dancinglemons

Cinderblock raised beds - let's talk about this

dancinglemons
10 years ago

Hello all,

Reading another thread I came upon the most fantastic photos of cinderblock raised beds posted by GW member jonhughes.

I will attempt to recreate beds like this in my yard this year. How much soil/growing medium do you need for one bed and what are the dimensions folks find most user friendly?? I want beds that are minimum 3 blocks high to permit root crops.

Please post photos and comments especially how much soil is needed for those who already have beds built.

Thanks!

DL

Comments (51)

  • nygardener
    10 years ago

    Those look great, Jon!

  • sandyman720
    10 years ago

    Wow Jon, that is very nice of you to do this for the community. I am sure they are very grateful.

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  • star_stuff
    10 years ago

    I have come across your pictures before on the web, everything always looks wonderful! :-) Will definitely check out your video!

  • jimster
    10 years ago

    It's a gorgeous set-up Jon.

    Let me make a small correction to your dimensions and maybe clarify the computation of volume for DL.

    The volume of soil is measured in c.f. (cubic feet), not s.f. (square feet). I'm sure you know this, but made a slip-up.

    L x W x H = 10' x 2' x 4' = 80 c.f.

    1 cubic yard = 27 cubic feet

    80 / 27 = 2.96 c.y. or approximately 3 c.y.

    Jim

  • mlpgarden
    10 years ago

    Thanks for starting this thread (and especially you jonhughes for providing the info, pictures, and videos!).
    I was curious about this as well and contemplating making a small one to put a couple things in. I like how people can also use the holes in the blocks to plant even more things on the sides.

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Hey Jimster ...Nice catch... My Bad ;-)

    Thank You Everybody ;-)

    If you can't afford raised beds like mine (very expensive and time consuming to build (but will last through the Great Tribulation ;-)

    I also have a pic of Cinderblock beds that are super cheap, will last longer than most,... if not all,... other readily available products ...and did I mention Super cheap ;-)

    You can find Cinderblocks for 1.40 each or less at most building supply stores ,you don't "need" a footing or mortar, just simply level out an area and start laying them down touching each other (for natural friction) and they will hold in 8" of soil and work wonderfully ;-)

    {{gwi:43290}}

    {{gwi:12769}}

    {{gwi:43293}}

  • t-bird
    10 years ago

    Hey Jon,

    I have a few curious questions if I may.

    Watched the video of the crew pouring the foundation area and wondered what is the utility/cost differences between the mortared cinderblock beds, and having a frame out and poured concrete walls?

    Thanks for your insights!

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Hi T-Bird,
    It would be a lot cheaper to form and pour walls and footings monolithically... Of course I chose to do it this way for a number of reasons,things grown in the perimeter grow exponentially faster than out in the field (I would hate to give that up ;-), I think block looks better... JMO but other than that, a case could be made.... to save cash.....

  • t-bird
    10 years ago

    Thanks Jon,

    Question on this:

    "things grown in the perimeter grow exponentially faster than out in the field "

    I'm taking this to mean that plants planted in the cinder block holes grow faster than those in the bed?

    Any other factors - are they sturdier, retain heat better due to the holes, etc?

    If the poured concrete would be cheaper - I might go that way myself - being a cheapskate....I think I might like the look better too. I'd be apt to put a color in the concrete or maybe tile the outside - so something decorative.....

  • gardningscomplicated
    10 years ago

    t-bird - If you need a really cheap method, don't use any walls. Just pile up the dirt. Walls probably have some advantages, especially if you want them 2 feet deep. But it doesn't get much cheaper and easier than doing nothing:)

  • caroline1
    10 years ago

    Awesome. Truly. And extra special because it is donated to food banks. Just awesome. You rock!

    (also curious about the perimeter statement...)

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Hi Guys,
    Yes, Things grow better in the perimeter ,because of a bunch of variables that I only can surmise a few of :
    1 They love the heat (of course, only with adequate water)
    2. I don't really know (I am not that smart ;-) .. all I know is what works and man oh man, these beds rock and the perimeters are dynamite ;-)

    Last Year so many things got away from me,even though I was really attentive.. the holes in the block measure approx. 5"x 5" and even with that, I had a hard time getting out carrots and Walla Walla Onions that grew so fast, I had to rip some out with a pry bar...

