Crude but effective raised beds

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I wanted to show off a series of photos of some raised beds that took advantage of existing slope and a drainage pipe in a trench.

The soil started out awful, not even supporting dandilions. The first year was semi-succesful, to the extent of supporting Bok Choy in a little over 6" of clay plus store-bought compost, and drainage suppllied only by 6-8" of raised walls and existing slope.

The second year I dug more than 2 feet below grade, put in a trench and drainage pipe plus paving stones, and raised a rather flimsy 16" raised wall. Hopefully its tilt will keep it from falling over! Just don't walk on top of that bed near the wall!

The 16" raised wall plus another 6-8" of trenching makes bending over hardly necessary from one side. Some year, I hope to turn that last 6-8" into a low "terrace" and probably push the 16" raised wall back 6" or so. That will look better and give more gardening area, but make access to the Upper Bed less easy.

The soil was still poorly draining, so I "cheated" by removing the clay I excavated from the trench, and BUYING four cubic yards of topsoil. Mixing that with the poorly-drianing soil I had made the year before, and adding more compost and some sand gave pretty good soil compared to the original, though it has plenty of room for improvement.


This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 1:06 AM

This message was edited Feb 28, 2011 12:12 PM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

First I made a tiny bed BELOW the bed I'm talking about, but I should have realized sooner that it would need drainage badly.

Always start digging at the lowest point, where water will drain TOO. Then dig your way up to where the water comes FROM. If you forget about gravity, it will soon remind you.

I called this the "Lower Bed". Both creativity and common sense must have been in short supply that day!

This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 12:40 AM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

This is the "Upper Bed" that I was talking about.

This is above and to the left of the puddle in the prior post.

In this shot, the clay has only been moderately amended, maybe 6-8" deep.
Here, its only drainage is the natural slope and the 6" of so of being raised.
The floor of the bed slopes downslightly to the right (into the yew) and slightly down away from the cmaera, towards the stump and Rhodie.

The corner where the wall curves most sharply is the lowest point of the clay floor under the bed. It wound up draining adequately for one year. I think I lucked out there.

Instead of a 2' deep trench to the right of Upper Bed, you see low evergreen bushes right up to the wall.

The walls are 8" x 16" pavers, 1" thick, and a few 12x12 thicker pavers.

A Rhodie and some azealeas are in the background, plus my yard's very best patch of grass that responded gratefully to fertilization.


This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 1:43 AM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Now we are back to the perspective where the puddle used to be, showing Lower Bed with a few Siberian Wallflowers (I think) and a lily that the slugs had not yet devoured..

The pebbles and rocks are slightly downslope from a 4" drainage pipe that leads away to the right. That was a design mistake: I should have put the 4" pipe as low as possible, right against the driveway.

There is a compound slope: the driveway slopes down very gradually to the right.
That is my main take-away drainage for this whole part of the yard.

The land slopes UP, more steeply, away from the direvway, up to the sidewalk visible only in the prior photo. That is around a 12" rise, very approximately.

I had removed some yards of clay, and bought four cubic yards of decent topsoil. That's the slope that extends from the far wall down into the trench being created.

You can see the partly-dug 2' deep trench left of center, behind the white aluminium pillar. After this photo, I dug that deepr, and part of it deeper yet into a 5" slit to bury the drainage pipe in.

Hacking out those yew roots from clay and rocks with pick and mattock was the most intense work of the whole project!

These haphzard Lower Bed paver walls are temporary, thrown up to hold the soil in place until I widen this lower bed another 6-8" to the right and 2-4" to the left. I'll be replacing lengthwise 8x16s with 12x12s on the right and maybe some upright 8x16s on the left, and maybe put a little something under the 12s to get a few more inches of height.

Also, this Lower Bed is going to be "terraced" by 4-8" when I figure out how I wnat to do that, "some year".

I want the bed to go far enoguh to the right to enclose what I think is a little holly that I found while digging under the yew. Someone must have planted it before the yew expanded. Right now it is too tempting to walk too close to that holly, and the soil is compressing horribly.


This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 1:42 AM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Back to the Upper Bed. This closeup is a little to the left of where the red Dixie Cups were two photos ago.

