A new growing season is just around the corner, and with it the promise of a delicious and productive garden! Whether you’re hoping to start your first garden or tweak an existing one, taking the time to plan it out will pay tasty dividends later on.
I’m going to share how to plan four raised beds and how to get the very most from them. All the vegetables chosen are easy-to-grow, reliable, and well-suited to beginners, yet also prized by more experienced gardeners. Let’s get those creative juices flowing, and work out what will go where so we’re ready for spring!
Basic 4-Bed Vegetable Garden Layout
Keep beds no wider than about 4ft (1.2m), because this is a good width for most people to easily reach the middle of the bed without having to step on the soil. Make paths between beds wide enough for easy access, including with a wheelbarrow – an essential consideration when moving compost about.
1. Beans and Peas
The first bed is for beans and peas. Why? Because these are some of the most productive plants you can grow, so it’s well worth prioritising them! Locate these climbers towards the back of the bed, furthest away from the sun, so they won’t overshadow shorter plants in front. To help support them, a double row of canes, linked and supported with a ridge pole at the top, works beautifully. Peas and beans need regular picking to keep their protein-packed pods coming.
In front of the peas and beans you might grow a row of iron-rich spinach – one of my favourite greens. Spinach is best grown during the cooler months of the year, avoiding midsummer. My climate isn’t too hot in summer, but if yours is you could shunt the beans forward in the bed then place your spinach behind them to benefit from the shade they cast.
2. Potatoes and Garlic
In the next bed, plan to grow potatoes. You might like to allocate one row for early salad potatoes and a second row for maincrop potatoes, which will mature later in the summer for storing into the cooler months of the year.
Potatoes are generally trouble free so long as you keep them well watered during dry weather. But to help them along still further, include a row of garlic between them. Garlic is excellent at repelling aphids, including potato aphid and green peach aphid, which can both attack potatoes, so it makes sense to include them here.
This is what I love about planning nice and early – it gives me time to carefully think out each and every crop combination to maximise the benefits between plants – what we call ‘companion planting’.
The third bed is dedicated to salads, with crops like radish, lettuce, arugula, and beets. These will all grow to about the same height, so there’s no worries about any of them shading each other out.
I’d also include a frothy row of sweet alyssum here. Alyssum is one of those vegetable garden flowers that works really hard for the space it occupies. The flowers are hugely attractive to tiny wasps and other pest predators which will munch up aphids, something that lettuces can be prone to. I always include alyssum in my vegetable garden for this reason, and it really does seem to result in far fewer pests. And it flowers for months on end too!
4. Warmth-Loving Crops
The final bed is a warm-season bed, full of sun seekers, bursting with flavour. Zucchini is really worth including – like beans, they never fail to pump out lots and lots of fruits, so long as you keep on picking of course!
And what garden wouldn’t be complete without some tomatoes? Blight is a common disease of tomatoes, so it often pays to choose a blight-resistant variety to avoid any problems. Include some hard-working companion plants for good measure: parsley, for attracting pest predators when left to flower, and basil, which is a natural companion to tomatoes both in the garden and in the kitchen.
You could include a few chilli plants, and some nasturtiums too. Nasturtiums are fabulous flowers that sprawl here, there, and everywhere, helping to shade the soil while adding a splash of colour. All parts are of it are edible, and I love the flowers as a finishing flourish to a garden salad.
If you’re starting a garden for the first time, don’t forget that different vegetables need to be sown at different times, depending on your climate. Several of the plants in the salad bed can be started quite early in spring, whereas the zucchini will need to be sown much later.
Sun and Shade
Sunlight is directly proportional to growth – more sunshine means faster results and healthier plants – so allocate the sunniest part of your garden for growing vegetables and fruits. You’ll get stronger growth and, as a rule, better-tasting produce, especially from fruiting crops like tomatoes. Of course, there are some crops that will cope with a little shade, including many leafy greens.
If you suffer from exceptionally hot summers you may want to seek out an area that gets some shade during the hottest time of day, or where you can grow taller heat-tolerant plants to cast a little shade over low-growing leafy crops that might appreciate it. Even in cooler climates, some plants do better with a little shade. Crops like lettuce are prone to bolting (running to seed) if they dry out, but some light shade can keep the soil cooler and moister, and help plants to remain productive for longer.
Shelter From Wind
Shelter from prevailing winds will prevent plants from getting buffeted about, but if your garden doesn’t have much natural shelter you can always create some. Hedges make great windbreaks, but will take a little time to grow large and dense enough to protect other plants. While they establish you can create temporary windbreaks with netting screens or fast-growing taller vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes).
Shelter’s great, but try to avoid areas with lots of overhanging branches or searching tree roots that might cast shade or compete for precious resources down at ground level. If there is a small downside to my garden it’s that it’s gradually getting more shaded as surrounding trees grow, so some light winter pruning may be needed just to push things back again and let more light in.
Soil is where everything starts! The best soil is free draining, yet able to hold onto enough moisture to keep plants happy between rain showers. Few of us have perfect soil, but whether yours is very sandy so dries out very quickly, or sticky clay that’s prone to winter waterlogging and baking hard in summer, the solution is the same: add lots of lovely organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to improve your soil over time. It can just be laid on the soil surface as a mulch – no need to dig it in. The worms and other soil organisms will incorporate it for you.
My garden gets insanely wet during the cooler months of the year – there’s a spring that can turn the soil surface to a slippery shimmer when it’s been raining for more than a few days. I’ve found the simple solution for this is to grow in raised beds, which helps with drainage during wet winters.
I placed my beds directly onto what was lawn. They were dug into the slope to ensure a level planting surface (which makes watering more effective because the water doesn’t just immediately run off downhill), and filled with a combination of composts.
Plants need extra water in dry weather, and watering will help seedlings and young plants to establish. If you can, locate your garden close to a water source. Mine is at the front of my house, away from the garden. That’s not ideal, but I’ve got around this by using a long, extendable hose to reach around to the back where the garden is.
Treated mains water works, but saved rainwater is even better and should be actively prioritised, so plan to include some water barrels – the more the merrier! Harvest water from gutters attached to your house, shed, greenhouse – anywhere with a surface that can collect plenty of the wet stuff.
Gardens produce lots of organic material over the course of the year - weeds, spent crops, prunings etc – and almost all of this can be recycled back into the garden to feed future crops for free.
In a small garden, a composting setup might consist of a single lidded composter, while in larger spaces a series of compost bays can be the solution. Whatever your situation, don’t let any organic matter leave your garden – compost it!
Storage is essential for keeping tools and equipment dry and secure. I try to keep everything as convenient as possible so I can just grab what I need for each gardening session to save time. Even if you don’t have space for a shed, it’s worth making room for a simple garden store, or perhaps a bench with built-in storage for your most-used tools, pots, and other bits and bobs.
The Easy Way to Plan Your Vegetable Garden Layout
If you’d like to replicate my plan for these four beds, or just play around with it to suit your space, then head on over to our Garden Planner where you can find this Beginner Garden plan along with a selection of other sample plans. Click on New Plan then click the Sample Plans tab to find them.
If you don’t like some of the vegetables I’ve mentioned, no problem – just swap them out for your favourites, drag them into a row or block, and the Garden Planner will space them correctly and show how many you can fit in each area. Most importantly, it will then build a personalised Plant List showing exactly when to sow your chosen seeds and transplant them into your garden, and it will even email you planting reminders to keep you on track. How fab is that!?
You can try out the Garden Planner completely free, and there’s no need to put in any payment details. Find out more here.