A Story About a Stagecoach, Uneven Terrain and Garden Beds

I recently read in a Vego article that garden beds should always be built on flat, even ground. Well, that makes sense to me. 

However, I recently was surveying my yard and trying to figure out what to do with an odd piece of ground. My house was built in 1800. The first man who lived in my house owned a stagecoach business. 

Stagecoach and Raised Beds | Vego Garden

Before Eisenhower’s modern highway system, my house was on the only highway we had at the time. It’s no Route 66, but it carved a passage for folks to get from the south shore of Massachusetts into Boston. 

Mr. Hatch had a big barn on this property where he stored his horses and stagecoach. The barn was moved in 1970 to the neighbor’s yard, but I can still see where the stagecoach traveled from the driveway entrance up a slight incline into the barn. Mr. Hatch had to build a ramp of dirt and granite stone up to the barn doors. 

I effectively have a split-level yard. Below the ramp is level, even ground where I have built a 30-foot long bed against the flat, granite, stone wall. The space on top of the ramp didn’t seem like a useful space. 

Stagecoach and Raised Beds | Vego Garden
Chipmunks love living in the stone wall and often dig holes in the adjacent ground. There were remnants of a rose bush and some stubborn poison ivy. I had firewood racks there for several years, but just kept thinking that I had to do something with this unproductive, unattractive space. I thought about maybe putting up a picket fence. Fences are pretty but require maintenance. 

I also thought about planting a living fence of Hydrangeas or Butterfly Bushes. On the other hand, I had just removed Forsythia, Wedding Veil, and Lilac bushes because they were so overgrown and difficult to cut back each year, so I dismissed that idea. Plus, I just kept thinking, “This is a south-facing space. There has to be a way to make it into a productive growing area for food.” 

I also thought about lining the space with blueberry bushes, but some chipmunks had just destroyed some columnar apple trees I had planted too close to a rock wall and I was afraid that they would do the same to any bush I planted in this space. I have read a few times that blueberry bushes actually do better in containers and wondered if that would be an option, but with this slope, how in the world?

I finally decided that perhaps I could figure out a way to make the space look level even though it isn’t.  

Stagecoach Raised Beds } Vego Garden

I put a stake in the ground at one end of the space and tied a string around the stake. Then I put another stake at the other end of the space and tied the same string around that. I got my level and adjusted the string so it was completely level between the two stakes. I started looking at the different heights of Vego Garden beds and wondered if I could arrange the beds so that all the tops of the beds could be level with each other.  

Then the hard work began. 

Stagecoach and Raised Beds

The grass in this area was pretty worn. I was able to easily dig it all out along with plenty of small rocks and lots of Bittersweet roots. There was a subway system of Bittersweet roots! To address the chipmunk holes and spaces between the large blocks of granite, I poured some polymeric sand where I could. I don’t like to work with polymeric sand because it is really heavy. It comes in 40-pound buckets and I have to do some wrestling to get it into a cart or into my trunk. Once it’s in my trunk, I open the bucket and take it out in manageable amounts. Where there is a will, there is usually a way.

I got some metal mesh landscape fabric measuring 4 feet by 30 feet and stretched that out over the entire slope, right to the edge of the wall so that even the rocks are covered. This is my strategy to keep chipmunks from reclaiming this wall. I don’t really mind if they dig beneath the surface.

The next couple layers of material would be more complicated.

Stagecoach Raised Beds

It would have been grand if I could just lay out the landscape fabric over the whole area, where the beds would go, and then lay out the weed barrier on top of that, but I knew I couldn’t do that because some civil engineering was needed first. Remember what I said at first? The beds must be on flat ground. I was going to have to dig into the slope to get a level space for each bed.  As imperative, I needed to dig down far enough so that the tops of the beds were also level with each other. This took more work than I thought. I dug the beds down into the slope and had to put the mesh critter block and weed block into the bottoms of each bed.

Stagecoach and Raised Beds | Vego Garden

After some consideration, I opted for three, 10 in 1 beds. One is 11 inches deep, one is 17 inches deep, and one is 32 inches deep, all 2 feet across and 8 feet long. I had to calculate how to place the beds so they were equidistant from each other and still all level with one another. I placed the beds on either end right at the edge of each end.  I placed the third bed squarely in the midpoint between the other two, leaving me with 3 feet between each bed. I finished the project with artificial grass around the beds and 2x4s framing the space. I filled one bed and planted two half high blueberry bushes. In the spring, I will plant four more bushes and maybe even some strawberries around them. 

Even odd, strange, and wonky spaces CAN be made into fruitful land!

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  • Elina Decker

    Elina Decker

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