Best plants for a raised bed: 14 top flowers and shrubs to pick 

Fill your beds with blooms and greenery that thrive in well-drained soil.

Have you ever struggled to pick the right plants for your garden? If your soil is heavy and clay-like, or too acidic or alkaline, that can rule out many of our favourite flowers and shrubs. 

Raised beds are an ideal solution to give gardeners more control over the growing conditions for our plants. Not having to work at ground level is also a little easier on our backs. 

woman loosens fertile soil with culti-hoe before planting seedlings and seeds on raised garden bedCredit: Shutterstock / Model Republique
Raised bed gardens make planting tasks a little easier on our backs

But what are the best plants for a raised bed? You can fill the structure with whatever type of soil and compost you prefer, but raised beds tend to drain very easily.  

Michael Thurlow, a horticultural advisor, told us that raised beds provide almost perfect Mediterranean growing conditions. This means that you can choose low-maintenance plants that are drought-tolerant and are happy in free-draining soil. Depending on where your raised beds are located, you’ll also need to factor in sun exposure to your planting choices. 


1. Rosemary

Have your herbs to hand

Close up of rosemary bush leavesCredit: Unsplash / Tina Xinia
Reach for the rosemary as part of your kitchen garden

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: This evergreen shrub provides colour all year round. Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturalist at RHS, says that it’s handier to sniff and gather for the kitchen when it’s raised a little. If you’re looking for some good planting companions for rosemary that like the same conditions, he suggests agapanthus and nerine. 

Soil type: Well-drained, dry soil 

Try this cultivar: Barter recommends ‘Miss Jessop’s Upright’ as a focal point or spreading ‘Prostratus Group’, which will cascade down the sides of the bed walls, both bearing masses of small blue flowers. 

2. Lavender

Keep the bees happy

Raised beds in an urban garden growing lavenderCredit: Shutterstock / Veja
Lavender plants attract bees and other pollinating insects

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: This Mediterranean plant will flourish in dry, well-drained soil. It’s a hardy plant that will be very happy in full sun. It’ll attract bees and other insects to your raised beds and will add some fragrance to your garden. Growing in a raised bed helps to avoid root rot.

Soil type: Dry, alkaline  

Try this cultivar: Lavandula × intermedia ‘Hidcote Giant’ is bushy, evergreen and will tolerate some acidic conditions. 

3. Allium

Add some ornamental onions

Purple and green Allium sphaerocephalon 'round headed garlic' in flowerCredit: Shutterstock / Alex Manders
Allium sphaerocephalon provide late summer colour

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: This ornamental member of the onion family thrives in sandy or stony soil that’s well-drained. The taller varieties can add height to a raised bed display. These are perennial, and easy to look after, so choose a spot where they can return each spring undisturbed.

Soil type: Well-drained, slightly acidic 

Try this cultivar: Allium sphaerocephalon can provide some late summer colour, as other types tend to flower in spring.

4. Sweet box

Provide winter flowers

Honeybee in February Collecting Nectar from Sarcococca ConfusaCredit: Shutterstock / Chris Verschoyle
Sarcococca will attract honeybees as early as February

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: Known as sweet box or winter box, sarcococca is a delightful evergreen that has strongly scented flowers in winter.

It’s an ideal choice if your raised beds are in a shady spot. As well as creamy flowers, it also produces berries in the summer.

Soil type: Moist but well-drained, neutral


5. Leopard plant

An option for moist soil

Yellow flowers of Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona' with a butterfly and bee visiting themCredit: Shutterstock / mizy
Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ has rich, golden blooms

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: Leopard plant (ligularia) is ideal if your raised bed doesn’t drain freely. It needs a very fertile moisture-retentive soil, says Barter. A raised bed filled with loamy soil enriched with plenty of organic matter will suit it well (one bucket per square metre).

“It may be necessary in dry areas, where this plant can be unrewarding, to line the raised bed with polythene perforated lightly to impede drainage and keep the soil sufficiently moist for it to thrive,” he says. “Slugs can damage ligularia, but plants in raised beds are more easily defended than those in ordinary borders by mulching with non-toxic slug-repelling granules, and the occasional treatment with anti-slug nematodes.” 

