Build a terracotta pot wall
by Rhiannon James
There’s no need to call a bricklayer or a carpenter if you want to build a wall for a raised bed. Using just terracotta pots and soil, you can make an unusual and very decorative wall yourself, which will also give you another space to grow edibles such as salad crops or herbs, or a changing display of cheerful flowers.
Things you’ll need
1. A selection of terracotta pots that are the same size and preferably frost-proof (we used 15cm pots).
2. A tape measure
3. A spirit level
4. Horticultural grit or fine, washed horticultural sand
5. Loamy soil or John Innes Number 3 compost
6. A selection of plants to fit your pots. Pick small plants or, if you can only find larger specimens, carefully tease them apart to make several smaller plants. We chose a selection of herbs to use in the kitchen, and planted them in layers – thyme in the first row of pots, followed by oregano in the second row and chives in the top.
To start, work out the width and height of the wall you want to build. Once you have these dimensions, you’ll need to decide what size of pot to use. For our wall (135cm wide and 35cm high), we used 15cm pots – if you’re building a more substantial wall, you might want to use larger containers.
Next, work out how many pots you’ll need to complete your wall. Start by dividing the length of the wall by the diameter of the pot you’re going to use. Then, divide the height of the wall by the height of the pot, bearing in mind that the first row of pots will be sunk into the ground to a depth of one third to a half of their height. Multiply these two figures together to get the total number of pots you’ll need.
To create the wall, each row of pots will overlap the row beneath, so the final effect is a bit like one side of an ancient pyramid.
Dig out the soil from the edge of the bed to create a space that follows the rough shape of the wall you’re going to build. Then, dig out a trench for your first row of pots. The trench should be of a depth that only the top halves of the pots will be visible above the ground. This gives a more solid foundation for the layers above. Make sure that the trench is as level as possible along its length.
Add a layer of gravel or sand to the bottom of the trench and make this level. The gravel will help to stop water accumulating underneath the pots in the winter where it could freeze and cause damage to your pots and plants.
Next, add your first row of pots. Place your pots on top of the gravel layer, butted up against the front of the trench. Using a spirit level and a fixed string, make sure they are level and in a straight line. If your pots aren’t level at this point, the problem will increase as you build the wall up.
Carefully fill each pot with compost and then plant up the front half and gently water in. Check your pots again to make sure that they’re still level and then fill around them with compost or soil. At the back of the row, add soil or compost until you’ve got a shelf that’s level with the top of the pots – this will provide the base for the next row. Then add a layer of gravel or sand and make this level. Push compost into the gaps between the pots as well. Depending on the time of year, you could add some seeds here to fill these spaces with plants.
Now add the next layer of pots. Centre each one on top of a junction of two pots in your first layer, leaving their front halves (where you’ve planted) uncovered. Once your second row is in place, check that it is straight and level and if not, adjust accordingly.
Repeat the process until you’ve reached the height required. You’ll then need to create an attractive finish at both ends of your wall as you’ll have a section of pot sticking out on both sides. You can either plant these up or bury them in soil. And then you’re done!