Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Raise High the Planter Beds, Carpenters August 28, 2008

(Sorry, gratuitous Salinger reference there…)

In my previous (and very first) garden, the only patch of ground that was free of summer-long shade was on the street, in the parking strip. So, if I wanted a few veggies, herbs and strawberries to nibble, I had no option but to garden out there. Not being too handy, but feeling like a raised bed was the best way to contend with tree roots and crummy soil, I pondered the options. My mom ended up getting some friends to build me one as one of my all-time best ever birthday presents. I got a lot of fun and use out of it, and was really bummed to drive by our old house recently and see that the new owners had dismantled it for some unknown reason. Maybe I should ask if I can have the pieces back, to rebuild it (by myself, this time) in our current place…

Here are some links for building raised beds. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, just providing some options.

Sunset Magazine has a fairly simple design, and they claim it can be built with redwood or cedar for under $200. Does require a table saw, though.

Here’s a really spiffy one, from This Old House. Pricier too, though, and probably needing someone pretty handy to put it together.

Prefer a video? This is kind of goofy (bonus for dog-lovers, cute labs co-star, chasing sticks and a frisbee), but shows how to make a planter bed with untreated 2 X 12’s, coated at home with linseed oil. Tells you how to mole-proof, too.

This is a Texas A & M University (Ag school) article, ” In Praise of Raised Beds,” with advice about how big to build yours and how to prepare the ground, what soil to add, etc.

Treated wood is icky. Nobody knows for sure what it leaches into your soil, so try to avoid it if possible!

Here’s an example of some raised planter beds in our neighborhood:

Raised beds

Small crosswise ones allow you to reach in and not have to step on and therefore compact the soil.

This one is a small square bed, great for a vertical crop like beans or peas plus whatever you want to plant around the edges.

Small raised bed

You can also forgo wood altogether and make a bed out of paver bricks or broken concrete (scroll down in the latter link to see a nicely formed herb bed using this method). To be legal with the city, at least in Seattle, raised beds in the parking strip require a permit, and bricks or stones must be fixed in place, not removable for easy hurling.

Raised beds make root crops like carrots and beets much easier to grow, and in an urban setting, adding your own soil from a known safe source is a plus too. Before you set up your bed, be sure to double-dig or rototill the existing soil to help with drainage. And don’t forget to add lots of compost! Anyone have a favorite? Mushroom compost? Something containing bat guano, perhaps? Or just home-grown?


6 Responses to “Raise High the Planter Beds, Carpenters”

  1. Thanks for the links to these great resources for building raised beds. I plan on building raised square foot garden beds for my veggies. Hope to get to it this fall and maybe plant a cover crop that I can turn into the soil this spring. I love raised beds because you can really add great soil/or compost to give the plants a wonderful start. This option works really well for areas that have hard compacted soil.

  2. Krys Says:

    Raised beds seem like such a good idea, especially where there are tons of tree roots. If I had enough sunshine in my garden, I’d definitely think about putting some in. You might be interested in seeing some hardware Lee Valley Tools in Canada has to offer for raised beds ( It makes it look trivially easy to build the frames.


  3. Megan Says:

    Interesting. Could be a solution to my problem, where all the dogs like to tag my parking strip plants, so I can’t keep any of them alive. They are my only full sun planting areas, so I’d love to be able to take advantage.

  4. Cynthia Says:

    Thanks for supplying all these links as my husband and I plan on starting yet another new veggie bed this fall/winter and we are leaning towards raised beds considering how rocky and compacted our soil is. The last bed we put in just about broke our backs!

  5. greenwalks Says:

    Thanks for all the lovely comments. Good luck to anyone considering this as a project, I’d love to link back to your posts about it if you do try it! Raised beds do seem like a good way to get around bad soil, root issues (you can put down weed barrier on the bottom if you worry the roots will invade your planter box), dog pee, and even slugs (try copper flashing around the top edge of the bed sides, they supposedly can’t climb across it). Cynthia, your fig tree sounds lovely, I hope to have one some day. I’ve seen some that get pretty big, so a planter box around one might have to be on the large side?? I’ve also seen one, maybe a dwarf variety, espaliered on a tall fence. It made the fruit a lot easier to access!

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