Introduction: Natural Wood Raised Garden

Picture of Natural Wood Raised Garden

This instructable will show you how to make a natural looking raised garden using only small branches, a few thicker logs and some straight timber sections. This design was the product of clearing up a garden and not wanting to dump or burn the branches.  We needed to build a raised garden and had no money - so we threw a little ingenuity at the problem.

Step 1: Design Considerations

Picture of Design Considerations

The first steps obviously involve a certain amount of design and this will depend on your site, required garden size and other variables that you consider important for your garden. The major variable that I can guide you on will be height of the garden. I have made this garden about waist height, so about 1m high. This is primarily so one can bend over and reach plants toward the rear of the garden. You can make yours any height, however the post hole depth that you will need to dig should be at least the height of the garden. Essentially we are trying to create a retaining wall so be very careful with your design - you don't want to harm anyone from a collapsing raised garden!

Also before you start, ensure you have enough branches. I ended up using more than I could have imagined so give your trees a good trimming! Also if you are building next to a fence (as I have done) ensure that you place a polythene sheet between the fence and the soil to avoid rotting of the fence.

Step 2: Digging Holes and Placing Posts

Picture of Digging Holes and Placing Posts

 Your post holes will need to be a certain distance apart and on any single face of the garden there should be at least 3 posts - 2 corner posts and 1 middle post. The distance between posts will ultimately depend on the length of timber you have, however I would not recommend going over 2m otherwise the timber may bow under the force of the soil.

Based on the design that you choose for yourself, dig deep holes at least the height of your garden. You will also need to choose decently thick branches for the posts. I used the biggest I had, which was about 100-150mm diameter. These posts should be reasonably straight with minimal notches and the length should be at least twice the height of the height of the garden (plus some)  - 1/2 will be under ground, 1/2 above ground and a little left over to trim flush with the timber beams. 

Once the holes are dug, place the post vertical into the hole (you may want to use a level, however this may not matter too much as all natural materials are not perfectly straight). Following this, fill about 3 spades of soil into the hole around the post and then hammer the soil with a piece of flat ended timber. This will make the post sit firm in the ground. If the soil is wet this may be a problem, so perhaps wait until drier weather.

Continue until the level of the hammered soil is about 200mm from the surrounding ground level.

Step 3: Fixing the Beams

Picture of Fixing the Beams

Once the posts are dug in, you will need to set the height of the raised garden. Use a string line to get an appropriate height and to get the garden level. The garden should be easy to reach over, so generally anything less than 1m should be good.
Once this level is set, cut all of the posts to this string level height.

The next step will be to notch each post so that the beams will be able to sit onto something. Using the level line, calculate how deep the notch will be. This will usually be the size of timber beams you are using. In this example I have used a 100 x 50mm timber section, therefore cut down 100mm and into the post 50mm from the front of the post. Cut out with a saw as level as possible.
Sit the beams on the notches and prepare to fix to the posts.

With the beams in place, drill holes and screw beams to the posts. Ensure that the screw is long enough to go through both. Countersink holes if you like. If you have any corners, these may want to be mitred, however these sort of decisions are up to you.

Step 4: Placing Brances

Picture of Placing Brances

With the posts and beams placed, now it is time for the most difficult part. Placing the branches is a trial and error process and is quite time consuming. However for the ease of completing this, I do have a few tips.

Firstly dig a trench between the posts about 200mm deep and 200mm wide, this will allow the branches to be placed into the earth in order to spread the force between the beams and the ground, meaning the wall will not fall over when soil is loaded behind it. Select only branches which are between 10 and 50mm in diameter and that will span from the bottom of the trench to the top of the beam. Start placing the branches alongside each other, attempting to eliminate or minimise gaps, place branches about 3 deep at this stage. Once the branches have been placed between 2 posts, fill in behind the branches with soil and stamp down with your foot. This will ensure that the branches stay roughly in the same place. 

Following the first run with the branches and once they are reasonably firm in their positions, start to trim the branches flush with the top of the timber beams. After a few cuts you will find that some branches are wobbly. If this is the case, you will need to keep squashing in appropriatly sized brances until this wobbling ceases. After a while you will notice that the wall is so dense that no gaps are apparent when looking through the front of the wall. If it is difficult to add new branches, use a hammer to smack the branches into position. Basically, if all of the branches are firm, you will have no structural problems in the future.

