Building raised garden beds and a rockery

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The back garden has been our DIY project this year and the joy of moving dirt around has been the only thing keeping us sane during the freezing Scotland spring and ongoing lockdown blues. Technically the project started last year (we built a shed and vented it as it became a mold farm), but the size of scope of what we wanted to do exploded in correspondence with our frustration with not being able to do damn near anything else.

Over the course of the spring, we’ve added a massive section of gravel paths that border a set of raised garden beds, as well as an impromptu rockery with more beds along the back fence. Here is the story of each addition, told mostly in pictures and minus the bruises and scrapes gained along the way.

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Before and after for the shed and garden beds we’ve added to the back garden

Building the raised beds and gravel borders

The biggest of the projects by far was the addition of the raised garden beds and paths around them.

Like many projects, the bulk of the work is actually in the preparation. We first moved mountains of earth and materials to get the section cleared for the beds and the paths.

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We then built the beds with lengths of treated decking wood for the sides, wood posts for the corners, some wood screws, a drill, and a reciprocating saw.

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Once we had the beds built, we could get a better sense of the best place to situate them and start on the border paths. After clearing the area for the beds, we already had a rough outline in the grass where an old concrete slab patio was previously, so we didn’t need to do much in measuring or lining things up. All we needed to do was to dig up the area so that it was roughly level (not an easy task but a simple one).

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Building the actual pathways consisted of putting a wood border around the entire space using lengths of treated wood installed with wooden pegs (pounded in with a mallet) at certain intervals and attached with wood screws.

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After getting the borders done, we spread rock aggregate and used a plate tamper (wacker) to compress it.

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Finally, we laid down weed barrier and layered the gravel on top to complete the paths.

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While we were finishing off the paths, we started filling the garden beds as well. Prior to filling, we covered the sides with a waterproof lining using a staple gun (to prevent wood rot and help to keep moisture in the beds).

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Filling the beds was done by placing weed barrier at the base, then miscellaneous branches, grass clippings, and leaves in the base of the beds, and then adding multi-purpose compost and topsoil on top.

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All credit is really due to my wife for this project, as the initial design and initiative was all her. She sourced all the materials and construction plans. I provided labor and tools. She planned the plantings after. Teamwork! 💪

Building the rockery

As we were clearing the massive amount of material for the garden beds and paths, we started to think about what we could do with the back portion of the garden and the crumbling remnants of a stone wall that ran the length of it.

I thought it would be cool to stack and arrange some of the massive rocks from the wall and which we dug up from all over various parts of the garden to create some sort of rockery. There was nothing too it other than a lot of sweat and filling of dirt. It was my favorite of the projects so far as it was fun to make something new out of something old and puzzle together some various shapes and sizes into something that looks halfway decent.

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After doing these projects, I have two main learnings:

  1. It’s possible to DIY much more than I thought we were capable of. You just need to begin and make a little progress each week. This progress, and the momentum you gain from it, compounds over time.
  2. You need to think about disposing of materials as much as getting materials. We spent so much time moving materials twice because we didn’t dispose of them properly the first time.

We have SO MUCH MORE space in the garden that we haven’t touched yet, so many more rocks to push, mounds of dirt to move, and plants to plant. A short pause is in order to let the callouses heal and appreciate things, but we won’t rest long, I don’t think. We’re slowly becoming DIY addicts.

4 responses

  1. Coming together nicely, I particularly like the rock garden!

  2. Wow! Your gardening project is awesome. I have always wanted a vegetable garden. My husband and I tried many years ago (22 to be exact) when we first moved into our house; however, it wasn’t too fruitful. In the future, I want to try again but with the raised garden bed. Your rockery area is also a neat idea. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely refer back to this post when I finally set aside the time to attempt a garden again. Also, the rock paths really add a wonderful touch.

  3. […] images from the past summer: Sam holding a giant zucchini from the garden, the garden beds that we created this past year, and the always prevalent sun-to-rain-to-sun cycle in […]

  4. […] I know I’m doing more urgent and important house-related tasks like painting, fixing my gate, building garden beds, and organizing my tools to near-perfect symmetry in the […]

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