makes a lot of things better, and in the following lines you’ll discover:
- how healthy a raised garden is – for the gardener and for the plants!
- what the best height for a raised garden is
- the best plants to grow in a raised garden bed – and which ones to avoid
- different raised garden layouts or patterns you can create
- finally, easy steps on how to set the raised garden up!
Health benefits of a raised garden
Essentially, a raised garden does away with all or most of the bending over, kneeling, croutching, getting down that usually comes with working the soil.
All your gardening is performed standing up. This eliminates back pain, but there’s much more to a raised garden than that.
Benefits of a raised garden for the gardener
- Less back pain thanks to not bending over
- No risk of falling over or getting stuck
- No need to manipulate awkward tools like long-handled rakes and spades. Hand garden tools are all that’s needed.
- Better harvest, easier to harvest
- Close-up of plants increases awe and wonder and stimulates the senses
- Weeding and care can become part of a healthy morning stroll routine
Benefits of a raised garden for plants
- No more treading on soil, no more soil compression
- Soil health is increased with better air circulation
- Better drainage, even with clay or heavy soil
- Moisture retention is increased
- More stable temperatures to the root system in summer (cooler air around and beds) and spring/fall (quicker rise in soil temperature on warm days)
- Pests are seen earlier and treated easier (hand-picking made easy, underside of leaves easy to reach)
- Spots of shade and nooks and crannies offer more shelter for beneficial animals
Best height for a raised garden
The perfect height of the garden depends on how you set it up, which plants you hope to grow… and how tall you are!
Here are a few ways to determine the ideal height for a raised garden.
Ankle-high raised garden
A line of hollow blocks or simple firewood logs marks the edges of the growing bed, which is filled with a mix of soil, compost and especially mulch.
- Is actually a generous implementation of the mulch garden, with borders or edges.
- Cheapest and easiest to set up, most flexible option, but still requires stooping and kneeling.
- Is great for testing a layout out for a year or two in real life since it can be redrawn easily.
- Solves all heavy soil and clay soil issues.
- Stays rather discreet.
- Perfect for pole vegetables like bean, pea, corn.
- Tall berry shrubs grow very well in low raised garden beds and are easy to harvest, such as raspberry, blackberry, red currant…
Knee-high raised garden
Easy to find in horticulture stores, ready-made beds are simply rested on the ground and filled. No stakes or heavy securing needed.
- Perfect for almost every application.
- A plank is drawn between two beds makes for a great seat.
- Ideal for deeper root vegetables like asparagus, potato.
- Nice visual effect for landscaping.
- Great for vegetables that require ridging and blanching like endive, leek, dandelion.
- Short berry shrubs grow well here, such as blueberry and bilberry
Waist-high raised garden
- Most comfortable for everyday maintenance like weeding and watering.
- Great for shallow root vegetables like carrot, radish, beet and turnip.
- Perfect for a herb garden
- Ideal for leaf vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and edible flowers (including plants of the cabbage family like cauliflower, broccoli and mizuna cabbage).
- Ground-hugging berry shrubs like strawberry are perfect here.
- Ideal for any kind of therapy and health recovery activities.
- Allows even the oldest of the elderly to keep indulging into their favorite gardening pastimes.
Smart tip about raised garden height
It’s a good idea to have raised garden beds of different heights within the same garden, to best match plant needs and landscaping effect. Taller beds can be set in the back to create volume and embellish the scenery.
Even better, with bricks, hollow blocks, and stones, you can simply start low and keep raising the bed year after year, as you keep adding nutritious organic mulch.
Ideal layout for a raised garden
Grid raised garden
This is the easiest to design and set up. Basically, rectangular beds are set up and aligned. Pathways are provided between them.
- The best width of a raised garden bed is 4 feet (120cm)
- Length depends on building plans and materials
- Note that if against a wall, you shouldn’t exceed a width of 2 or 2½ feet (60-70 cm) since you can only reach across one side
- Read more on how to set up a square-foot garden
Straight lines make for an ordered, elegant garden that is down-to-earth and efficient.
Materials can easily be recovered from pallets or spare planks.
Keyhole raised garden
This particular design looks like a donut from above, with a slice cut out to reach the center. It’s very appealing and unique.
- It explores circular designs which are more natural
- Helps ensure better moisture preservation (desiccating drafts can’t flow as easily as through straight lines)
- Easier harvest for crops planted on the inside
It’s possible to set several keyhole gardens near each other. A honeycomb-like pattern is best in this case.
Also, there are two versions of the keyhole garden: sometimes a compost collector takes the place of the center of the donut. In this case, reduce bed size to 2½ feet (70cm).
Continuous path raised garden
In this case, you won’t have boxes set up one after the other with pathways between them. Instead, a single continuous walkway is mapped so that any growing space is within reach, like a maze with a single entry point that leads to one exit. The pathway can be either straight or curvy.
- takes a while to map out the best path
- maximizes growing space and results in larger yields for a given surface
- the entire growing bed is visited when following the path
- no point or space is forgotten or left untended
- curved edging gives the setup a more natural, soft look
- privacy benches can be set up under trees or in nice corners
- curvy pathways are easy to make when using flexible, non-straight building materials or masonry
Setting up a raised garden
Steps to setting up a raised garden are the following:
- 1 – If you’re renting, check with the owner what you’re allowed to do. Usually, small beds and low, ankle-height beds are OK.
- 2 – Map out your garden, marking any trees. Note areas that are shaded and sunny. Identify the best spot for a compost, and check where the faucet or rainwater reservoir is for watering.
- 3 – Draw up your raised garden. Start off with a paper version, or go live and use orange or pink-colored yarn that you tie around sticks or poles in the ground.
- 4 – Determine which materials you’re going to use for your raised garden, purchased or recycled.
- 5 – Invite family, friends or neighbors to pitch in and get to work!
Raised gardens and other garden styles
Each of us finds different treasures in the art of gardening. Raised gardens pair well with most garden styles. Here are the ones it’s best suited to and those it simply doesn’t match well with.
Compatible with – low-water garden, cloister garden, edible garden, animal garden, permaculture garden, vertical garden, pot-in-pot garden, greenhouse garden, container garden, urban garden, recycling garden, sustainable garden
Smart tip about raised gardening
Setting up a raised garden is rather heavy work at the beginning, but year after year you’ll be praising your choice with gusto with all the easy gardening!
- Setting up a raised garden bed, a how-to guide
Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Raised garden beds, loose grid pattern by Nathalie ★ under Pixabay license
Fred, the eternally young gardener by Crispin Semmens ★ under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Tall raised garden bed by Maja Dumat under © CC BY 2.0
Curvy continuous path raised garden by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Curvy continuous path raised garden panorama by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work