Creating a Natural Garden Part 3: Structural and Ground Work

You can start on the ground work for your natural garden now you know how you want to use your garden and what you want to achieve. This is the moment the actual digging starts. You don’t have to do all at once but if you do it in stages make sure you start with the base projects like borders and terraces.

By walking you through the steps I did I hope to show how easy it can be. You truly don’t need to be a naturalist or extreme good DYI person. To ensure it won’t be too long this will be in 2 steps, starting with the base construction work and in the second one going into construction details like how to build a natural fence, insect hotel/bench, water in a small garden etc.

I found an old sketch that I used that will hopefully visualize the process. Before going into the details let me give some dimension and details:

  • Length 12 meters (39 feet)
  • Width 5 meters (16 ½ eet)
  • Facing north so not the best sun wise in our climate

From the start I wanted to re-cycle materials, capture rainwater as much as possible, create natural borders along the edges. And create what I call my “forest” edge in the back of my garden. The pond was something I knew I would want to start as soon as our daughter was a bit older. And that also meant I had to think about how to use the material that would be dug out later on.

This all meant I needed to work with height differences in the garden itself. Creating that actually also gives you both an illusion of size as well as coziness. That is also a good way to get rid of a lot of rubble. I wanted to keep 2 apple trees, a blue conifer and a Rhodondendron bush that where in the garden as well. So I needed to plan the (re) placement of those up front. The latter 2 actually didn’t survive but are still a part of my living garden!

So I started with the construction of the terraces and the borders. All are made from materials that where in the garden and show that you don’t always have to buy “new” stuf to create something different! The sketches will hopefully visualize my process and inspire you on what you can do!


Terrace 1 is made from small 20*20 cm tiles and slopes downwards toward the garden to ensure rainwater runs into the garden not the house or the shed. I needed to get some clean fine sand to lay the tiles in. To ensure that weeds can’t get through and the tiles are stabilized as well the tiles are laid in a mixture of dry sand and cement. This ensures a very hard water and plant tight surface.

Terrace 2 is raised about 20 centimeters by cementing an edge from carefully broken gravel tiles, filling the center with rubble (from smashed up gravel tiles as well as construction rubble, stabilized with very thin cement) and covered with a mosaic made of the carefully broken gravel tiles. This was fun to do but also hard work.

Cross-section Terrace 2:

Raised borders. As you can see in the overview sketch my garden is completely “surrounded” by raised borders. This was done intentionally as I wanted to ensure that all rainwater would be captured in and would drain away through the garden itself. To be honest in the wet Dutch climate this was done a bit to effectively. I miss a drainage system these days, as the central lawn area turns a bit into a swamp in the wet springs and falls of Holland..

Borders A, B and C are created the same way. Using the gravel tiles and filled with good plant soil. The letters correspond to the heights A being the lowest, C the highest.

D is created on the same base but I used bricks instead of the concrete gravel tiles. This as I knew up front that I wanted to create the pond there in a later stage.

 Cross-section borders A, B and C.

Further explanation:

I am aware that concrete and cement are not the most environmental friendly products you can use. I choose them for 2 reasons, I had a lot of left over bags from the construction and I needed to ensure that things where stable and capable to with stand rather a lot of pressure. To give you an example: 8 years later the roots of one the tree’s planted in one is actually pushing the sides outwards. Nature can be an awesome force!

The dug out channels where all connected and the concrete mixture I used there was very thin to ensure that the equalizing factor of the liquid flow was at the maximum. Using a very watery mixture serves another purpose: it minimizes the amount of concrete.

The soil in my garden was very sandy and poor so I used a base of compost (I make my own, from kitchen and garden waste) topped of with a mixture of original soil with garden soil made of coconut waste. The latter also helps with maintaining water in the soil.

Next blog I will go into how I created permanent structures to stimulate a variety of environments to attract all sort of animals.

I would love to hear your ideas and solutions so feel free to leave a comment! Also feel free to share with your network!

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