This is the upper half of the S-curve pipe you'll see in the next shot.

NOW I am taking gravity into account!

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Pulling back for a longer shot, we see the trench and pipe extend downhill toward where the puddle used to be.

It will bend again, sharply to the right, to attempt to hand off the runoff to the poorly-sited lower drainage pipe. it will have to dump water into the gravel-and-rock slit that will carry runoff down to the main drainage trench, that runs shallowly down alongside the driveway.

You can see barely the beginnings of a path of pavers laid flat, in the upper right center of thje shot. Or maybe those are just some bricks weighing down the pipe until I could bury it in gravel surrounded by filter cloth.

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Back up to the upper bed.

The upper bend of the S-curve drainage pipe runs parallel to the straight part of the wall, then bends under where the curve fails to meet the straight cleanly, then under the little path of 12x12 pavers. Eventually I'll be cutrting some pavers with an angle grinder and a concrete wheel - you guessed it - "some year".

And that path of pavers will be tidier ... some year.


This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 1:19 AM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


Two lavatera, one Knockout rose and some zinnia.

Two Bok Choy and some marigolds I started late in the season.


This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 1:32 AM

This message was edited Nov 7, 2010 1:42 AM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Next, I discovered something else besides "water runs downhill".

Lavatera does not want you to give it the deepest, best soil you can create, or water and fertilize it. Or at least that is not the way to make it stand upright.

If you want it to explode from a few tiny leaves in a 3" pot to a vast sprawling octopus that takes over the biggest bed in your yard in a few weeks, then DO give it rich soil and water. And stand back.

I hope you enjoyed my little adventure.


Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I admire your enthusiasm, your ambition, and your thought process ..... and the effort it took to post/explain your project.

Best luck!


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thank you!

I thought the best garden joke-on-me I had over several years was for the rain to gently remind me that yes, Corey, water DOES roll downhill and needs somewhere to go! Now I remember that at the beginning of projects.

I always find myself complaining about how much work it takes to dig and roll soil and bags of amendments around the yard, then remember that each project I really get into leads me to work my big fat butt off weekend after weekend ... joyfully!

(If only it really did litterally work my butt off, I would buy smaller pants!)


Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Hey Corey, that is one lush lavatera there! Next year it will all come together better I bet, building on this year's success. Sometimes it seems to take a while for new gardens to sort of settle in and realize they have some work to do! :) And you definitely qualify for the Rocky Mountain forum because a mountain is anyplace that water runs downhill, according to the definition chosen by RMF Official Choosers of Definitions.

Doesn't that sound official? :)

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Impressively official.

I might suggest that "A mountain is anything that's taller than it is low - I have spoken, and so it shall be".

Ever see the movie "The man who walked up a hill and walked down a mountain"?

It did take my very worst & shallowest bed most of a year to "get productive", which I assume relates to not having enough of the right biota and organic matter at first. (Also, I tried to grow Bok Choy there the first year, discovered that my yard was the Slug Capital of North America, and had to ignore it completly for weeks. NOT a refined formula for success!)

Now I try to get some perking compost into the mix as I'm screening clay and mixing it with compost and sand, and let it "mellow" for a few weeks, lying on top of real soil, before moving it into a new bed. Even then, I think that it is re-innoculated from surrounding soil and subsequent additions of compost, for some weeks if not years.

One of many ongoing projects is to wheel soil from one bed to another in a round robin, to share the life from "happy" beds to "sad" beds. And find the recomended Dr. Earth or pro-biotic products and innoculate everything with some of those.

Several people eventually told me not to fertilize lavatera, not to water it, and to take it out of deep good soil (boughten soil) and plop it into a sandy dry spot. Why didn't they grab my elbow as I was proudly planting, instead of waiting until I ASKED them??!??

If my neighbor agrees to let me put them on HER side of the sidewalk, so it shall be.

Hey, you're in the neighborhood now! Would you or the friend you're staying with want some rootbound lavatera in roughly 3-quart pots? Or ones that were REALLY rootbound in quart pots, recently potted up to almost a gallon? I have several looking for a home!


This message was edited Nov 12, 2010 10:54 PM

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