Soil type: Loamy, moist, acid/alkaline/neutral 

Try this cultivar: Barter recommends Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’. This herbaceous perennial has bronze leaves and masses of orange daisy flowers in late summer. 

How to look after your raised beds 

Just like anywhere else in the garden, raised beds will benefit from a little bit of ‘tender loving care’ during the spring, says Thurlow. This will set them up for the summer ahead.  

He notes that the soil will be compacted and airless after winter and will need the sun to warm it. However, the sun’s energy is often wasted warming up the cold water in the soil before the soil itself starts to warm (particularly if it’s been rainy and frosty).  

He suggests you follow the local weather forecast, and cover the soil in raised beds with cardboard, newspaper or a plastic sheet for a few days, or at least until you can work outdoors.   

But if the spring weather is unpredictable, don’t rush out and try to complete everything on the first fine day, advises Thurlow.

6. Rose

Find a bloom to match your site

pink shrub rose 'The Fairy' blooming in garden in a raised bed made of a wooden pallet cageCredit: Shutterstock / T. Miettinen
Roses relish a warm, sunny spot

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: There are so many different types of roses, so it’s unlikely you won’t find one to suit the location of your bed. Roses will generally benefit from a sunny spot. Growing in a raised bed should keep the blooms a little warmer than at ground level, offering some protection from frosty pockets of air.  

Soil type: Well-drained, but moist, acid/alkaline/neutral 

Try this cultivar: Rosa ‘Sweet Dream’ is a dwarf shrub with gently fragrant flowers that will bloom over summer and into autumn.

7. Camellia

Brighten up a shady spot

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem' white flowers in full bloom in rainy weather garden.Credit: Shutterstock / nnattalli
Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ flowers in spring, and will tolerate some shade

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: This spring-flowering evergreen relishes an acid soil and raised beds can be filled with acidic soil or a neutral soil acidified with sulphur dust, which makes their cultivation feasible in areas where the soil is alkaline or chalky, says Barter. 

Camellias thrive in moderate shade. They need moist soil in early autumn to form flower buds and raised beds can be dry at that season, so watering may be required in dry late summer and autumn periods. 

Soil type: Moist but well-drained, acid 

Try this cultivar: Barter suggests Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Gem’, which bears bold double white spring flowers.

8. Cornflowers

Fill gaps with a burst of blue

Blue cornflowers on green background.Credit: Shutterstock / romiri
Cornflowers can be sown directly into the raised bed if needed

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: Thurlow recommends cornflower as a useful hardy annual that can be sown directly into the bed in small spots as a gap filler.

Seeds can be scattered in raked, weed-free soil and covered. The blue petals are edible, so can be sprinkled on salads or used to decorate cakes. 

Soil type: Moist but well-drained, neutral

9. Conifer

Go for green

man gardener shopping in garden center, buying Dwarf Conifer plants in potCredit: Shutterstock / Olga Miltsova
Dwarf conifers can pad out a raised bed with thick foliage

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: Dwarf varieties of conifer are ideal options for even the most inexperienced gardener. They are extremely low-maintenance plants and can add rich pockets of bushy volume to raised beds that are looking a little empty.

Soil type: Moist but well-drained, acid/alkaline/neutral 

Try this cultivar: Thuja plicata ‘Tiny Tim’ is very hardy and grows very slowly – just make sure it doesn’t get too dry. It’s easy to maintain with an occasional trim to keep its domed shape. 

10. Primula

Introduce an alpine

Multicolor Country Garden Primula Flowers, top viewCredit: Shutterstock / nnattalli
Primulas (or primroses) come in a variety of colours

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: Alpines generally do well in raised beds as they’re used to free-draining soil. Many can survive in raised rock gardens, and primulas are a lovely, delicate flower that can withstand relatively harsh conditions. Despite their rather dainty appearance, they are easy to grow and look after.  

Soil type: Well-drained, alkaline/neutral  

Try this cultivar: Primula marginata (also called a silver-edged primrose) doesn’t need any pruning and is relatively hardy. It will thrive in full sun, though could do with a little shady protection at midday.

