Making raised beds from scaffold planks… the Walthamstow way

For gardeners, veg patch keepers, and allotment growers, raised beds are one of the best ways of growing a wide range of plants, fruit, and vegetables.

This blog post describes how to make raised beds from scaffold planks. You can pick these up at builders’ yards, gardening shops, on ebay and Gumtree – but I bought mine for £2 a metre at the wonderful Forest Recycling Project in Walthamstow, north east London.

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One of my raised beds, filled with spinach, lettuce, herbs and a bay tree. Photo credit: walthamgrower blog

Scaffold boards at Forest Recycling Project in Walthamstow. Photo credit: Forest Recycling Project.

Like most garden features, raised beds can be created to fit a variety of looks: made from old wooden planks for a rustic lived-in look, stone wall for a natural or rugged feel, and corrugated sheet metal for something more industrial. Whichever style of raised bed you want to go for, their use extends way beyond being visually appealing: according to the RHS advice pages, raised beds in your garden or on your allotment are “a good way of boosting drainage and can be used to introduce a different soil type to your garden. Raised beds are also a useful way to garden if you have restricted mobility, as they reduce the need to bend”.


Raised beds at the Regent’s Park Allotment Garden, London. Photo credit: walthamgrower blog.

So, let’s get started…

Step 1: measure up the space you have and sketch out some options

Take some time to work out how much space you have to work with and what’s realistic for you. You may be able to fit 10 square metres of raised beds in to your garden, but will you really have enough time and energy to manage them? 1 square metre is fine to start with – I have 3 square metres and that’s more than enough for salad growing. Also consider where the sun falls each day on your proposed raised bed location and how this might affect your veg and crops.

Remember to include walkways if you’re thinking about a large space, and no more than 1.5 metres wide is ideal reaching distance. For the height, they can be as low as one plank high (around 20cm) or for a more striking effect, consider up to three planks high (around 60cm). Carry On Gardening‘s PDF guide recommends up to one metre high for users who need to stand to access their raised beds, and up to 70cm high for wheelchair users.

Once you’ve finalised the measurements, go and purchase enough scaffolding boards, plus a little extra to cover any mistakes or breakages. Again, I can’t recommend Forest Recycling Project in Walthamstow enough, but there are plenty of ready-made kits out there if you’d prefer to take an easier route.

Step 2: prepare the ground 

If you’re working with an overgrown allotment or garden, pull out as much as you can with the roots so you avoid unwelcome additions to your raised bed in a few months’ time. You can bury any turf removed in making the beds later on in the lower levels of soil to enrich the soil as it decays. If you’re working with gravel, push it away from the area around where your raised bed will sit and remove the membrane underneath it, as below. Level the site to avoid wonky beds.

If you’re using wood to build your raised beds, the beds can be pretty much placed on top of your chosen location without any trenching. But if you choose to use stone or another material, or if you’d like to give your raised beds that extra bit of grounding, you might want to dig a small trench in which the bottom few cms of your bed will sit. Most wooden beds will be fine without as the weight of the soil once filled will keep it still and sturdy.

Now your site is clear, you can rest planks in place to get the effect before you start cutting up any planks. Alternatively, use stakes and string to mark their positions. Now is the time to make any location and size changes.


Preparing the ground for the raised bed. Photo credit: walthamgrower blog.

Step 3: fire up the drill, saw and hammer

In an area free of pets and children, start to build your raised beds. Along with a saw and sandpaper, use a spirit level, tape measure and pencil to get the edges of your planks straight and free from snagged edges. If you’re sawing up long planks down to size, use a handsaw like a Stanley FatMax – perfect for heavy duty sawing of planks and decking – or use a circular saw or similar power tool for a faster and cleaner cut. To screw the planks together, use a drill and/or screwdriver and long decking screws. These cost a few pounds for a big pack in B&Q or Homebase.

You have two options for the design of the beds. The first is to simply screw the planks together in a box shape: easy to do, quick, producing a sturdy enough result for one-plank high beds, as in the image above. The second is to use stakes and block supports at the corners, as in the image below. This is recommended if you’re going 2+ planks high. You can use offcuts and those extra planks to make these easily.


Photo credit: Quickcrop

Step 4: add finishing touches to the raised bed

Line the sides of your raised bed walls with polythene to stop wood preservatives leaching into the soil, using a hammer to push in flat headed nails on the outside or top of the bed. The same goes if you’re using pallet wood.

You might like to add a splash of colour by painting the raised beds a bright colour, or perhaps adding a coat of wood stain or preservative to prolong their life, like these ones below.


Photo credit: Hurst Street Blog

Step 5: plant up

Even with 3 square metres at only 30cm high, I realised I’d need a LOT of compost to start filling the beds. I looked around online and found Compost Direct, who delivered a huge 900 litre bag of their Veggie Gold to the doorstep, via a van and crane!


Photo credit: walthamgrower blog

After adding in some layers of newspaper, leaves and grass cuttings, veg peelings and other garden goodies, plus four hours of shovelling…


Photo credit: walthamgrower blog

And five months later…

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And two years later:


Photo credit: walthamgrower blog

Top tips:

  • Get a friend to help with the construction and filling of the beds
  • Clear pets and children away from the site while you’re working on it
  • Wear heavy duty safety gloves and consider goggles
  • Call in the professionals if you don’t feel comfortable using power tools
  • Or learn more about using wood saws and creating products from wood at the Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow

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