My WoodblocX Adventure

Where it’s going

I’ve blogged before about having to chop down trees and shrubs that got whacked in the winter storms. Now I’m blogging about filling the holes! I hit 60 a week ago: well, rather, 60 hit me! And I’m after an easy life (my back hasn’t fully recovered from last year’s accidents and it won’t) and didn’t fancy digging through all of this to remove the roots and restore the space as a border.

So enter WoodblocX. I discovered them a while back and now started to think of them as my saviour. A bit of research and there I was, designing my personal raised planter on their website. It’s fun to play around. Work out the broad area you have to play with (and the available budget), choose a rough layout (in my case an L), type in the dimensions and voila, you have a priced-up project. If you’re happy, click the buy buttons and sit back to await delivery.

Present delivered
Present unwrapped

On the appointed day, a very friendly chap turned up with an electric-powered trolley thing (he’d parked the large lorry round the corner) carrying my delivery of WoodblocX on a pallet which was duly deposited as close to my construction point as possible (in my case the side gate).

The next step was to unpack the goodies and check them against the parts list included in the pack. This pack includes full instructions for assembling your planter (or whatever it is you’ve bought) layer by layer.  I’d also bought the optional toolkit pack. More about this below but unless you’ve got everything in it, it’s a worthy add-on. No-one’s perfect and I discovered that there was a bit missing. No problem, though. A quick phone call to a Freephone number and everything was sorted. The missing part arrived by courier the following day, well before I needed it. BUT – based on my experience, I’d suggest that you also check the parts list against the construction plan – I had a mismatch. It’s easy to work out what you need for each layer. Tot up bit by bit and compare your totals with the delivery inventory. I was lucky in that I had too many of one size of blocX and that excess matched the shortage of another size so a quick rethink and there was no problem. But it may be that you won’t be so lucky.

Anyhow, on with the build. (The technique is simple. I’m not going to go through that as there’s plenty of info on the WoodblocX web site.)

Rough layout to play around a bit

I started with a rough layout of the bottom layer. This was useful as it enabled me to mess around with the exact location and the “angle” of the construction. I decided that my original plan of building with the back wall of the planter parallel to the fence behind it didn’t look right from the house or the rest of the garden. A quick tweak and it looked a lot better. However this tweak meant that the route of the walls would be far more uneven than I’d originally intended. The instructions you’re given cover levelling but I was too lazy to dig the ground down to a level site. I mean, avoiding digging was the whole purpose of buying WoodblocX.

First front corner built (not the recommended way)
Leveling the back with old kerbstones

So with some (VERY) careful measuring, I did it my way! Instead of the recommended approach of tackling the build layer by layer, I build a corner up by a few layers. Then I worked from that. Minor undulations in the ground were levelled with tamped-down sand (I don’t have a tamper but a sledge-hammer does a good job); slightly worse ones with gravel. The worst bit was the back wall. Here, my approach was that the ground was as compacted as could be. Adding a few inches (as were needed) to it would create something that would compress in time. So I used a few surplus kerbstones  to prop up around the points where the blocX would meet.

OK, this left me with gaps. A quick trip to the local builders’ merchant and a few bits of cardboard sorted this problem. I came back with some bags of that postcrete stuff you use to fix fence posts. This sets hard in about 10 minutes.

But I jump a bit – because I’d taken pains to measure carefully and had ground markers in place, my build up then around, rather than by layer, approach worked – when I dropped the back wall blocX in place I had a perfect fit. Unless you’re prepared to measure carefully, use the (recommended) layer-by-layer method. There are various points where you’ll use ground spikes to fix the bottom layer of the structure in place and as soon as you fix a layer of blocX on top of that, you can’t shift it later!

Back to my concrete. I simply placed pieces of cardboard vertically against the outside of the back wall and held them in place with whatever I had handy. The outside’s important because I want to support the blocX. I then tipped Postcrete along the inside of the walls and tamped it under them before adding water. In no time, the blocX were resting on a solid lump of concrete. I then tipped a run of the Postcrete along the inside of the walls, coming just above the bottom of the bottom blocX and again added water to create a solid seal.

Filling with topsoil and coir chunks. Layer by layer mixed in.

Now to the filling! I had some hardcore handy and a layer went into the bottom of the new planter. This was covered with the entire contents of a “compost dalek”. Then the planter was filled with a mix of top soil and coir chunks.

When planning a raised anything, don’t forget to factor in the cost of filling it. I’d decided against the cheap option of buying a couple of tonne bags of topsoil because I’d seen before how unreliable this can be. Instead I’d bought a lot of 35 litre bags of top soil. The cost worked out at a tenner per 105 litres. My planter happily swallowed £100 worth! And that was after I’d mixed in layers of coir mulch chunks as I was filling it. The coir is intended to improve drainage but it will also improve the structure of the soil in the planter. (I won’t go on about coir here; something for a post on its own, methinks.)

But I’m already planning another raised bed. Well I am getting on a bit! And building with WoodblocX is fun. Planter 1 took less than a day to build, including all the faffing about to get it level. It was a bit overfull initially but this was to allow the soil to settle – aided admirably by a few days of rain.

The WoodbocX Toolkit

You’ll need a few tools to construct your masterpiece:

  •  A lump hammer or mallet (something with a face a bit bigger than an ordinary hammer)
  • A spirit level
  • A saw or something to cut down the fixing dowels in the top layer
  • A line and some pegs to mark out your territory (a tape measure also helps)
  • A square to check the corners
  • Something to tamper any sand/gravel you use for levelling

The toolkit contains the first four of these (a pipe cutter chops down the dowels far faster than a saw) plus a useful shoulder bag to keep the plugs in.