11. African daisy

Plug gaps with multicoloured daisies

An isolated lilac coloured African daisy called Credit: Shutterstock / Amani A
Osteospermum jucundum will appreciate a south-facing sunny spot

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: African daisy, also known as osteospermums, are another useful half-hardy flower that can plug gaps in your raised bed, Thurlow suggests. They prefer full sun in a sheltered spot. Though they thrive in raised beds, they do need watering regularly.  

Soil type: Well drained, acid/alkaline/neutral 

Try this cultivar: If you have a south-facing sunny spot, go for the perennial Osteospermum jucundum. Its petals are a soft light purplish pink shade. They’re easy to maintain, needing a gentle cut back in spring. 

12. Decumbent juniper

Provide fuss-free cover

Green leaves of creeping Juniperus Procumbens Nana on stonesCredit: Shutterstock / Marinodenisenko
Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ is mat-forming, growing outwards

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: The second conifer on our list, decumbent juniper, Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, is an excellent choice for raised beds in a warm, bright spot that need a little mat-forming cover.

Nana has thick, evergreen small prickly leaves that need little to no pruning at all. Ideal for people seeking fuss-free foliage.  

Soil type: Well-drained, acid/alkaline, neutral

Thurlow’s jobs to do before you plant in a raised bed

The soil in raised beds tends to be a lot looser than garden soil. This makes it much easier to pull out plants by hand. You can dispose of them through your local authority’s green recycling scheme.  

This is known as a ‘cap’. Breaking it up releases any oxygen-depleted ‘bad air’ in the soil, letting fresh oxygenated air in. A three-pronged hand cultivator is ideal for this (this one is available from Dobbies for £8). This will create a crumbly soil structure, allowing it to dry out, and it’ll eventually break down even more to create a fine tilth (which means it’s ideal for sowing in).

The bed will also require a fresh application of a general fertiliser, such as pelleted chicken manure, to replenish the nutrients washed out of the soil over winter. If possible, allow at least a week after this before any planting and direct sowing in the soil. You can top up the soil level using John Innes No.3, or add any organic matter or garden compost at this stage if you want to. 

13. Salvia

Include aromatic, nectar-rich flowers

Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' Balkan Clary in a Country Cottage GardenCredit: Shutterstock / Olga_Ionina
Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ can eventually become tolerant to drought

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed:Loved by bees and other pollinating bugs, salvia (ornamental sage) has long-lasting flowers and aromatic leaves. There are herbaceous perennial varieties that are hardier for people looking for reliable plants that are easy to look after. Just keep an eye on them in a harsh frost and take cuttings if you’re worried.

Soil type: Moist but well-drained, acid/alkaline/neutral 

Try this cultivar: Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ has violet flowers and is a perennial. It will prefer a sunny spot but can tolerate a little shade. Once it’s established, it will become tolerant to drought, according to the RHS. 

14. Cosmos

A solution for tricky soils

Pink Dwarf Cosmos bipinnatus with green leaves in a gardenCredit: Shutterstock / Norimoto
The annual dwarf Cosmos bipinnatus tend to be a little hardier than perennial cultivars

Why it’s a good plant for a raised bed: Cosmos can also be used as an annual gap filler in a raised bed. Annuals tend to be hardier than perennial cosmos (which will need protection in winter), and aren’t fussy about the soil type you grow them in. You can even sow their seed directly into the raised bed if it’s later in spring.  

Soil type: Moist but well-drained, acid/alkaline/neutral 

Try this cultivar: The dwarf Cosmos bipinnatus Sonata Series are annual flowers with large pink-crimson petals and a yellow centre. Sow their seeds in spring (under the protection of warming glass if earlier in the season).

Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her


Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures.

Rosanna loves nothing better than getting under the skin of a topic and is led by an unwavering curiosity to share information and stories that inform and inspire her readers – a mission that has taken her around the world. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller,, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

She turned her attention to the Homes sector as a result of an ongoing renovation and improvement project, which takes up a fair amount of her time outside of work. When she’s not comparing carpet samples or debating the pros and cons of induction hobs, you’ll find Rosanna exploring Bristol’s food and drink scene, obsessively watching horror films, or donning some walking boots and heading for the hills.

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