Raised beds: can she fix it?
May 20, 2011 | By:
Walls are built, steel wires are hung and Sally Brampton implements two solutions to fitting more plants into her small courtyard garden: raised beds and vertical planting
Gardening_vertical planting: plants in pots

Raised beds and Farrow & Ball’s Green Blue are Sally’s signature. Photo by Sally Brampton

The courtyard garden is taking shape. Although come spring, no plants have burst into life other than a few tired crocuses planted in the shade – a pointless exercise as a crocus only opens its pretty face to look the sun in the eye. That was it: a few crocuses and three inches of dead soil, shored up by a wall no more than three bricks high.

To get around the problem of how to plant, I got a local builder, Bob (no kidding), to heighten the bed using breeze blocks, then render and paint the wall white. The wall is topped by a wood plank that serves as a bench, to increase the seating area, and is painted my favourite paint colour for gardens, Farrow & Ball’s Green Blue. Breezeblock and render is the cheapest option for creating raised beds unless you intend to scour the countryside for matching bricks.

Once the raised bed was finished, it was filled with 36 bags of earth to allow plants to get their feet well dug into the soil. I’ve created raised beds in every garden I’ve ever designed, partly to add structure and create the illusion of space using different heights and levels, but also because I love getting up close and personal with my plants.

Once that was done, I started planting (“Like a madwoman,” said a friend). Well, it was spring, nature’s busiest time of year, and impatient green shoots wait for no man (or woman).

As the courtyard garden is so small, I decided to garden vertically (a new venture for me), so Bob attached strong steel wires to all the walls. Strength is crucial. A few nails and garden twine won’t do, unless you like your climbers sagging at the knees like a pair of baggy old tights. Not a good look.

In went four climbing roses, eight clematis (four different species designed to flower in spring, summer, autumn and winter), two jasmine, two solanum alba (the potato vine, commonly found in purple but prettier in white) and a couple of trachelospermum jasminoides (known, more charmingly, as the star jasmine) which no garden should be without. Not only does it throw out starry white scented flowers in summer, it is evergreen so adds structure and colour in winter.

It’s amazing how many plants you can fit in so small a space, particularly when you reach for the sky.