Grit Blogs > Of Mice and Mountain Men

Garden Project 2016 – Part 2

By Allan Douglas


Tags: raised bed garden, landscape timbers, retaining wall, gardening, building a wall, Doug Bittinger, Tennessee,

Of Mice and Mountain MenIn Part 1, I discussed the need for revamping my garden plan. Now let's get started on laying out the perimeter of the new wall.

Being a former furniture maker, I’m fussy. While I could just toss some timbers on the ground and fiddle with them until the parallel sides are about equal, I’d like to get the corners as close to square as I can. Being on a slope (and having a garden in the middle, including trellises and fence boxes), running a tape measure across the diagonals isn’t going to work. But geometry can be fun. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Being a Square

My garden bed is to be 20 feet by 28 feet. That 2-1/2 (eight foot) landscape timbers wide by 3-1/2 landscape timbers long. I lay timbers out on the ground using those proportions and eye-ball them into reasonably straight lines.

Lay-out Front

The storage barn that is next to the vegetable bed is square. I used that to help. I nailed a string to the trim on the far side of the front of the barn and ran it out to the high corner. I started with the string angled out a bit and brought it in slowly, until it just touched the trim on the near side of the barn. I staked the string and used that to line up the first side of timbers, forming a straight line from the front of the barn. I measured out the 28 feet from the barn and marked that — establishing the location of the first corner.

Squaring with 3-4-5 method

With the timbers for the adjacent side laid roughly in place, I used the 3-4-5 method to square that corner. Find the center line of the two timbers that form the corner (edges could be used on square timbers, but these have rounded faces). Mark the point where the two center lines cross (center of corner). Measure out 3 feet in one direction and mark it on the center line. Measure out 4 feet in the other direction and mark it on the center line. Use a tape measure to measure diagonally from the 3 foot mark to the 4 foot mark. Making sure that the timber on the established straight line does not move, move the far end of the other timber in or out until the mark on that timber touches the 5 foot mark on the tape. Fasten that timber in place, and the corner is now square.

3-4-5 works well with eight-foot timbers. For longer pieces and distances, 6-8-10 works, too.

Now fasten the string to the center point of the corner and roll it out to the next corner. Tension the string and swing it until it lines up perfectly with the center line atop the timber you just squared. Stake the string a little beyond the expected corner location, then use it to line up the center lines of the remaining timbers on that side.

Lay-Out Back

Next I laid timbers in along the side of the barn to the low corner (behind the barn). I repeated the 3-4-5 squaring process on this corner. Once the two diagonally opposed corners of a shape are square (and all the sides are straight), the shape is square.

Once all the timbers were in place, I used a can of orange marker paint to paint a line along the outside of the timbers. I’ll turn the timbers around so that the paint on them is inside as I build the walls.

Now it’s time to get digging. But I’ve reached my word limit, so I’ll pick this up again next time.