From the moment we decided to buy our new house, I have been thinking about what the eventual garden would look like. As excited as I was about extra storage space and a much more functional kitchen, it was the new garden that occupied a lot of my daydreams last summer.
We knew it was not practical to tackle a new garden right away, but we were fortunate in that our new house came with a great starting point: an existing 12’x24’ in-ground vegetable garden. So while we were busy with the work of selling our old house and moving into the new house, I was able to plant the garden as-is, leaving the work of planning the new garden for this winter:
Though my initial ideas haven’t changed dramatically since we first walked around the property, taking the time to live with the space for the better part of the growing season before committing to a design or construction efforts was a good move. It gave us a good opportunity to observe sun exposure, drainage, and low areas that are most susceptible to frost—and ultimately confirm that the existing location is the best location in our backyard for a vegetable garden.
With location determined, I have been working with three main considerations in the new garden design:
Style: I want to build a garden similar in style to a formal kitchen garden or potager, with several raised beds arranged in a pattern and low-maintenance paths between the beds. I want the garden to be really functional, but also really interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
Size: Over the years I have learned a few lessons with gardens that are too big or too small, so the idea of having a “right-sized” garden is a huge consideration for this project. I want to ensure that there is enough available square footage to meet our needs now and into the future, but not so much extra space to play with that I can’t reasonably keep up.
Fit: The new garden is not our only plan for the backyard in the next few years, so whatever I do needs to fit in with the master plan that includes a nearby garden shed and the addition of fruit trees and other perennial edibles.
Why raised beds? For starters, there are a lot of practical advantages to using raised beds. Raising the garden off the ground, even just a foot, makes it easier to tend the garden and see what is going on, so pests and disease are easier to spot quickly and address. I also find raised beds to be lower maintenance when it comes to controlling weeds and grass spread. And by keeping raised beds no more than 4’ wide, they can be worked entirely from the outside, allowing for more intensive planting and minimizing soil compaction from having to walk through the garden.
On a less practical side, I really like the look of raised bed gardens. Raised beds appeal to the side of me that likes things neat and orderly, but at the same time still allows the plantings within the beds to do as they do best, giving the overall garden a nice blend of controlled and natural elements. Also, after coming from a very private, fenced-in backyard to a very open, visible backyard, creating a sense of space is a big priority, and I see an arrangement of raised beds defining this space nicely.
I used the footprint of the existing garden as a starting point, and from there, I simply started to play around with different configurations of raised beds until I found a few designs that I really liked. Then I took my favorite configurations and sketched out a quick garden layout as a way to double check where I was at with size and space–essentially trying to determine if I could fit everything on my must-grow list, have a little extra space to play with, and ensure that I could come up with some slight variations within the layout for crop rotation.
It is looking like I will end up with an overall space that is 24′ square (twice the size of the existing garden) and, depending on which configuration I ultimately decide to use, somewhere between 320 and 400 square feet of growing space (at least double the square footage in my raised beds at the old house.
One of the advantages of having the garden covered in snow this time of year, is that I have been able to go out and stomp out the boundaries–and even some raised beds–in the snow to get an even better idea of how it might look and feel. It has been hugely helpful in determining how wide to make the paths between the beds, the one aspect of this design I have struggled with the most. Being able to take in the view of the potential new garden from various vantage points around the house and yard has been a great way to live with the garden for a bit before we commit to building anything.
The next step is to narrow it down to one design. Once I do that, I can work on finalizing a garden layout, order my seeds, and determine what type of construction I want to use for the raised beds. I also need to give some consideration to what, if any deer fence might be added to this design now, or in the future, and what type of material to use for the pathways between the raised beds. I welcome any advice on what has worked well in your gardens!