By the time all of the branches are cut and each branch does not wobble, the wall should be about 4-5 rows deep - enough to hold soil back from falling through the front.

Step 5: Fill in With Soil and Plant

Picture of Fill in With Soil and Plant

Once all of the branches have been placed, fill with soil and other green matter as necessary. Fill in the front of the trench so that the soil is level with the surrounding ground level

Plant with plants!
enjoy for years to come


guidess (author)2017-04-11

What a great idea! I am going to make my composter that way to a) use up a ton of scrub and b)provide really good aeration and drainage. Plus, it looks sharp!

Bliss Grey (author)2016-10-29


gadsden (author)2016-03-14

I just now saw your suggestion of roofing felt, pond liner or a shower liner -- all are good ideas. Thank you!

Knottypine (author)2016-02-03

What a great idea! This would last a long time using black locust branches and wood.

jmiller3931 (author)2010-01-03

Great idea. I love the way it looks, however, I would not put dirt directly against the fence like that. It will dramatically accelerate rotting of the fence boards and post. The wimpy fence boards will eventually bow outward as well.

It looks like a layer of black plastic would prevent rot as for the pressure of soil and eventually water bowing out the fence I think you are right. perhaps the stick wall completely around the raised bed would be a nice fix and really complete this great idea. The sticks would allow for optimal drainage and aeration of the soil. as long as there are enough holes in the plastic against the stick walls. I am afraid that doing work in the bed would ruin it if one cannot reach the back by hand.

tpyo (author)lanceearlhaines2010-01-05
Plastic in the garden….yikes!
The two main reasons for having a home garden is to reduce costs of produce and eat produce with less chemicals.
I have been following some really cleaver recycling plastic products in the garden. The projects make sense except for the issue of BPA. If you don’t know about BPA or how harmful it can be I suggest you spend the next hour in google and research the harmful effects of BPA.
I should also tell you; if you are American you have a 100% chance that BPA is already in your blood stream.
If you really want to jump start your education you should read Mercola’s story – titled “232 Toxic Chemicals found in 10 Babies” here is a fast take on it:
Laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group have detected bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic component and synthetic estrogen, in umbilical cord blood of American infants.
Nine of 10 randomly selected samples of cord blood tested positive for BPA, an industrial petrochemical.
BPA has been implicated in a lengthening list of serious chronic disorders, including cancer, cognitive and behavioral impairments, endocrine system disruption, reproductive and cardiovascular system abnormalities, diabetes, asthma and obesity.
In all, the tests found as many as 232 chemicals in the 10 newborns, all of minority descent. The cord blood study has produced hard new evidence that American children are being exposed, beginning in the womb, to complex mixtures of dangerous substances that may have lifelong consequences.
Are you really going to use plastic with your organic produce?
tjesse (author)tpyo2011-01-30

The bubble you live in is made of plastic.

HariKarier11 (author)tjesse2016-01-13

Along with everything you eat and drink, even commercial hydroponic gardeners use plastic containers and if you're water conscious and use a drip system in your garden, it is made of plastic and unless you kill your own meat, all of the packaging is some type of plastic. Sure we can do our best to avoid it when we can, but it will still shows up in at least 75 to 90% of everything you use.

lanceearlhaines (author)tpyo2010-01-06

Tell it to the person who wrote the instructable !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I merely pointed out irvinejamie's procedure for someone who obviously didn't take the time to read the directions which I'm quite sure you didn't either. If you have issues with environmental contaminants write a letter to the EPA and FDA and your congressman not on here.. And make a change by your own personal decisions/actions daily. Tell me what data have you collected on the uptake of BPA from soil to plant tissues? or even from plastic to soil? Have there even been any studies? I don't even know what type of plastic was used in this project. What about the gigantic land fills let alone someones backyard and tomatoes. just a few questions you should ask yourself, which I am curious about too, before you go spoutin' off all righteous like. Babies chewing on plastic toys and people eating and drinking off of plastic is a direct route for BPA contamination. Super markets use plastic to package all sorts of organic produce all the time in direct contact with what we eat not buffered by soil hummus. It is the type of plastic that we must be aware of. For example HDPE  is high density polyethelene and is considered food grade and non chemically reactive. Is the black plastic in question made from this? Perhaps you should think about how your posted comment detracts from this ingenious idea. I'm sure that if you were to make this project yourself you could probably bundle the sticks tight enough and line the bottom with wood in order to not use plastic at all to keep the vermin and weeds at bay sealing in the good composted soil for the plants. All in all a great project to inspire home gardeners.

