Every year in the garden we like to add something new. Every year, of the four since we have been here, we have added a new bed of some description. I suppose that is one of the greatest joys that things never keep still in the garden. This year my new beds are for vegetable use. The mushroom compost old carpets and newspaper wouldn’t look very sightly if it was at the front of the house. I’m having a few problems with these beds at the moment as the docks and rushes are proving to be too strong for the mulch and are pushing their way upwards through it. So this week we will look at more presentable, and hopefully less weedy methods of creating a new bed.
CREATING A NEW BED
Firstly, It might help if you draw your ideas onto a sheet of paper first. The design process is usually a case of trial and error and making changes on paper is a lot less work then making changes in your garden. If you have a new garden wait until the lawn has established before digging. This will ensure a clean edge on the bed when you cut out the shape. After you have chosen the site for the bed, have a look to see what sort of light it gets. This will strongly influence the type of plants that will grow in the bed. Will it be in shade from the house or a large hedge for example? If it is near trees will that block the light, check as well that you won’t be damaging any tree roots when you start digging.
Next, decide on the size of the bed, especially if you are leaving bare soil (large beds will take a lot of looking after). The shape of the bed is important too. Try to fit it in with natural curves that already exist in the garden. One of the most effective ways to get the shape you want is to lay down hosepipe or thick rope, move it around until the shape is found. Remember that you will probably have to mow along the edge, so don’t make the curves too sharp.
Decide before you start if the soil in the bed is to gently slope back to the grass or whether to build a small wall to raise the bed up. The retaining wall can be built from natural stone, bricks, wood or even peat blocks (I’ve used full mushroom compost bags and old books for my latest veggie beds – I tend to go for the quick, practical option as opposed to the aesthetically pleasing!)
After the shape has been decided you can start to cut out the grass. I use something called a half moon that has a straight edge to it. This allows me to cut out rectangles that can be lifted away and helps to get a smooth edge to the grass edge. These can be used for patching up old, worn areas of grass in the lawn or they can be stacked upside down in a corner of the garden to rot down into very effective compost. If there are any deep-rooted weeds left in the soil dig them out, or they will return to haunt you later.
Before you start thinking about what to plant in the bed, check what type of soil you have with a soil Ph tester (available from garden centres). They cost a couple of Euro and can save you a fortune buying plants that wouldn’t grow in your soil. This done, start to improve the soil with well rotted compost, horse muck, chicken muck and anything else you can lay your hands on. If there are plenty of earthworms, they will drag this into the soil. If it looks a bit unsightly for you then it could always be dug in if you were feeling like a bit of exercise. This might alter the Ph of the soil so it might need checking again.
TYPES OF PLANTS
Now it is time for a trip to the garden centre to see what plants are available. If you don’t really have a clue what to buy then go to the centres at different times of the year and see what looks good. Other than that, try looking around at interesting planting schemes. Take a leaf of an attractive shrub and test the garden centre staff on their plant identifications! Or of course you can get slips and clumps from friends and relatives. If the bed is quite small and perennials and annuals have been decided on you can make the area look bigger by putting hot colours such as red at the front and cooler colours like blue at the back this stretches the look of the bed. If, of course, you want low maintenance with shrubs, then the whole area can be covered with fleece and a thick layer of gravel, slate or peat can be put over it. This works really well on beds that are down at the bottom of the garden that you only visit once or twice a year.