Ideally, I should have begun building this bed in 1999. I started planning it in late 1999, but didn't really start construction till late February. Last year, with help of a number of friends, I did the digging, but this year I was smart enough to get some help to excavate.
The first step is site selection. You want a site that gets as much direct sunlight as possible (although some rose varieties can tolerate some shade, generally rose bushes want lots of sun to create those lovely flowers!) and has good drainage. I have the perfect spot perpendicular to last year's bed and at the top of a hill near the front of my yard. I put black 4" drainage pipe together; I used the kind with large holes to allow water through, and used a T-junction in the middle to a solid outflow pipe.
On February 26, I had six folks come out and excavate. We went about a foot to a foot and a half down.
The goal of drainage is to be sure that the roses don't sit in water. The clay would form a "bathtub" in heavy rain if we don't channel excess water away. The drain pipe will work, but can get clogged with sediment - and over time can carry away lovely organic material I build the bed with.
To avoid clogging, on March 11 I first wrap the tube (which has holes) with septic paper; you can find this near where the tubes are sold - I paid eight cents per linear foot at a 3 foot width (they also sell "socks" made out of this kind of material, but it's much more expensive - as I recall, about 8-10 times as much). To keep the wrap on, I used ties (the kind that self clamp, but twist ties should work, too). I will also raise up at least one end of the drainage so I can easily access it and snake something through to clean out any clogs - in the unexpected case that they occur.
That probably is sufficient for the drainage. But here I also lay another sheet of septic paper at the bed's base, under the drainage. Then I put drainage stone (cost of around $2.67 per 40 pound bag, and I used about a dozen bags for the 38 foot length) concentrated around the pipe but uniformly scattered along the bed. I went light and could have put more stone in, but didn't feel it was worth the expense and trouble.
Finally, I put another sheet of septic paper atop the stone layer and used garden staples to keep this "stone and drainage pipe sandwich" down. With outflow also set up, later this evening we had rain - and the hole didn't become muddy -- I could easily walk atop the septic paper. The purpose of the final layer of paper is multi-fold - additional filtering to keep sediment and good organics out of the drainage and keeping the trench relatively clean while we work on the framing. Also, as I will add manure, soil, amendments, etc. and stir, I don't want to mix in the drainage rocks - as long as I dig carefully, I am unlikely to bring any rocks up. (An alternative I had considered is to put chicken wire or hardware cloth across the bottom, but I didn't want to go through the expense or trouble.)
Here you can see the output drain pipe. I actually had downspouts from my roof to the side yard connected to it as well via Y-connections. My yard slopes nicely, so I expect good flow. Why does it snake? To avoid rocks - the pipe is flexible. My friend Marvin who is helping with the carpentry and installation of the frame came up with a great suggestion - I will be collecting a lot of good water (especially rain water from the gutters) - instead of discharging it, I might want to build a reservoir with a filter and pump so I can use the water for watering my garden! What a good idea - I will consider this in the future.
I have read in many places that using pressure treated lumber is a bad idea - it contains and leeches arsenic, a poison, and is very difficult to dispose of. I explored a few plastic lumber companies, and ordered lumber from Phoenix Recycled Plastics in Pennsylvania. The company took my exact drawings and cut the pieces to be ready to be screwed together and installed - and even made pointed stakes!
I designed the bed to be an interesting set of 3 geometric shapes echoing the sixty degree angles that the roses would be planted at. I allowed a foot "margin" and then 30-36" apart for the rose bushes. Phoenix milled stakes for all the angles the bed calls for, and my friend Marvin helped me (well, I helped him!) by building a jig and using deck screws to fasten the frames together. In these pictures, you can see the individual frames in the bed. On April 11, we tapped the frames into the ground, piling up manure (I had been filling with a pickup truckload of leaf compost, then one of composted yard waste, and then with many truckloads of horse manure from a nearby stable. I had also been collecting coffee grounds from nearby cafes and mixing them in.) here and there against the frames to align them. The frames are almost level, but as the ground slopes, we let the frames be slightly off-level, echoing the ground. Now just a bit more fill and I'm ready to plant!
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Also, I had a friend take some pictures while I was building this bed, and
have created a new page that describes
how to plant roses.