    {{gwi:43295}}

    {{gwi:43297}}

    {{gwi:43299}}

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Here it is...I was looking for this pic to show you my 5" Walla Walla Onions , I caught them at the exact right time, I had to wiggle them out of the holes ,they were pretty tight ;-)

    {{gwi:23536}}

  • t-bird
    10 years ago

    very interesting Jon!

    Thanks so much for answering the questions, such a huge help for those of us still in the planning stages!

  • glib
    10 years ago

    I have grown in the holes myself, but never found a difference. Of course, my cinder blocks were in a sunny, dry, windy location.

    Besides the extra heat from the block, let us not discount the fertilizing effect of the concrete. My new beds were made with 4 inches wide blocks, from Lowe (HD does not have them). Certainly easier to reach the middle of the bed, and they take less space, but in the holes you can plant basil, arugula, or broccoli raab, that's it.

    Anyway Jon, your wonderful setup also looks extremely comfortable to work with. Bet you threw away your knee pads. I, too, have hoopohouses on top of the beds, exactly like yours, only difference I also screw a crossbar made of plastic electrical conduit underneath the hoops, for extra stability.

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Hi Glib,
    I'll probably do that too .. Thanks ;-)

  • bluebirdie
    10 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. It's been quite educational reading all the posts.

    Jon, I've been reading in awe what you've done and always wonder how many people you feed. How we know, and for a good cause too.

    I wonder if you or anyone else have any suggestion about using the cinder blocks to build beds on a slope from 15 to 45 degree, and how? When my wood raised bed go out in a few year, I'd like to try it. My guess is your bed will last... forever? I like the look and result very much!

  • cyrus_gardner
    10 years ago

    Jon has good stuff. But let me tell you what I think.

    -- THREE BLOCK HIGH IS WASTE OF MATERIAL AND EFFORTS 3 times, JMO,
    but it is your money and your back, not mine. lol

    For most garden veggies one block high will do, for few other 2 block high is far more than enough.
    Just remember that the ground on which the beds are layed out, are made of soil too, generally
    and they are not solid rock or concrete, normally.

  • dancinglemons
    10 years ago

    jonhughes,

    In the words of my grandson "you rock dude"!! Thanks jonhughes for all the photos and the information. I watched the video. I will probably do a 2 block and a 3 block bed - arthritis mandates a higher bed. My beds will just be on top of lawn area without benefit of cement. I think with the weight of the blocks they will be quite stable. (DH would have a fit if I asked him to roll out some cement......) I like the look of the cinderblock but might stain the block to keep the neighbors happy. I will be using the 'holes' for onions and carrots now that I see your success. Imagine this - raised bed that magically transforms into hoop house!!

    Thanks again for the info.

    DL

  • ezzirah011
    10 years ago

    Just Gorgeous! I have wood beds now and I have been wondering what would happen when the start to go bad. I like the spots they are in and bricks would be a perfect solution!

    Yep, you da man, Hughes!

  • leisa_in_md
    10 years ago

    I never thought of staining cinder block! How do you do that?

    Leisa

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Hi leisa,

    Cinderblock come in 3 or 4 colors,you can special order them also... they put the stain in the mix,before pouring into the molds....
    But, you could also stucco them after they are in place (any color)
    or you could paint them (any color)

    and don't forget,they come in "split-faced" also... very pretty (i am just too cheap ;-)

  • kansascarver
    10 years ago

    Excellent! Concrete is pretty easy to stain. Rustoleum makes some great colored stains for it. I need to invest in some block!

  • caeebe
    10 years ago

    Glib, I just recently saw the 4" wide cinder blocks at Lowes this weekend. It looks like the most cost effective way to make my raised beds. Since my existing "soil" is hard as a rock clay I would like my raised bed to be at least 10" - 12" deep. I'm planning on laying 2 layers of cinder blocks but I'm afraid these half wide blocks won't have the structural integrity to stay in place when stacked 2 layers tall. Glib, how tall is your bed with the 4" wide blocks what is your experience with them? Any one else using these blocks too? I could really use the 8" of walking space I will gain with the slimmer blocks.

