Clearly defined areas set aside for flowers or shrubs are part of any landscaping plan. Beds for such plantings can be dug into the ground or boldly raised above the surrounding terrain.
Locate ground-level beds in an area of your yard with good drainage. Apart from properly prepared soil, the only requirement for the bed is a barrier of edging to keep out grass and weeds.
Plastic edging comes in 20-foot rolls and includes a coupler for joining sections. Purchase plastic stakes separately to anchor the edging to the ground.
Aluminum edging in a choice of colors is sold in 16-foot lengths. It is molded with flanges and grooves for joining sections and comes with one anchor stake for each 4 feet of edging.
Both metal and plastic edgings bend easily, making them especially suitable for irregularly shaped beds. Right-angle couplers are also available for installing both kinds of edging around a bed with corners that are square. However, rectangular beds are also ideally suited to the mortarless brick edging shown on page 123. Whatever edging you choose for a rectangular bed, use the triangulation method to lay out square corners.
Gloves protect your hands during spadework. Wear a back brace to reduce the risk of injury when digging.
In locations with poor drainage or crossed by large tree roots, a ground-level bed is impractical. The solution is an aboveground bed of soil framed by walls between 12 inches and 24 inches high.
Among the materials suitable for building a raised bed are stone and brick, but pressure-treated timbers are by far the easiest to work with (page 123). After you have assembled the walls, fill the frame of the bed with amended soil and compost (pages 40-41).
Outlining the bed
For a curved bed, lay out a garden hose in the desired shape; for a bed with straight sides, use stakes and string. Stand outside the bed and place the blade of a garden spade against the inside edge of the hose or string. Holding the shaft at a slight angle, push the blade 4 to 6 inches deep (left). Cut along the outline of the bed in the same manner to make a continuous slit in the turf.
Preparing the bed
Working inside the bed, make a second cut 6 inches inside the first, angling the spade to remove wedges of sod from between the two cuts. Strip off the sod in the remainder of the bed with a spade or mattock (left). Compost the sod, or set it aside for transplanting to another part of the yard. Prepare the soil for planting as described on page 36. Using a spade or edging tool, form the edge of the bed into a V-shaped trench about 4 inches deep (inset).
Unroll the edging and lay it flat for an hour. Meanwhile, deepen the trench with a garden trowel to leave only the hose-shaped rim of the edging exposed. Bend the edging to match the trench contours and set it in place. To link edging sections, insert a plastic coupler halfway into the upper rim of one section, then slide the next section onto the coupler (left). To anchor the edging, drive plastic stakes through the barb molded into the bottom. Place the point of the stake at the barb and, to assure a 45-degree angle, hold the beveled tip against the edging (photograph). Position stakes at the ends of the edging, the joints, and at 4-foot intervals between them. Backfill the trench and tamp on both sides of the edging until only the rim can be seen.
Deepen the trench to leave ½ inch of the edging above ground level. Stand the edging alongside the bed and gently bend it to match the curves of the trench. To join lengths of edging, align the flanges at the top and bottom of one section with matching grooves in the other (photograph). Push the pieces together, overlapping them at least 2 inches. To shorten the edging, increase the overlap at joints or disassemble sections for trimming with a hacksaw. Set the edging in the trench, and secure it at 4-foot intervals. To do so, hook the 12-inch aluminum stakes over the top of the edging and pound them into the ground. Backfill and tamp on both sides of the edging.
Widen the bottom of the trench with a mattock blade to a depth of about 5 inches. Tamp the trench bottom with the end of a 2-by-4. About 3 inches above the center of the trench, stretch a string between two stakes. Set a brick in one corner of the trench to prop a row of bricks set at an angle in the trench along one side of the bed. Place the bricks so that their top edges touch the string (left). Brick the bed’s other sides in the same fashion.
Measuring and cutting timbers
Lay timbers to be cut across a pair of sturdy sawhorses. Mark each timber one timber-width (5½ inches for a 6-by-6) shorter than the exterior dimensions of the bed you plan to build. If the sides of the bed are more than one timber in length, plan your cutting to stagger joints from course to course. Fully extend the blade of a circular saw. Make one pass through the timber, then turn it over and make a second pass to complete the cut (above).
Anchoring the base
Dig a trench 2 inches deep with a mattock or spade and lay the bottom course of timbers in the trench. With a carpenter’s level, check that the timbers are level, adjusting the depth of the trench as needed to make them so. Drill ⅜-inch pilot holes for reinforcing rods, 6 to 8 inches from both ends of all four timbers. With a maul, drive a 24-inch length of ⅜-inch reinforcing rod through each hole and into the ground, marking rod locations on the fronts of the timbers in chalk.
Adding the upper courses
Lay the remaining timber courses, constructing corners as shown at right. For each course, drill a ¼-inch pilot hole, 6 inches deep, at all four corners, about 1 inch from timber center-lines. In addition, drill a hole midway along every timber and 6 to 8 inches from the end that is not in the corner. Make sure that no hole coincides with a chalk mark on the course below. Drive 10-inch galvanized spikes into the holes, then mark the spike positions with chalk on the front of all but the top course.