The Q&A Archives: Redesigning a Mixed Perennial Bed

Question: I have a small garden about 8 feet by 4 feet. Over the years I have planted several small perennials and biennials. At present I have forget-me-nots (which I love, but they have a tendency to come up whenever they want to) white violets, some herbs and a favourite peony. Two years ago I planted a climbing rose 'Zepherine Drouhin', which is doing very well. I would like to convert this space into a raised bed garden with two or three levels, to accomodate these and some annuals, without having tall plants shade the smaller ones. How do I change from a flat surface to a raised one without losing all my favourite old perennials? The garden is just below my back porch, so there is a high brick wall there. I want the part nearest the brick wall to be the highest portion of the raised bed. That, unfortunately, means my almost new climbing rose would have to be dug up and replanted at the higher level. Can I do that without damaging it? It is almost April here in Toronto and the plants are all still dormant. Should I start the bed at the highest part and contain that first, or should I start at the lowest part and keep buiding it higher? I want the beds to be about 8 or 9 inches high each. I'll need to "step into" the raised bed to tend it, so what should I do about providing stepping stones. Right now, I have a few flat rocks which I use, but would these compact the soil too much in a raised bed? Lastly, since I'm strictly a DIY'er, can I use cedar boards, 2 inches wide to contain the soil. My garden is too small for railway ties or rocks, (besides, I have no way of getting them to my site) and I'm no bricklayer. I sure hope you can advise me.

Answer: Whew! A big project for a small site! First of all, a survey of the plants: peonies object to transplanting, and are often set back several years by the process. If you must move it for the design to work, do so as soon as possible. Your rose is better off being transplanted as a youngster than as a well-established shrub. The others you mention can be transplanted any time this spring or summer. Start with the level that will contain the peony and rose, and work around it as best you can, or leave it til next spring if that works better. Your choice of cedar boards is a good one, since they are rot-resistant. Support them with pegs driven deeply into the soil. You can use sections of cedar planks as stepping "stones" or paths as well. You can avoid severe compaction by moving the planks around to accomodate annual plantings year after year.

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