  • organicislandfarmer
    10 years ago

    I have really enjoyed viewing the pics! I hope others will post thiers to showcase thier hard work. My question is about the lettuces and such, not so much as a hole in them, how do you keep the bugs away!!!?

  • mandolls
    10 years ago

    These are heavy duty beds ! What I am wondering is, do you have issues with the soil becoming to alkaline? Concrete products leech lime pretty consistently. I am new to vegetables, but I know that some of my flowers have not liked being in the raised bed I made with tumbled pavers a few years ago.

  • aubade
    10 years ago

    {{gwi:43301}}
    I built my garden with just 1 layer of concrete blocks. It was definitely the cheapest material I could find, especially considering there were already many blocks laying around my yard when I bought the house. Above you can see a picture from around a week ago. Obviously you can tell I didn't level them very well and they're kind of uneven, haha, but all in all I think it has been pretty successful. There are a lot more pics on my blog.

    This is the 3rd season for some of the beds (I started with just 3 but added more later). I haven't had a problem with alkalinity - in fact I've had to add quite a bit of lime. But that may be because I just filled them with regular topsoil.

    I haven't planted much in the holes of the blocks b/c I didn't have enough soil to fill them. But this year I had 4 nasturtium plants reseed themselves - and 3 out of the 4 grew inside the holes. Those 3 plants are also much bigger than the 1 in the ground already. So they must like it in there, I'm assuming because of the extra heat.

    I also purposely planted sunflowers in some of the holes towards the back of my yard last year. They grew pretty well considering it was an area with only partial sun.

    Here is a link that might be useful: grow peace and dance in the garden

  • glib
    10 years ago

    Caaebe, the 4 inches wide blocks cost about the same and I have a huge yard but, like medieval european towns, I am limited in what I can do within the walls (the electric fence). Hence the 4 inches as opposed to 8 inches. You can still grow parsley or basil in those holes (make sure you punch a hole at the bottom, a steel pipe and hammer will do the trick easily).

    My 4 inches are buried in the ground about 3 inches, and that prevents grass from coming in. I have no experience with a double layer, although if I were you I would punch holes at the bottom, as described above, and plant a stake through. The stake can be made of anything, given how much of a cheapskate I am, I would go to the recycling center and get old pipes, but 1/2 inch PVC would be adequate and probably less than 50 cents per stake (cut them at a 45 angle to get them to penetrate the ground better). I have some stakes in some outer beds to support a double wire of electric fence, and they are the thinnest treated wood I could find (at HD).

    In double layer, you would be better off staggering the blocks. That means getting half blocks. I have a masonry circular saw from when I built my patio, and if you do not cut them exactly on center, there should still be space for the stake to go through. I would go down and do it for you, but right now it is raining hard. I will post again.

    Also, IMHO you need a strong staking only if your ground freezes hard. If not, I think a stake connecting just the two blocks would be enough.

  • sffog
    10 years ago

    jonhughes great garden, my DH laid out a two block high bed three years ago but without a concrete base, too difficult to bring the cement uphill, those blocks were heavy too but we did it, here in SF my back yard is uphill from the driveway,laid out hardware cloth to stop ground critters, your three block high bed sure looks tempting,save my creaky back. maybe next year we'll add another layer.

  • caeebe
    10 years ago

    Thanks Glib, I had been thinking of staking and was contemplating 2' rebar through each block with the blocks staggered as you mentioned for the most stability. I also don't know how I will be able to cut the half blocks yet as I don't have a circular saw. I think I was planning on trying to knock off as much as I could with a hammer and chisel. If I am willing to make the bed a little smaller than I wish it to be, I can get by without cutting any blocks. As the 2' rebar costs $1.50 each, it adds too much to my costs. I like the idea of using 1/2 pvc instead and I can cut that with a hand saw if I get a long length of it. My ground doesn't freeze much (I'm in Atlanta).

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    10 years ago

    I just love the look of your beds. So well done and neat. I hate to be a killjoy here, Jon, obviously is growing lots of nice veggies in his beds. I just thought I should share my own experience with cement block beds. I put one up as an experiment. I didn't like it. I found it got hotter than other raised beds that I tried and something about something that leached from the cement blocks I suspected was causing some kind of problem that I hadn't had before. I'm sorry, I know that is vague it's been awhile since I had it, but bottom line, I took the bed apart and went back to a wood sided raised bed.

