My husband, Kevin, refers to these mounds — at present home to cold-hardy seeds — as “graves.” The comparison unnerves me, but it’s regrettably apt: The dozen soil structures, roughly 2-feet-by-8-feet, are indeed reminiscent of a trendy memorial park (where everyone’s dying to get in...).
I try to ignore him and not picture that visual.
The trouble is, these hillocks sacrifice aesthetics while providing nearly all the benefits of raised beds.
These French-style beds:
— Allow soil to stay friable and light, for roots to expand as needed
— Allow for dense placement so vegetables can out-compete weeds, and the loose soil makes it easier to pull any that do take hold
— Create better drainage
— Extend the growing season, warming soil earlier/retaining heat longer
At high season, riotous growth obscures the shape and makes Kevin’s comparison moot. At other times of year — like now — more formal structures would be a bit easier on the eyes.
But, what form should these structures be? What materials should we use?
These are the questions that not only keep me up at night, but send me scurrying to Google during every spare minute. What I’ve learned hasn’t brought us any closer to a decision.
Basic wood frames create a neat, orderly look. Options include cedar and other naturally rot resistant woods; untreated pine; even all-in-one kits. Eventually, though, wood deteriorates and needs replacing. It’s also a bit utilitarian for the front yard.
Or, we could opt for composite wood or recycled plastic. I’m especially tickled by Togetherfarm Blocks made of food-grade recycled, BPA- and phthalate-free plastic. They hook together in any configuration — just like a certain multi-colored stackable block toy. Plastic would last a long time, but might eventually leach chemicals into the soil that could wind up in our food.
Galvanized steel is yet another option — either free-standing or framed by wood. Some look like horse watering troughs. Intriguing, but ultimately, again, not a look we want.
Some do-it-yourselfers create a border with just about any material at hand — bottles, shutters, woven twigs, cement blocks, repurposed gutters, wooden crates, even railroad ties. All of which we vetoed for a variety of reasons.
That leaves my material of choice: Rock. It’s strong. It’s durable. It’s natural.
Beds made of it would last a long time, look fantastic, and be sturdy enough that we could sit on the edge while we work (certainly an advantage as we age!). They could even be built in any shape we desired — rectangular, oval, curved, amoeba.
But rock is expensive. Free sources are difficult to transport. And, building with it is labor intensive and time consuming.
For now, we’ll have to make do with our French-style beds.
I’ll just keep ignoring what Kevin calls them.