The addition of sleepers to a vege patch can mean the difference between chaos and harmony, writes Justin Newcombe.
Working around a large garden that has evolved pretty much from a little patch for growing salad greens into something which now takes up half the back garden can prove pretty difficult. That's because no real planning has gone into it. When the garden is full of life in late spring, summer and early autumn, all that life hides a multitude of sins, but come winter and it is a very different story.
As well as being aesthetically challenged, my vege garden has become a practical liability too. Getting from A to B has become more like fording a high running creek. Pouncing in and out for a few chives for my club sandwich and getting the wheelbarrow around is like doing hard labour. It's high time for some verdant law and order. I've always been an advocate of creating structure in a vege garden, especially during winter. I realised that I'd had lots of ideas but I'd never actually sat down and made any decisions. I needed to create a garden that had structure. If something goes pear-shaped I'd want to be able to whack some cardboard and pea straw over the top and forget about it. Secondly I wanted to improve the access. The garden was full of rocks and rubble, ponga logs and off-cuts of one sort or another.
All very fine in summer but in winter all this stuff is pretty much laid bare for all to see. I also wanted strong lines which would give some shape and continuity.
Luckily there is an easy solution: structure, shape and access are all achieved using sleepers to edge the beds. These solid edges are robust and practical and give nice straight lines. I worked out the dimensions of each garden bed before I started so I could maximise the use of each sleeper. Bunnings sell them in various lengths which really helps minimise the amount of offcuts I am left with. Because the sleepers are so heavy, installation is an easy process as you don't need much in the way of structural reinforcement. I'm really happy with the result. Once I spread around a little tree mulch over cardboard to create the paths, the endless marshland has finally turned into something I hope will become quite charming, even when it is empty.
Set up a profile for the garden bed using stakes and a string line. Check the string line is at the correct height and parallel, with true square corners so that the sleepers form perfect rectangles.
Dig out and remove any rocks, weeds or plants which are in the way. Use a tape measure to check the hole is deep enough for the sleeper to fit under the string line.
Measure and cut the sleepers using a skill saw. Make sure you measure so the sides fit inside the string line.
Position the sleepers then nail together end to end. Then drive in 600mm pegs (you can buy them by the packet at Bunnings). Nail the sleepers to the pegs. I used two pegs per sleeper.
Repeat the previous step right the way around until a rectangle is formed. Keep checking all corners with a set square.
Once all of the sleepers are installed, make a relatively quick path. Place cardboard (flattened boxes are good) on the ground and cover with 10-20 centimetres of tree mulch.