    It could be that I could have made more of an effort. There could have been other things I could have tried to work out the issues I had. Maybe a larger bed, so the soil wasn't as close to the sides. I was watering it all the time it seemed. I do remember that. I do like the three rows of blocks. I had two.

  • jonhughes
    10 years ago

    Hi prairiemoon2

    No problem, you are not being a "killjoy" we all learn from one another ;-)
    I would just say,.....you can't argue with success... now, you can argue with failure, so we could try and figure out what went wrong with yours,so others don't make the same mistakes... I don't know what possibilities exist out there,but if you weren't successful ,others may not be either, I have six different kinds of raised beds and I like them all, of course the ultimate ones (2' tall cinderblock) are expensive and not everybody can afford them,but I am old,and I don't want to do extensive harvesting on lower beds,so ...they are awesome for me, if you are young and don't mind bending over for hours on end, amen, go for it... either way...its all good ;-)

    my initial strawberry patch

    {{gwi:43304}}

    same patch one month later... OY VEY

    {{gwi:43306}}

    6" wood beds

    {{gwi:43308}}


    8" Cinderblocks

    {{gwi:12768}}

    12" wood beds

    {{gwi:43309}}

    {{gwi:14263}}

    24" Cinderblock beds

    {{gwi:43310}}

    {{gwi:23537}}

    {{gwi:43311}}

  • heather38
    10 years ago

    I sat and tried to watch these you tube last night while my husband paced the floor, screaming in pain, eventually I had enough and called 911, thinking he was being a baby, he has a kidney stone! typical Nurse! :-) still it meant I could watch them in peace :-)
    It was quite a feat of engineering, you really had put a lot of thought into the design, for instance for ages I could not get to grip why you had dug 2 foot under the beds, then put wire mesh in, but it was so obvious by the end, as it was for drainage.
    I did think of cost implications but to be truthful although you are not exactly old. I could see you are looking to the future, and if you use these for 30-40 years they will pay for themselves, my Grandad's is 92 and when he was 85, he moved to a Bigger, yes bigger! home, because the land that came with it meant be could buy and enormous Greenhouse, but work's only at waste height, he has a Gardener too, but the gardener is 82, so it works for them both :-)
    Doing this to support the food bank as well as yourself is a really amazing thing to do for people, it shows that you really care, after all, you could just as easily just donate brought food, but you are investing time as well as money in helping people a true Local Hero.
    I watched many of your you Tube and was inspired, (well I had time as him in door's was down the Hospital :) ) and then I had a wonder around other folks sites, Wow! Like you there are some very good Amateur Gardeners, producing really informative film's in You Tube Land, keep them coming, I was a bit disappointed when I had watched them all.
    I thought "I can do this" then though, "no you can't, Numpty!" :)

  • dancinglemons
    10 years ago

    heather38,

    From one nurse to another -- Yes you can do this! You might not do it exactly like jonhughes but take his idea and his photos and make your variation of his construction. DH is going to build me a 24 inch tall raised bed because I've got 2 new hips and need 2 new knees. We are not going to have brick layers and mortar but when DH finishes the raised cinderblock bed will be neat and allow for pain free gardening. I have no idea how DH plans to keep the cinderblock from falling but he says he can build the raised bed without mortar - something about rebar supports?? At present I'm using EarthBoxes and EarthTainers and 10-12 inch tall raised beds. Hope your DH feels better after that 'stone'. One of my most memorable patients was in 'stone passing' mode for 8 hours out of a 12 hour shift - he was totally miserable even with the heavy drugs we gave him!!

