If you are elderly or a disability makes bending and stretching difficult, raising your garden beds can make growing fruit, vegetables and flowers a whole lot easier.
In this article we will look at materials we can use, measurements for and constructing your own raised beds.
Using safe materials and getting the height and width right are important and I will explain how to calculate the dimensions for safe and easy to use raised garden beds.
Constructing raised beds can be reasonably cheap, without sacrificing safety and practicality, they really can be made from almost anything that will hold soil and won't rot. Railway sleepers, used tyres, old wooden planks, old plastic buckets, plastic pond-liners and straw bales.
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The height, width and length of a raised bed will be determined by what’s best for you. Think about the position you will garden from, standing, kneeling or sitting next to, or on the edge of the bed.
Check that the measurements work for you before building or having the raised bed built for you.
How to work out the best height, length and width for your own use.
Working out the ideal Height: Stand, kneel or sit if working from a
seated position or using a wheelchair, hold a trowel in the hand you work with and reach out with your arm slightly lower than your shoulder. Measure the most comfortable position from the lowest
point of the trowel to the ground and that's the best height for your raised bed.
If working from a wheelchair or wheeled garden seat the height of your raised garden bed is calculated when seated in the wheelchair with the chair in a side on position.
TIP: The recommended width of a raised bed that you can access from both sides, can be up to 1,000mm wide. At this width you should be able to reach all areas of the bed with ease. If you can only access the bed from one side, the maximum width is around 500mm.
To calculate the best width for you: Hold the trowel in one hand and without stretching reach across the imaginary raised bed and work the trowel as if planting or weeding, that's the best width for your raised bed.
If working from a wheelchair or wheeled garden seat the width is measured when seated in the wheelchair with the chair in a side on position.
Calculating the ideal length: The length of your raised garden bed can be as long as you can safely make it and be able to navigate around the bed. The length of the bed will be determined by the space you have available and how big you want the bed to be.
TIP: A raised bed formed with sleepers laid flat, forms a useful seat to sit and work from and to take a rest.
It's a good ideal whatever material you are making your raised bed from to plan to have the top wide enough to form a seat to sit on as you are working on the bed.
Used bricks and breeze blocks are cheap or even free. Breeze blocks lain on there side can make a good cheap raised bed and form a seat to sit and garden from.
Sawn timber is a fairly low cost material for making raised garden beds.
Old planks nailed or screwed around a simple frame of corner stakes that have been well hammered in is cheap and very simple to make.
Any old container that's stable and deep enough to allow space for roots to spread. Potatoes grow and do particularly well in old plastic buckets.
Old pre formed garden ponds are a cheap way to make a raised garden beds. Make sure the liner is set stable on blocks or bricks to get the desired height and drill or hammer a few holes in the bottom for drainage before adding a layer of gravel and then the top soil.
TOP TIP: Hay or straw
bales are interesting and well worth a try. I have included some hay bail garden tips on my page hay bale garden
Old tyres can be used too, two or three car or lorry tyres can be stacked on top of each other making really cheap raised beds to grow vegetables in.
Rubber tyres are particularly good for growing in as they absorb the heat in the morning and radiate it off at night, this helps keep the plants warm and encourage growth.
For stability and safety the tyre stack should be held in place with stakes hammered in around the inside.
Concrete slabs set on end and cemented or secured in the ground, not pretty but If you know anyone who is pulling up an old patio the slabs could be free.
Upturned lawn turf. If you know anyone turning a lawn into a patio or stripping a lawn, ask them for the turf they are removing, they will be pleased to drop it round for you, saves them hiring a skip.
Sleepers look good and are fairly easy to make safe and if fixed on there side, form a seat to work from or rest.
How many sleepers to make a basic raised bed.
Four to form a six foot square about a foot high, would cost £100. Eight to form a two foot high x six foot square raised bed would cost £200 and so on.
Basic instructions about how to construct a sleeper bed further down this page.
Softwood boards. To make a relatively cheap, rustic looking raised bed, you could use pressure-treated softwood boards fixed horizontally onto stakes driven into the ground.
Boards are cheap and won’t need a great deal of skill or strength to construct and can be stained to look attractive and fit with your garden. A bed made from softwood boards is not particularly strong, so the maximum height of the bed should be around 450mm.
Construction tips are further down this page.
A raised bed made from railway sleepers is fairly easy to make is strong, long lasting and looks natural.
Sleepers come in 1.8m lengths and work best laid horizontally. They can be placed on their edge or (Best) flat forming seating.
Sleepers are very heavy to handle and fixing requires a certain level of skill, strength and drilling. If you are using reclaimed railway sleepers the tar can be toxic to some plants and can stain clothes and hands. A better option is to use new oak sleepers. Most timber merchants stock them.
Fitting the sleepers together
Quantity of top soil needed to fill the bed explained below.
Don't forget to work out the best height, length and width for you.
This method requires very little skill, is fairly light work and makes a good solid long lasting raised bed.
You may prefer D.I.Y. using self assembly raised garden beds, they usually come complete with stakes and screws and instructions on how to assemble the kit. I have featured a couple here.
The beds must be safe to use, If you are building it yourself, using concrete or stone, or the height is over 2ft, consider these points.
What soil is best for raised beds.
Improving and keeping raised bed soil in top condition.
When you hoe, rake or fork the soil over add some grit sand and home made garden compost until the texture is how you want it. You might want to consider no dig gardening I have explained how to start here gardening without digging
You won't need to lay weed suppressant fabric, weeds will struggle to grow though a foot of soil. Most weeds are airborne, so will grow on top of the weed suppressant fabric anyway.
If you have a bad back or a disability that stops you bending or getting down low or garden from a wheelchair, building wheelchair accessible raised garden beds, makes it a lot easier to keep on gardening.
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I design and build accessible gardens, incorporating raised garden beds, for elderly gardeners and people who find bending or stretching difficult. Tips and contact details can be found hear Garden design for elderly.