Once the garden is designed, it needs to be planted but the beds
must be prepared first. There are numerous ways to prepare a
garden bed. Most of them involve tilling the soil with a shovel.
Soil that is loosened to a depth of 1 foot (0.3 meter) will accommodate
most garden plants. Larger garden areas may be tilled
with a gas-powered rototiller, which can be rented for the day.
The beds should be narrow enough that you can comfortably
reach across and work with plants. The length of the beds can
vary according to available space and the amount of effort you
are able to put into the garden, but is usually no longer than
50 feet (15 m). Paths between beds need to be large enough to
accommodate a wheelbarrow or garden cart.
|Figure 7.3 Raised beds can be made from wood, stone, or concrete. Stone was used for raised beds at the Villa Ruffolo in Ravello, Italy (LEFT), while wood was the material of choice for raised beds in this private garden in Swanton, Vermont (RIGHT).
Raised beds are often used because they provide easier access
to the crops and require less digging to prepare (Figure 7.3).
They may be enclosed with wooden boards, or stone or concrete
blocks. Pressure-treated wood is avoided because it can leach
toxic chemicals into your soil. Raised beds are on average about
8 inches (20.3 centimeters) high. Some root crops may require a
depth of 1 foot (0.3 m) and some crops, such as lettuce, can be
6 inches (15.2 cm) high. The beds can be filled with homemade
compost and soil from your yard, or you can purchase soil and
compost from a nursery.
|Figure 7.4 A small lemon grove
and flowers in planters create a
lush garden in a small space.
|Figure 7.5 The use of a retaining
wall to create level garden beds
is widely used on the steep
Amalfi coast of Italy, as
demonstrated by this garden at
the Villa Scarpariello.
It is also important to know the history of land use where
you want to plant your garden. If the former owners have used
high amounts of pesticides, it may affect your ability to grow
plants. Also, certain soils should not be disturbed to create a
garden, as they have a more important purpose, such as habitat
for rare plants or animals and wetlands. Poor soil may be difficult
to bring into good tilth; you may have better success with
Container growing is an option that has become increasingly
popular. Crops grown in containers require less preparation and
maintenance than those grown in garden beds, and they can be
moved. Two additional benefits to container horticulture are
fewer problems with microbial diseases and weeds. Containers
can be made of clay, plastic, wood, or metal. Plastic holds water
better than the other materials and is lighter. Wood helps keep
the soil temperature from wide fluctuations. Metal may get very
hot. Clay dries out fairly quickly and can break more easily than
the others but is good for use with plants, such as cactus and
succulents, that prefer to be kept on the dry side. Containers
should have holes at the bottom to allow for drainage or they can
be modified so that they retain water away from the roots, in a
bottom reservoir under an absorbent material. These are the socalled
self-watering containers and are especially useful in arid
climates. When space is an issue, you can create a vertical garden
with plants that like to climb, by placing containers near walls or
by using a trellis (Figure 7.4).
You can create microclimates in your garden to modify your
climate and increase your options for the types of plants you
can grow. For example, you may be able to grow cold-sensitive
plants against a south-facing wall that holds heat if you cover
them with a straw mulch in the winter. Plants that are sensitive
to cold temperatures can also be protected with plastic or
glass enclosures or row covers. Windbreaks are used to slow
the wind before it gets to the garden. Open-weave fences with
some spaces, such as a lattice or woven branches, break up the
wind very well. Solid structures tend to generate wind currents.
Living fences can be created with small trees or hedges;
steep slopes can be modified with terraces. Terraces create level
garden beds on steep slopes through the use of retaining walls
If you live in an urban area and do not have access to a balcony
or rooftop, you may be able to join a community garden
in your neighborhood. Community gardens are often created in
vacant lots. You may volunteer your time to help clean up the lot
in exchange for a plot in which to grow your garden. You may
also try to grow plants indoors in containers either on a sunny
windowsill or with the aid of supplemental lights. The ancient
horticultural art of bonsai
creates miniature landscapes in small