Raised garden beds can be an attractive, low-maintenance component of a wide variety of landscape designs. Raised-bed variations include container gardens and terraces, as well as taller renditions of tradition landscape edgings, like stone or brick. Landscaping with raised beds can be as formal or as informal as you like, and it can incorporate vegetables, herbs, flowers, shrubs and bulbs.
Photograph your yard at different times of the day, through different seasons of the year. Compare these photographs to assess with a critical eye which parts of your yard which could benefit from landscaping improvement. Include photos looking inward toward your house from walkways, your street or neighbors' yards. Take photographs looking outward from your house, as well, noting views from frequently used indoor locations like your kitchen or bedroom window. Determine whether outdoor living areas like decks might benefit from the added privacy and greenery of a surrounding raised bed. Sketch a bird's-eye view of your yard using graph paper and pencil. Note key areas for potential raised bed landscape improvement.
Assess the vertical topography of the area you selected for your landscaping project. Have a friend or family member assist you in using a level and tape measure to determine vertical rise and horizontal length of any slopes that you might terrace with raised beds. Transfer this information to graph paper, sketching a vertical cross-section view of your intended raised bed site. Calculate the number of beds and their dimensions needed to terrace your slopes or cover your other design needs. Raised beds can be built as low to the ground or as high as you like (within reason), so consider and sketch the vertical profile of all your raised-bed plans. Tall raised beds can work as box planters around a patio and allow for easy gardening access for persons with disabilities, or anyone who simply doesn't bend down as easily as she used to.
Consider shape. Traditional raised vegetables beds are usually rectangular to allow for grid or row planting, and to make efficient use of inexpensive building materials. Raised beds work best when they are narrow enough to allow you to reach the center from both sides without having to step into the bed, but then can be as long, curved or angled as you like. Follow the curves of your natural topography for an organic, cottage-garden look; ceate stark geometric shapes to match modern architectural elements; or use rectangular beds with accents like arbors, topiary or sculpture to echo formal European estate gardens.
Choose raised bed structural component materials that reflect the tone and style of your landscape design. Natural cedar or fieldstone add to the cottage-garden effect, while dark-stained woods or painted wood, brick or cut stone complement a more formal design. Remove any grass or other plantings and loosen the soil before constructing your raised beds.
Complete your raised-bed landscaping by filling the constructed beds with 50 percent or more compost, and the remainder in clean topsoil. Select plants to meet your landscaping needs, as well as your hardiness zone and available sunlight. Raised beds provide significant soil and drainage advantages over at-grade planting, which will enhance the growth and appearance of permanent plantings like landscape shrubbery, as well as perennial ornaments and annual flowers and vegetables.