ALiveOne (author)lanceearlhaines2010-04-05

While I agree it seems that no studies have been done to examine the transmission of BPA to soil and then plant tissues, but that seems very irrelevant when you consider both the excessive cost and therefore virtual impossibility of such a study being conducted without some serious backing/regulatory enforcement and on the other hand the fact that IF such a path does exist, you are KILLING or (maybe even worse) damaging, debilitating, and otherwise seriously effing up yourself, your family, etc..

I think I'll take the cooky unsupported  side on this one...

lanceearlhaines (author)ALiveOne2010-04-05

Polyethylene is not polymerized with BPA like polycarbonate is. See my next post. So glug glug down those BPA's from your polycarbonate nalgene bottle and be irrational about using plastic in your garden, i really dont care what you do. If you truly wanted to err on the side of caution then try not using any plastics at all in direct or indirect contact with you or your food for just 1 day. It ain't happening unless you live in a third world country. What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Shove a piece of plastic in your mouth to brush your teeth with, every day twice a day. I think the black plastic underground is the least of concern in terms of potential contaminates entering the body.
The aforementioned study can be done easily and at very low cost in any modern chem lab from samples taken from my backyard or probably from the yards of many people living on your street. This plastic is ubiquitous in landscape architecture. I could do the analysis at home myself if I had a HPLC mass spec machine. I am sorry if you take this post the wrong way ALiveOne. I just think that knowledge about materials and their chemistry is the best way to protect oneself from the potential cornucopia of hazards we have in a highly industrial commercial society. I believe in being super green and I love the environment. That is why I work for an environmental toxicology lab upholding EPA regulations and have a degree in biology. Testing sediments (dirt) and water for toxicants are part of my daily job. This is my advice and new mnemonic about plastics   " # 7&3 bad for me! Everything else don't worry."

DanM5 (author)lanceearlhaines2016-01-03

Thanks. Very informative. I like the #7&3 bad rule.

ALiveOne (author)lanceearlhaines2010-04-06

Take it the wrong way? this is rational discourse at its finest.  Yes, yes I understand that the latest poster child of deforming chemicals we feed ourselves is (BPA), actually I think they've moved on to attacking the alloy they make Sigg bottles out of now but that could be rumurous, isn't neccesarily a concern in this situation (although I am still not sold, once again, show me the study that say it WON'T kill me, cause I don't oiperate the other way around like the EPA does.)  The big point here, which I think you missed once again, is that while we can do individual tests and figure out (after the fact) which chemicals hurt us and how they can get into our bodies, we don't know much about why this keeps happening.  Also, everytime it happens, one might notice that they move to a new plastic and guess what?  That one causes cancer too, only we won't know until we have it.  So stick with your mnemonics if you like, but I don't trust it one bit.

And yes for reference I do try to limit the amount of syntehtic materials touching my food at all costs, although I think my skins does a good enough job keeping it out when I touch it, I still don't wear synthetics much at all (for a backpacker, skier, and climber, that is excessively odd).

As another note on the ubiquity of plastic in the landscape:  While you may test soil, I have worked laying it down as a landscaper and I can tell you that not once have I put plastic in a garden.  Never.

So to recap:

1)  It doesn't make sense for people to ask for studies to prove that something WILL kill you, I'd rather be assured that it will NOT....

2)  It's not as hopeless as everyone makes it out to be, we can survive the materials explosions that is also causing a disease explosion (and yes I believe we can solve it through materials science not by moving into wood huts).

The plastic in question is a polyethylene sorry I misspelled it before. assuming the author did not lie. Which is a 1,2,4 class none of which uses BPA in polymerization.

