The title of this blog entry is one of the questions we are asked most often in classes and on consultations. And we do love to hear it!
The first part of our response is usually this: “well, you certainly don’t have to.” It is absolutely possible to grow a great garden at ground level. But there are several qualities that recommend raised garden beds: for instance, they warm soil rapidly in the spring and provide aerated soil for healthy root development at a more significant depth than non-raised garden areas.
The second part of our response tends to be a reminder that raised beds do not have to have wooden sides, as simple berms can maintain soil structure and productivity without additional built elements.
However, we do find that wooden-sided raised beds are especially handy for:
- Defining a garden space (distinct from the rest of a yard, work space, or play space)
- Organizing garden space (for instance, when using the square foot gardening method)
- Making garden space accessible to children and people with disabilities
- Protecting plants from the feet of gardeners and passersby
- Making it easy to attach season extenders (cloches and cold frames)
- Aiding in soil retention
- Achieving good drainage
Finally, we try to convey the idea that whether or not you choose to build raised beds, and how tall you build the sides, depends heavily on the layout of your garden space and the way you use it. Are you building on top of asphalt? Improving ease of use by an older adult, or a person in a wheelchair? Hoping to keep a dog or other pet out of the garden area? Building on a slope? All of these are significant decision-making factors.
We hope that the pictures below of four very different beds we have built for clients help give you a sense of what raised beds can be, and whether they might be a good fit for you.