Few things send blood coursing through a green thumb faster than a new garden project. For me it was the Cutting Garden Experiment last summer, which started with the Raised Bed Project the previous fall. Both had happy outcomes, but the cutting garden wouldn't have been nearly as satisfying without the simple, wood-framed raised beds I planted it in.
When I envisioned an orderly, old-fashioned cutting garden-a separate space dedicated to tall, colourful annuals for indoor bouquets-I knew I needed more than a stylish trug to carry the stems inside. Raised beds would help define the space and add structure to a garden planting that can look untidy later in the season as the flowers come and go.
They're also good for the gardener: it's easy to amend the soil and possible to have more plants per square metre because there's no need to walk between rows to harvest or cultivate. Planting in blocks, not rows, means weed seeds have less room to germinate. Raised beds are good for plants, too: the soil warms up quickly in spring and drains freely. And because you're not walking on the beds, the soil doesn't become compacted.
My plan was to divide an oblong area into four rectangular raised beds, with two 90-centimetre-wide paths between, intersecting in the centre.
Coming up with a list of flowers to grow was no problem; deciding how to hold the soil in place required more consideration. Simply mounding up soil and planting on it creates a raised bed, but if there's no barrier-plastic, brick, stone, wood or metal-to keep the soil contained, the depth of the bed is limited and the soil eventually washes away. The Victorians used pretty clay tiles embossed with patterns of twisted rope or acanthus leaves to keep mounded soil from spilling onto lawns or paths, but the cost, both for original tiles and reproductions, is dear. Ditto for granite blocks. Heavy railroad ties or pressure-treated lumber used for decks and fences would have worked, but I didn't want to introduce preservatives containing creosote, chromated copper arsenate (CCA) or pentach-lorophenol into the soil. In the end, I chose untreated cedar. It resists rot for several years, even when in contact with soil, and fades to a silvery grey over time-a good foil for colourful flowers. More importantly, the cost of a few boards wasn't going to take a huge bite out of my plant budget.