    Cheers,
    DL

  • heather38
    10 years ago

    thanks DL, I was embarrassed to admit to Hubby I had only ever seen surgically removed stones, and only twice looked after men, it has to be said who had kidney stones, like your's screaming in pain, so I am well proud of DH as he just huffed and puffed and the odd, AHHHHH! maybe he knew I am a nurse and therefore to family the least sympathetic audience you could ever get :-) when he passed it, my goodness it was like a speck of dust, I wasn't even sure, but he thankfully is painfree. back to the subject :-)
    got to say my Hubby when a biology Student and doing his PHD worked as a building Labourer, in his Hols sorry vacation, So I have no doubt he could pull this off, if given time, He is majorly stressed out through work at the mo, and we don't even know if he has a job? major reconstruction since Sept last year, so we can't invest in the future yet, as non American's and no green card, we only have 3 month's to go home, if he is out of work, but I decided to get on with the garden away, I realised I would be less upset if I had to rip it out, than find out in July, he had a job and I had done nothing :-)
    Oh! PS this is not a dig at American emigration etc, we knew the rules and will obey them, just what it is to be a gardener, and wanting to grow.
    actually now back to subject :-)
    I have brought several of those recycled Plastic raised garden job's you can get with a view to "if we have to move" they are really good, the good thing is both my different sorts are one was type was made in England, and the other was made in America, if I am honest the England one's are better theoretically, as they have lot of ways to rejig them, unfortunately I can't buy the part's to rejig in the US, only the beds, but the American made ones are slightly cheaper and the company only started this year, doing raised beds as far as I can tell, so maybe they will, work on the rejig Side ways, going up they are rocking :-), if we stay, next Holiday, home I am ordering the joints + some, for my English type and then ordering more bed's in the US, as that will be cheaper, I really wish I could do what Jon is doing for his community, what a man, I have never seen people have to go to charity for food in the UK (obviously I lie, as we do have the homeless) and I met some really nice, happy but poor Women who's husbands are in the US Navy, (they gave me a stroller, realising I had left mine at home in the UK) and they live off food stamps, the local Walmart (2 years ago they may have changed, charged them $7.50 to use them! and the concession, apparently was a bit hit and miss for a weekly shop, and judging by the alerts I got as part of the Mum's group, very hit and miss) so Jon is doing a very important role, and I repeat a local hero :-)

  • heather38
    10 years ago

    thanks DL, I was embarrassed to admit to Hubby I had only ever seen surgically removed stones, and only twice looked after men, it has to be said who had kidney stones, like your's screaming in pain, so I am well proud of DH as he just huffed and puffed and the odd, AHHHHH! maybe he knew I am a nurse and therefore to family the least sympathetic audience you could ever get :-) when he passed it, my goodness it was like a speck of dust, I wasn't even sure, but he thankfully is painfree. back to the subject :-)
    got to say my Hubby when a biology Student and doing his PHD worked as a building Labourer, in his Hols sorry vacation, So I have no doubt he could pull this off, if given time, He is majorly stressed out through work at the mo, and we don't even know if he has a job? major reconstruction since Sept last year, so we can't invest in the future yet, as non American's and no green card, we only have 3 month's to go home, if he is out of work, but I decided to get on with the garden away, I realised I would be less upset if I had to rip it out, than find out in July, he had a job and I had done nothing :-)
    Oh! PS this is not a dig at American emigration etc, we knew the rules and will obey them, just what it is to be a gardener, and wanting to grow.
    actually now back to subject :-)
    I have brought several of those recycled Plastic raised garden job's you can get with a view to "if we have to move" they are really good, the good thing is both my different sorts are one was type was made in England, and the other was made in America, if I am honest the England one's are better theoretically, as they have lot of ways to rejig them, unfortunately I can't buy the part's to rejig in the US, only the beds, but the American made ones are slightly cheaper and the company only started this year, doing raised beds as far as I can tell, so maybe they will, work on the rejig Side ways, going up they are rocking :-), if we stay, next Holiday, home I am ordering the joints + some, for my English type and then ordering more bed's in the US, as that will be cheaper, I really wish I could do what Jon is doing for his community, what a man, I have never seen people have to go to charity for food in the UK (obviously I lie, as we do have the homeless) and I met some really nice, happy but poor Women who's husbands are in the US Navy, (they gave me a stroller, realising I had left mine at home in the UK) and they live off food stamps, the local Walmart (2 years ago they may have changed, charged them $7.50 to use them! and the concession, apparently was a bit hit and miss for a weekly shop, and judging by the alerts I got as part of the Mum's group, very hit and miss) so Jon is doing a very important role, and I repeat a local hero :-)

  • bluebirdie
    10 years ago

    Sffog, I have almost the same hilly garden as you do. Except my raised beds are wood with 3 ft rebar sinked into the ground (with hired muscle). I've been wondering how blocks will hold up on a hilly garden without rebars and cement. Still haven't figured out yet how you do it. For your hills. did you sink rebar into every cinder blocks?

