Raised garden beds can provide a functional and beautiful aesthetic in any landscape design.
Designing with raised garden beds has become increasingly popular with home gardeners and landscape designers. Raised beds can fit any style or space, providing visual interest and a beautiful, productive focal point. They can also make your garden more accessible. In this guide, we’ll share important design concepts we’ve learned from more than three decades of raised bed gardening.
Why use raised garden beds?
Raised garden beds offer many benefits over traditional gardening methods. They are typically filled with high-quality soil that drains well, making them an excellent choice for growing vegetables, fruits and herbs. They also allow for better control over soil quality, pests and weeds.
How to use raised beds in landscape design
Raised garden beds are functional, yes, but they’re so much more than that. In addition to providing a handy space to grow, they can serve as beautiful design features. Here are our favorite raised garden bed ideas for your landscape.
As a privacy screen
Do you have a messy area you’d like to hide or a patio that needs screening from your neighbors? Raised garden beds make the perfect screen, offering privacy and seclusion when installed appropriately.
Place them strategically by installing a row of raised beds next to each other to create a physical barrier. Plant tall, bushy plants in the beds to create a living screen. This can be especially effective to buffer your space from busy areas, such as a public street or sidewalk, or to block unsightly views. Bamboo, ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees are all excellent candidates for living barriers.
To create a sense of enclosure
Thoughtful garden bed design can create a sense of enclosure in a landscape, providing a feeling of safety and separation from the surrounding environment. Consider the following options:
- Place raised beds around the perimeter of your outdoor space: Create a natural and productive boundary using single or stacked beds. You can also use taller raised beds or elevated planters to create a border between your space and the surrounding area. Using tall plants or trellises within the raised beds can help further enclose the space.
- Use raised beds to create garden rooms: Use raised beds to divide your outdoor space into different areas, such as an outdoor dining area, a seating area, and a vegetable garden. The raised beds will help to delineate each space and create a sense of sanctuary.
- Incorporate raised beds into a larger hardscape design: You can incorporate raised beds into a larger hardscape design to create a more cohesive look. For example, use raised beds to border a patio or walkway. Or create tiered raised beds beside a set of stairs to close off a space and provide safety.
As a focal point in the landscape
Raised garden beds are perfect for creating a striking focal point in a landscape design. Consider the following methods of drawing attention to your outdoor space:
- Use a unique shape or design: Raised beds don’t have to be square or rectangular. What about a circular, L-shaped, or U-shaped? How about an interesting pattern (clover leaf, anyone?). Different shapes draw the eye and add visual interest to your landscape.
- Incorporate color and texture: Use plants with vibrant colors and unexpected textures in your raised beds to create a visually appealing focal point. Plant a mix of brightly colored flowers or incorporate different heights and types of foliage for contrasting textures. This works especially well in shade gardens, where textures reign supreme.
- Create a tiered raised bed: A tiered raised bed can create a sense of height and drama. Consider building a raised bed with multiple levels, using materials such as stone or wood to create a stepped effect. Or use these modular metal planters (known as “Lego for the garden”) for a sleek, modern look. Plant taller plants in the back and shorter ones in the front to create depth and interest. Perennial flowers paired with ornamental grasses are particularly stunning when used in this way.
- Add a water feature: Incorporating a water feature into your raised bed design can add interest and surprise to your landscape. It also draws in wildlife. Consider adding a small fountain or pond to your raised bed garden, surrounded by plants for a natural look.
- Incorporate art or sculpture: Adding art or sculpture to your raised bed can draw together thematic elements in your landscape. For example, you could place a sculpture in the center of a circular or hexagonal raised bed, or use an artfully-designed trellis to support climbing plants and create a living sculpture.
Important design considerations for your garden
Before you dive in to our suggestions above, consider the following tips for harmonious, practical design.
Employ the rule of threes
The rule of threes is a common design principle used in landscaping, and it can be a useful tool for creating a visually pleasing and balanced outdoor space. The basic idea is that things arranged in odd numbers are more appealing and memorable than even numbers.
When using the rule of threes in landscape design, consider grouping elements such as plants, garden ornaments, and yes, raised beds or planters, in threes. Would three tall trees or bushes of the same variety fit in your space? What about three raised beds–square or rectangular– arranged parallel for a harmonious, formal design? You could also incorporate three different types of beds or planters in a particular area for a less formal look.
Add vertical elements to your beds
Adding vertical elements to your raised bed garden can be a great way to maximize your growing space and add visual interest to your landscape. Trellises, pergolas, arbors and obelisks can be used to support climbing plants, both edible and ornamental. This not only saves space in your garden but also allows your plants to grow upward, maximizing their exposure to sunlight.
When incorporating vertical elements into your garden, consider their location carefully. Place trellises and other supports on the north or east side of your garden beds to ensure that they don’t shade other plants. Also be sure to place them where they won’t block access to other areas of your garden, such as walkways or seating areas. Additionally, consider the height of your vertical elements and make sure they are tall enough to support your plants as they grow.
Remember the sun
Sunshine is one of the most important factors to consider when installing any type of garden. Most plants require at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive. When selecting a spot for your raised bed, consider the orientation of your space and choose a location that receives the most sunlight throughout the day, unless you’re aiming for a shade garden.
Use the right materials for your design
When choosing building materials for your raised garden beds, consider factors such as durability, cost, and aesthetic appeal. Popular choices include wood, metal, composite and recycled materials.
- Wood is a popular material for raised bed frames due to its durability, cost and natural look. Cedar and redwood are good choices for wood frames, since they are naturally rot resistant and stand up well to insects, giving them a long lifespan.
- Metal planters and raised beds can add a modern or industrial look to your garden. They are durable and can be used to create clean lines and geometric shapes. These beds include everything from corrugated metal and stainless steel to aluminum and more.
- Composite raised beds are made from a blend of sustainable hardwood fibers and post-consumer recycled plastic. These all-season, warp-free beds are virtually maintenance free and often have a lifelike wood-grain texture.
- Recycled materials: You can also use recycled materials such as old pallets, cinder blocks, or even plastic containers to create raised beds. This is a great option if you are on a budget or crafting DIY raised beds. Recycled plastic beds are also available for purchase, some with warranties of up to 50 years!
Choose the best size and shape
The size and shape of your beds will depend on available space and what you plan to grow. A narrow bed that is only a few feet wide may be best for growing herbs, while a larger bed may be necessary for growing vegetables.
Consider the height of your raised garden beds as well. A height of 12 to 18 inches is typical, but you can build them higher if you have mobility issues or want to keep pests out. When designing your raised garden beds, think about the overall layout of your landscape and how they will fit into the overall aesthetic. Beds wider than 4 feet are challenging to tend without stepping on the soil.
Insert image: tall NY raised beds
Don’t forget about drainage and irrigation
Drainage is another important factor to consider when designing with raised beds. Poor drainage can lead to waterlogged soil and root rot, which can be detrimental to your plants. Make sure your raised bed is situated on level ground and consider incorporating drainage features if your soil is poorly drained, such as a layer of gravel or sand beneath your soil.
It’s also important to consider how you will water your garden, especially if you have a large raised bed or multiple beds. A hose or watering can may be sufficient for a small garden, but investing in a more robust watering system for larger gardens makes good sense.
Beautiful and functional
Raised garden beds offer many benefits and can be a great addition to any landscape design. With a little planning and creativity, they can add beauty, functionality and charm to your outdoor space.
To learn more, visit our guide to raised garden beds.