At the allotment this week I have been strimming the weeds (with a borrowed, cordless strimmer – AKA a weed whacker), assembling a tool store so that I don’t have to drive around with a spade in the boot of the car, cutting back errant raspberries and rhubarb that were engulfing the paths, and digging over a patch to plant half of my Sarpo seed potatoes.

In the garden I have been removing more of the concrete blocks that once made up the raised beds.

New herb bed

A freshly-built garden bed, back in 2010

The garden was almost entirely based around raised beds. When I started gardening there, it had been a lawn for most of its life. Dug up by dogs, and infested with bindweed, it wasn’t the place to start growing in the soil. As a No Dig gardener at heart, I took the slow route to weed-free soil (which worked very well, the garden is almost free of bindweed now, it just lurks in a couple of places where its roots are hidden under concrete).

I’m removing the concrete blocks now, because they’re not what potential house buyers expect (or want) to see in the garden. I’ve written before about the problems I had with trying to use the holes in the top of the blocks as planters; I wouldn’t choose them again now, simply because they are so heavy to move around (each one weighs about 12 kg).

Raised beds are great, though. They allow you to build up and improve the soil only where you’ll be growing plants. Any work you do (like weeding and watering) is focused on the raised beds, and so you get better results from less work. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that Square Foot Gardening works so well for some people – it’s based around raised beds and their benefits.

My plants all loved the deeper soil in the raised beds, and I loved the way it held more water in summer and meant less watering for me. When I next have a garden, raised beds are definitely something I will consider, if they suit the site. You can get some lovely raised beds now (check out the selection of wooden planters from Internet Gardener, for starters), that make the most of whatever space you have.

For now, they’re not an option on the allotment. For one thing, its weed problems are too severe, and there’s no choice but to get those under control first. Also, it’s not flat. As well as a distinct slope towards the north, it’s pitted and ridged and a careless stroll across it could easily result in a twisted ankle. Installing raised beds in those conditions would involve some serious ground work to make them level, and I don’t have the time (or the money) to invest in raised beds at the moment.

I’m still leaning towards a little forest garden on the top end of the plot, interplanting the existing fruit bushes (and the ones I want to bring from the garden) with herbs and ground cover plants so they become a (largely) self-maintaining space. Lower down I need to make a space for asparagus plants, but perhaps I’ll be able to turn my thoughts to raised beds again next year.

CMP.LY