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Paula's Garden

By Julie Anderson

Does just the thought of getting down on your hands and knees to garden make your back hurt?

Many baby boomers grew up helping their moms pull weeds, dreaming of the day they could grow their very own vegetables. In their twenties and thirties they planted enormous gardens, they downsized a bit in their forties and then they turned 50. (Click read more below)

Paula Johnson turned 50 recently. But she didn’t quit gardening. She got smart about it.

“It’s the only kind of garden I will have from here on out,” Johnson said.  “It’s just been so easy. Not just from the weeding and tilling standpoint, but even the planting. You’re standing on your feet, you’re not bending your back. You’re dropping seeds at waist level. It’s just perfect.”

Paula is referring to her raised garden, built by her wonderful husband Brad. We’ll go into more detail about how he built it and why you may want your very own version, but first a bit more of Paula’s story.

She and Brad live a couple miles north of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The couple has been gardening since they got married 23 years ago.

Back then they rented a farm outside of town. The house sat next to an old cow pasture.

She remembered, “My husband and I decided that we were going to plant just a million of everything and we were going to can and we did! And that old cow pasture worked really well because I think we had corn that was ten feet high. I was nine months pregnant, it was a hundred degrees and we canned probably a hundred quarts of tomatoes and boiled corn for days.”

Bigger and better. That was then and, well, that is now. Paula and Brad both have bad backs and they like spending weekends and vacations at the lake. They hated coming home to an overgrown garden, so Paula was ready to give up.

Until she saw a post on Facebook.

“Somebody shared a picture on Facebook of this raised garden,” she said. “It was u-shaped and tiny, but it was fenced in and it had a door and it was just so cute.”

Her husband wasn’t thinking tiny and cute. “When I show something like that to my husband, he is like Tim the Tool man,” Paula explained. “It’s gotta be bigger and it’s gotta be better.”

Brad is a construction worker by trade. He likes to sit on the couch, draw out his designs on grid paper and then figure out how to save money on the materials. Paula says fondly that her husband has a habit of stockpiling wood.

“I also call him Sanford,” she told me with a laugh.

Brad didn’t have what he needed in his stockpile by the garage, but he saved about two thousand dollars by buying huge shipping pallets at a workplace auction. The pallets are made out of two by tens and he got enough for Paula’s garden for just forty bucks.

He got to work in his shop, refusing to let Paula see it until he needed her for sizing. She said when she first saw the raised garden, “It looked nothing like the original picture I sent him. It’s way better!”

Brad measured so he could add just the right height to his three foot base. The ten inches of dirt and rock for drainage are in a separate, plastic-lined bed on top of the base.

The raised garden is shaped like an E. Paula planted peas on the top of the E, the middle part is radishes, the long edge is all yellow squash and green zucchini and the bottom is Brussel sprouts and cucumbers. Paula says everything is growing well and she hasn’t had a single ache or pain in the process.    

“There is zero body stress,” she said. “Because all you have to do is walk around it. Everything is waist high. You just reach and pick.”

When you see the garden, you may wonder why there’s a door. Paula explained that originally they had planned to put fencing around the entire raised garden to keep the deer out. That would have made the door necessary to enter. But so far they haven’t needed the fencing and Paula says, without it, she can water the garden or harvest veggies from the outside as well as the inside of the E.

She says the garden is perfect for those wanting just enough produce to eat, not preserve.

“We’re not canners anymore,” she explained. “We’re go out and pick what you want for dinner tonight. That’s why we decided to go smaller.” Smaller, of course, being a relative term.

Her raised garden is now raising eyebrows of admiration and wonder.  When she shows people pictures of her husband’s creation, they wonder if their spouse can make something similar. She says he’s told her to stop sharing the photos because husbands are getting mad at him.

I told her with a smile this story will not help with that. But I hope it will help baby boomers across the state to start dreaming of their very own raised garden. To see more photos click on

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