Portable and Practical: A New Way to Build Raised Garden Beds

Photos by Tim King and Ryan Benoit

This spring, we’ve been busy changing up a few things in our garden — and jumping into some fresh new design projects! You may remember the raised beds we built out of concrete blocks last October. The half-buried and leveled blocks were a quick and inexpensive way to bring structure to our small 8-foot by 4-foot garden between our arbor — which moonlights as a movie-screen — and our rosemary hedge, which doubles as an aromatherapy spa. But those blocks were a temporary installation; we had another design in the works that would solve our irrigation woes while bringing clean lines to our flora. We’re excited to unveil it here.

We prize this garden bed because it’s our only south-facing bed that receives consistent full sun year round. This has become the bed that we’re always changing up as we experiment with new annuals and perennials…although dahlias seem to always find their way back, and our English lavender has made it a permanent home.

Making raised beds with concrete blocks.

What our raised beds looked like in late October of last year. The 8-foot by 4-foot plot faces south and receives full sun.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

The redesign is constructed of painted redwood boards using a rail system to hide the irrigation and provide platforms for containers and kneeling.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

…See said kneeling above.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

We’ve also been longing for a place to grow some vegetables. After pronouncing to the world that we’d leave the vegetable gardening to the pros and pick up our edible greens at the farmer’s market, our pepper plant envy has finally gotten too hot to handle. (Although we stand by our avoidance of tomato plants, whose scraggliness could overtake our modest plot.)

There are quite a few raised bed designs out there, but none quite worked for our garden. So we took to designing and building our own that met all our needs, aesthetic and practical.

Structure

As you can see from our concrete block design, and from our space in general, we’re always trying to add structure to our small, space-efficient garden. We also find ourselves sometimes spacing our plants too closely, and hoarding flora, practices at odds with our midcentury modern leanings. It’s a battle!

Clean lines have a way of making the garden seem less cramped. We applied this principle to the new raised bed design.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Irrigation

Based on the belief that an automated irrigation system is often the only way not to kill your plants, our biggest frustration with raised beds has been where to put the irrigation system. For years we’ve been irrigating this garden plot with a half-inch plastic tubing main buried below 6 inches of earth tapped with an ever-increasing number of 1/4″ micro-tubing lines feeding the drip emitters. With all the changing configurations, our irrigation system became quite unruly and increasingly difficult to manage.

So we brought the system above ground and found an innovative way to hide the water mains by routing channels in the undersides of the raised bed’s top rails using a dado set (we could have also used a router). We then tapped the now out-of-sight main with 1/4″ elbow fittings, tubing and drip emitters. Each emitter can be tucked underneath the rail when not in use.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

We reused many of the fittings from the old irrigation system.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

A look at the undeside of the rails. We routed channels in the underside of the rails to hide and contain the 1/2-inch irrigation main.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Another peek at the underside of the rails. The clip retains the main in the channel when turned upside-down to its normal position. Quarter-inch micro-tubing elbows are tapped in along the main.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Irrigation is fed to container plants using 1/4-inch micro-tubing and a series of elbows and tees.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Main control.

Portability and Durability

As renters (yes, renters!) we almost always keep portability in mind with our projects. The raised beds are no different. We may or may not be able to take the plants with us, but we can certainly take the raised bed structure — so we constructed it out of material that will last. It’s difficult to imagine that our next home will not have an 8- x 4-foot plot, so we built the raised beds out of redwood and applied a couple of coats of acrylic paint. Redwood is naturally rot-resistant and the paint provides extra waterproofing. We pinned, glued, screwed and bolted the structure together for a custom fit to the dimensions of the plat.

For paint we used Behr Marquee Exterior Satin Enamel, which has a cleanable finish that allows us to wipe or spray away the dirt with a garden hose. The color, Leather Clutch, is a new favorite in our garden and complements both the stain of our living table centerpiece and the rusty gear of the robot heater.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

We used 3/8-inch hardwood dowels and glue to join the right angles of the structure.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

1/4-inch bolts, washers, and nuts join the redwood boards together lengthwise. Excess thread faces up to secure the top rail.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

The top rail floats on top of the structure secured with 1/4-inch hardware (nuts, all-thread and washers).

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Color: Leather Clutch by Behr Marquee.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Fortunately, redwood is both rot resistant and light-weight. Installation photos by Tim King.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Leveling the structure was a bit challenging with so much dirt wanting to fall in below it.

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Practicality

Now the fun part! We’ve always wondered how we could make a raised bed design that could serve as 1.) a platform for walking or kneeling over the raised bed 2.) a platform for container plants or seedlings, and 3.) a way to visually separate plants and create ever-changing geometrical interest. So we made eleven loose cross-rails that can be rested in any configuration on top of the long rails. This allows us to create stable mini-decks and platforms over different areas of the beds. We can even put container plants atop these platforms and set them up on the irrigation system.

We’re excited to give our plants the stylish bed they deserve!

—TH

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

Raised Garden Beds - The Horticult - Ryan Benoit Design

 

  • Beautiful garden bed! I love how versatile the top rails are.

    • Thank you, the Carnivore Girl! We added the top rails after making the original design, basically as an afterthought. Now it makes a great irrigable place for potted plants.

  • et50

    Lots of good ideas! Like the way it fits with the other parts of your garden

    But why support redwood logging?

    • Thanks, et50! We understand your concern. Most of today’s redwood lumber is new growth, grown in tree farms that meet FSC standards of sustainability. (A buzzword, yes, but FSC certification ties it to concrete standards; a good thing to check when purchasing.) Fortunately, old-growth redwoods are subject to wide-reaching protection and preservation programs.

  • As always, an ingenious and practical solution! And so well documented too. I really like the idea of hiding all those pesky irrigation lines under the timber cross pieces and then how they double as pot resting places. You two fit an astonishing amount of classy-looking stuff into your tiny garden.

    • Thanks, Catherine — camouflage is even better when it can multitask! Growing up in East Coast cities has helped us make the most of smaller living spaces.

  • Tim Miltz

    Mention of cost anywhere?

    Did anyone catch cost?

  • Trish B

    Great ideas for my backyard. I can’t wait to try. I think I will definitely start smaller though. Any ideas for plants that require little water with colorful flowers? I live in CA.

    • Sure, Trish! What region of CA/zone are you in? Yarrow and penstemon — and of course our beautiful native salvias — immediately come to mind for colorfully blooming drought tolerant plants.

  • Willy Chung

    Very nice!!