Not only are raised beds attractive, they often are more productive than flat beds. Because traffic is limited to the paths, the soil in the bed is not compacted and plants can send their roots into the soil more easily. Raised beds also warm faster and can be planted earlier in the season than a traditional row garden. But purchasing lumber to build frames can be expensive. The more environmentally and budget-friendly course is to get creative and repurpose items that you already have or can recycle from a nearby location.
This is a common and practically inexhaustible source of material for constructing beds. Screw pieces of lumber together at the corners to create a frame. Or contain the soil by strategically stacking driftwood from beaches that allow you take it or sturdy branches from a neighbor's pruned tree. A nearby construction site might allow you to take scraps. Avoid using railroad ties and other treated wood, especially for beds where you will grow food. Treated wood leaches chemicals into the soil. Wear gloves when moving lumber to prevent splinters.
After lumber, concrete blocks are one of the most popular ways to contain soil for raised beds. Many people have them left over after construction projects and are happy to give them away. Concrete blocks hold heat better than wood and the holes can be filled with soil and used to grow flowers or herbs.
Bricks are another construction or demolition left-over that make a nice bed. Unlike boards which are long and straight, bricks allow for curves and unusual shapes. Bricks are often available free when old streets are torn up or when people replace brick walkways.
One person's junk is another person's treasure, and any piece of junk that will hold soil and can be left outside without falling apart can be used as a planting area. Old bed frames can create literal flower beds. Leaking kiddie pools, large plastic tubs with holes in the bottom or an old bathtub can be repurposed as garden fixtures. Make sure to add plenty of drainage holes or plant in containers set on gravel inside the bed.
Bales of Straw
Set bales of straw on the ground in the shape that you want. They will hold soil more effectively if they are close together. Fill the bed with soil, compost and other organic materials, and then plant. The advantage to straw bales is that they will break down over the winter and you can turn them over with the soil the next season. Do not use hay in your garden because it contains seeds, and you will end up with unwanted grass and weeds in your beds.
Or Nothing At All
A perfectly functional raised bed can be created by mounding up soil and then not walking on the growing area. Framed beds are attractive and give a garden a cleaner look, but mounded beds can grow great vegetables and flowers, without added expense.