  • oregonwoodsmoke
    10 years ago

    I have raised beds made of cinder block, 3 courses high. I needed to have the soil level high enough that I could weed without having to get down on the ground.

    The blocks are just laid on the earth and set one on top of the other with no mortar. They've held their shape for 5 years now, so I expect they are going to stay just like they are unless a bulldozer knocks them down.

    I pounded thin rebar though their holes and down into the ground. The thin rebar was cut to size with bolt cutters.

    I use schedule 40 PVC to support a plastic cover (greenhouse film)at the beginning and end of the growing season. The PVC is slipped down over the rebar to hold it securely in place.

    If you have a masonry store or brick yard, sometimes it is possible to purchase factory second cinder blocks. The savings is substantial. I had the masonry yard deliver the blocks. They brought them out on pallets and set the pallets where I wanted them with a crane.

    Stacking the blocks is heavy work, but not as much work as moving all the dirt to fill the raised bed. The thing is, though, that the work and expense is a one time deal. Then the raised beds can be enjoyed for years.

  • Joy1127
    6 years ago

    Our new cinderblock garden built and planted a week ago.

  • monkeydo56
    5 years ago

    I need to build this type of concrete bed 2-3 block high due to back issues that aren't going away. My primary issue is that I need it to go on a slight slope. Does anyone have advice on how best to tackle a slope? Any experience out there that can help this lady out?

  • Anne Wolfley
    5 years ago

    Try googling "terrace gardening".

  • jonhughes
    5 years ago

    Hi Monkeydo56,
    It should be simple enough.....I wish I had a drawing tool, I would draw you a diagram... wait.. I know ...I will draw it scan it, and then post it.... back in a second ;-)

  • jonhughes
    5 years ago

    Hopefully this works for you, just bury a few inches of the blocks to "set" them in the ground...

    {{gwi:2117960}}

  • monkeydo56
    5 years ago

    Thank you so much, Jon. I appreciate the visual. It gives me a good place to start! Great inspiration!

  • Humsi
    5 years ago

    My slope is more than slight, but we terraced into 2 "boxes" (each about 6' x 30' with a walking path down the center) using cinderblock. Because it was almost more a retaining wall than a planter box and are eventually planning to stucco it to match the house, we did go the whole route of using rebar and mortared them together, but on a slighter slope you could totally just stack them. I don't have to bend over at all to reach the front of the boxes, so much better on my back.

  • jonhughes
    5 years ago

    That is perfect Archel... great job ;-)

  • xmiracles4todayx
    5 years ago

    Hi everyone, I have been thinking of concrete beds also. But have moles, so not sure how 2 rid my land of japanese beetles. How do I find the youtube I keep reading about? I love love pictures, still daydreaming here in NW Texas and have not even begun with gardening. Wanted to say hi.


  • baltimoregardener54
    4 years ago

    Hello everyone. I have been trying to figure out what to do about my existing raised beds, which were made with untreated lumber and are now rotting after about 6 years. After reading about these concrete block beds, I'm considering just removing the screws from the rotting lumber and putting concrete blocks down around the the existing beds and just let the wood continue to rot away. I have two 3x8 foot beds, four 4x4 foot beds, and a 3x6 foot bed...all of them are only 6" high. The 3 block height beds pictured above are really nice looking...are they high enough to keep rabbits out? If that would let me get rid of my rabbit fencing, it might be worth the expense and back pain of rebuilding them with concrete, although I would have to get a ton of additional compost to fill the beds. The additional height would also allow to me to quit worrying about weeds, grass, etc, growing in between and sometimes into the beds...I could just spray vinegar around and/or take the weed whacker through the area. I appreciate any advice!

  • Jon Hughes
    4 years ago

    If you haven't done it yet, you could just have the Cinderblocks ready to go, remove one side of the wall at a time and install the blocks as you go, the likely hood is that the soil will stay mostly intact , and all I would suggest is that you use your shovel to level the ground before you set the blocks , everything will go alot easier for you, if you have a level foundation....lets see some pics ;-)


  • MarkieAnn (UT zone 6a)
    4 years ago

    Wow the pictures of these different gardens are fantastic!