There are seven classes of plastics used in packaging applications. Type 7 is the catch-all "other" class, and some type 7 plastics, such as polycarbonate (sometimes identified with the letters "PC" near the recycling symbol) and epoxy resins, are made from bisphenol A monomer.[4][17]

Type 3 (PVC) can also contain bisphenol A as an antioxidant in plasticizers.[4]

Types 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), 5 (polypropylene), and 6 (polystyrene) do not use bisphenol A during polymerization or package forming.[citation needed][18]

jamieicecream (author)tpyo2010-01-08

 I was unaware this was such a big issue. Personally I built this garden next to a fence as this was the only place for it. I would not recommend this without stabilizing the fence first using plywood boards (untreated) or a fibre-cement board between the soil and the fence. However these may need to be replaced after a few years. The plastic sheeting was something we had lying around and since it is commonly used for waterproofing house foundations from moisture, I decided to use it. If you are attempting to attain a totally organic solution, definitely do not use plastic sheeting but use sticks, bricks or something that does not leach chemicals into the soil. 

mlaiuppa. (author)jmiller39312016-01-03

Read the instructions.

He clearly states that you put plastic between the fence and the dirt to avoid rot.

jmiller3931 (author)mlaiuppa.2016-01-10

The idea for using plastic came from comments not the original instructions. I believe gadsden comment captures the true spirit of the means and way the author of this beautiful structure was set out to accomplish.

gadsden (author)2016-01-03

Would aluminum foil be an acceptable water and soil barrier? Or a thick layer of waxed paper? Or what about cotton canvas soaked in a nontoxic oil?

HariKarier11 (author)gadsden2016-01-13

You could use 15 or 30 pound roofing felt or if you want to spend a little more money you could use rubber water pond liner. The felt is water resistant but not waterproof but it will last quite a long time, the rubber liner will last your lifetime and a few more. You could also use visqueen or plastic sheeting and double it up and it will last quite a long time, you could also use the rubber liner that is used in bathtub and shower construction. Hopefully one of these will be to your liking. Green thumbs up.

borealcat (author)gadsden2016-01-04

Aluminum foil would break up over time and become a mess, waxed paper would break down. You could try coating cotton canvas in beeswax (sprinkle beeswax over fabric, heat, then brush the wax over it) but I'm not sure how long it would last.

gadsden (author)borealcat2016-01-04

Nothing will last forever. Several layers of foil or heavy waxed paper would likely be enough to protect the sticks for a growing season. The lining's purpose is primarily to prevent the soil from spilling through the sticks - water will drench the sticks from all sides no matter what (rain).
Let's remember that one part of this project was that it not require spending money, and the author sounds like an energetic person eager to recycle and use muscle! There will always be more sticks...!

TrishB14 (author)gadsden2016-01-07

It looks like the barrier is used to protect the fence, not the sticks themselves. The sticks are packed tight in layers so no soil can escape.
If youʻre not building against a fence and putting soil next to it then you wonʻt need a barrier.

komecake (author)2016-01-07

I love this so much. Nice job. :)

Ward_Nox (author)2016-01-07

i've been looking for idea to raise up my parents gguarden to make it easyer for them to tend this is a good idea

babybayrs (author)2016-01-04

It looks beautiful.

rosey gillespie (author)2016-01-04

This looks so pretty.

jwhyman (author)2016-01-03

looks like this instructable was resurrected from 6 years ago judging by the time stamps? Anyway, weed block would solve the plastic issue.

godson1952 (author)2016-01-03

PLASTICS,well all we have to do is just look around and we are in a plastic world,dispostable waste world.It 's sad to say that but we run or use or sleep or breathe or eat in this type of a world.So must say crappers what beautiful day……. ;-)

toolip4345 (author)2016-01-03

we tried it with 1/4 pallets 2 pallet lengths by one pallet width, lots of cutting...we gave-up, your idea is brilliant....

Squarcio (author)2015-02-05

wouldn't the wood rot, placed in earth?

tezcatbus (author)2014-04-15

It's been years, and this is still one of my favourite 'ibles. Very clear instructions, clear photos, and reasons given for the steps so that readers can make their own adjustments per their circumstances. Thanks again! I have roughly a cord of sticks from our 25yo eucalyptus tree, as well as trimmings from fruit trees, and I'm gonna make the HECK out of some garden beds this year.

cbaars (author)2013-09-04

Our town has a yard waste dump with plenty of free branches. Thanks for the idea.

sydney6681 (author)2013-04-25

Hi--What a great idea and super clear instructions! I have been trying to figure out how to do some terraces to act as raised garden beds on a shallow slope in my yard. Like you I am cash-free, but have sticks-a-plenty!

