Last year (2011) I decided to make some radical changes to the back garden which is out of sight and a bit of a ‘utility’ area. It has the shed, greenhouse and 6 large compost heaps made from old pallets the blocks and roof tiles came on. It also had an enormous apple tree planted far too close to the bungalow and casting shade over the ground which was optimistically called a vegetable patch.
I had been reading a lot about the benefits of raised beds and because this part of the garden had sticky clay soil, I decided it would be best to re-design the whole area with raised beds connected by gravel paths. It would be my Jan – Mar 2012 project and be ready in time to plant out dahlias and chrysanthemums in April. Then I got carried away!
I found a local company who made scaffold boards and managed to buy 20 rejected planks (too knotty) for £9 each delivered free. This would provide 7 raised beds 3.9m long x 1.3m wide x 225mm deep with 600mm wide paths between.
Down came the old apple tree, up came the old uneven slab paths and down went a layer of permeable weed control fabric over the whole area. My strawberry pots held it down for a few weeks until the weather improved.
A few galvanised screws and corner posts later and the beds were made. Around this time I was debating what to do with the turf I was about to take up to form the new front ‘hot’ border and it occurred to me that I could place the sods green side down in the base of the raised beds and they would eventually rot down into loam. A bulk load of screened and sterilised topsoil from Dandy’s filled them up followed by an elaborate system of posts, straining wires and canes to support the tall and brittle flower stems.
The packs of dry, dead looking dahlia tubers from B&Q were set in trays of damp compost and put on the warming bench in early March and the Chrysanthemum cuttings taken from early basal growth were already in the propagators. In a few short weeks the Dahlias had sprouted and cuttings were taken and put in sand to make roots. A month later I selected the best 24 Dahlias and 24 Chrysanthemums and grew them on in 5″ pots in the cold frames and finally planted them out in the new beds on 3 June.
In the meantime, I ordered12 new hardy Gerbera plugs and 6 Alstroemeria rhizomes from Hayloft plants and 10 carnation cuttings from Allwoods to go in one of the beds with some very sharp drainage. That is a real advantage of raised beds, you can create the soil conditions you need for different groups of plants.
At about this time a good friend and neighbour was kind enough to give me an old Access cold frame which he had bought at Chelsea 40 years ago. Being 10′ long and 4′ wide it meant that with a bit of fiddling, it would fit over one of the raised beds. This would enable me to protect the Alstroemerias and Gerberas in winter by keeping them dry and warm.
With it all finished I added some gladioli, peacock orchid, tiger flower, harlequin flower and Star of Bethlehem bulbs. The first Tiger flower came out today!
The Dahlias have been very prolific and a good experiment but we have already decided to limit the varieties we grow in future to the formal and ball types as well as singles in the borders. They seem to last longer in the vase than the cactus, orchid and waterlily types which seem to shed their petals within a few days.
Overall, it has been a change for the better and we can always use the beds for veg in future if we want to. Or, if we ever want to/have to move, the new buyers will have a ready made veg plot with great soil in decent sized beds.