I had a few thoughts about some of the other comments. About the barrier between the dirt and fence: Canvas, good quality cotton denim/twill, sailcloth or material used for outdoor awnings and cushions could be helpful, and it seems all you would need would be a good sized scrap.(Maybe free? It could happen!) You could stretch it over a frame like an artist canvas. For added strength you could even laminate a few layers of fabric with water based glue like elmers, then lean it against the fence. Use a few 2x4 scraps to make spacers, or lean on the fence posts-just to make an air space. It would be quite strong--the fabric would probably outlast the wood!

I think a layer of tightly woven fabric between the sticks and dirt might slow their deterioration as well. But really, it's not such a bit deal, is it? Stick decays, go get another stick. No sweat!

Thanks again for the inspiring project!

straycatmeow (author)2013-03-17

Very cool & such a great way to upcycle.Thank you for sharing this incredible idea, it really is beautiful

ddamrill (author)2011-06-21

This simply looks awesome and natural. I wish we had a bunch of trees to prune:)

rexdino5 (author)2010-05-07

I might try to make one too! I'm not sure where to find a lot of good branches. Maybe from my backyard? Any suggestions?

a2sidedcoin (author)rexdino52011-05-09

Go outside... :) Lots of places you could just go out to the country with a forest, go in, grab fallen branches, take help!! :) My wife and I were just talking about doing this and had the same question and both kinda laughed at ourselves... plenty of lumber mother nature gives to us... namaste

Ric46 (author)2011-03-22

If you have access to wire, you could weave wire into the sticks as you assemble it . This would provide some stability to the walls. I like the idea of cardboard to line the inside. Maintenance could be as simple as building a new wall of sticks outside of the old wall, and leaving the old wall in place.

vincent7520 (author)2011-03-13

Simple and very beautiful.
Thanks for posting.

cathrynm (author)2011-01-07

I love this as a starting point for my own take on recycling "tree trash" from my backyard - I bought a home this past year with nearly an acre of unfenced yard and as I don't have the finances for all that I would like to do, I have been pondering the best way to use all the downed tree trash in the back yard for a short term fencing solution. Take the larger posts you've used at the edges, drill a hole near the top and bottom, drill similar holes in the thinner "stringing material," then string those pieces until the space between the thicker posts are filled in. This fence can be as tall or as short as you might want (to keep your critters corralled) and should last a few years till it can be replaced with a more permanent fence! Thank you for the great 'ible and the idea! :)

chiirioz (author)2010-11-10

AWESOME Idea. I am in the process of doing this even though it's fall.... should have found this earlier. Oh well.

I'm also curious as to preventing rot on the sticks and how the creator's raised bed is doing now.

I have some left over thin logs that I'm going to use instead of a bunch of sticks. Perhaps I'll line the inside with some straight planks of store-bought wood and still get the attractive exterior and also a layer of tarp or something.

canida (author)2010-10-13

Wow, that's gorgeous!

lej619 (author)2010-04-12

wow I really want to make one. now just to figure out where to put it. Then to head to the hills and get the sticks. lol

Jademadina (author)2010-03-12

wow this brillant Ive got most of what I need in my back garden.  Cant wait to get started. Woohoo.

punkhead58 (author)Jademadina2010-03-30

I love italics as well.

Anyway, I've been thinking about building a raised garden for quite a while now to eliminate the tedious task of weeding. Thanks for the inspiration.

erosser (author)2010-03-11

 Looks great!  Nice work!

blackfootfoolscrow (author)2010-03-02

This is wonderful.  How much time did it take?  I want to do this now...but too much snow outside!!!!!

 the buiding period took about 3 days - defiently them most time consuming part is tightly placing all of the twigs together as it is trial and error.

Qcks (author)2010-02-07

This is a weird thought, but rather then inhibiting rot, why not encourage it? 

If you seeded the sticks with mushroom spawn, you'd have wild mushroom down low, and interesting plants up top.
I've also heard that encouraging mushroom growth promotes healthier plants since the fungus can form symbiotic relationships with root systems.

The downside being you'd hafta eventually redo the raised bed, but there's always maintainence.

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