The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: Gardening Page 1 of 7

Urban Farming

New Climbers + Recent Cedar Build

You may remember the climbing roses I planted. This Spring, I decided to add  a few more climbers around the house. Some for scent, some for beauty, and some for function. Although these are perennial vines and will take years to grow, I want to show you their baby form today. Hopefully when we check back a few years later, we can see some good progress!

“Scentsation” Honey Suckle

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Planted on the front of the house is a honey suckle called “Scentsation”, a very showy vine with extremely fragrant yellow flowers. It has a longer blooming time compared to other honey suckles, from mid-spring to late summer. I planted it near Slav’s office window, hoping to add a nice touch of scent to the room he spends most of his awake time in.

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Although tiny, this particular honey suckle is expected to grow to 9’~10′ tall and 5’~6′ wide, covering the big trellis behind it. It is deciduous which means losing all the leaves in the Fall. By placing it on the west wall, at maturity, it should shade this corner of the house from strong afternoon sun during summer months, while allowing sunlight in to warm up the house during winter.

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To keep the honey suckle close to the wall I built this cedar planter. To protect the foundation we graded around the house and put down a layer of gravel over 6-mil plastic around the foundation. I scraped away the gravel, set the planter directly on top of the 6-mil plastic, then added more 6-mil plastic to prevent soil and water sipping out of the planter.

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After filling the planter with soil I planted the honey suckle and transplanted some sedum here.

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As a rule of thumb, container plants or plants situated in raised beds need to be more winter hardy than the zone it is planted in. This honey suckle is rated as zone 4-9, which means it should winter over just fine in our zone 5B/6A.

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We secured a big trellis onto the house for the honey suckle to climb on. If it likes the spot, it should climb to the top of the trellis in a few years! An additional advantage of this plant is the bright red berries in the Fall, which are favored by birds and other wild life.

Climbing hydrangea

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Although popular in Europe, climbing hydrangea is not well-known in US. It is also a deciduous vine, famous for its ability of growing in full shade. These plants are true climbers, using the holdfasts (suckers) on their branches to scale walls and other structures. In Europe, you will find this plant covering north-facing walls of old stone buildings up to several stories tall with their large, “lace-cap” flower flowers in early summer. In theory, a climbing hydrangea can reach 50 feet tall at maturity. In our cold climate, it often tops at 20 feet.

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I planted this flower on the northeast corner of the house, right next to the AC unit and outside of the master bedroom window. I want to it to be a screen plant, not only adding privacy to our bedroom, but also beautifying the north side of the house where small windows are swallowed by a sea of brick. As you can see, this spot gets 3~4 hours of morning sun, then shade for the afternoon. Although not an ideal location for most of the flowering plants, climbing hydrangea will be one of the few climbers to perform in such situation.

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Shortly after planting it I added some support from two sides – one being a metal trellis, which we got from Lowe’s as a 3-pack and used all around the garden. The other one being a short cedar fence between the bedroom window and the AC unit.

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I built this cedar fence all by myself! To be honest, among all the big and small projects I did this Spring with the cedar boards (the patio planter, the honey suckle planter, and the outdoor kitchen), this build is my favorite. From setting post, planning board layout, to attaching boards, it covered all the steps for a fence build, yet remained manageable for me to complete over one afternoon.

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I started by setting a leftover post, which is just tall enough for shadowing the AC unit! Love it when I am able to use up leftover materials without any waste.

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To keep the post straight I used a pole level and several clamps. They were so helpful when working solo! I made sure that the post aligned with the side of the window and stood straight before backfilling.

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After securing the post, I marked the length of the boards and cut them all at once.

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Attaching all the boards went pretty quick. A scrape 2″ x 4″ was set next to the house for the other end of the boards to attach on.

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This is the final product. Besides supporting the climbing hydrangea, this fence also hides one of the eyesore from the bedroom window – the AC unit.

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The view from the bedroom window without the fence:

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With the fence:

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Climbing hydrangea is known to be slow during the first few years, but after it puts down a good root, it should take off and cover all the unsightly pipe and outlets on the north side of the house in a few years.

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Passion Flower

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Passion flower is another rarely seen flowering vine in Colorado. Being tropical looking passion flower seems to be too delicate for our winter. But it is actually a zone 5 plant! I put mine on the east side of the house, protected from harsh wind and bitter cold.

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After planting I added some string and a leftover wire panel to help it to climb.

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Since planted, it has grown a few inches! This is what it looked like a few weeks ago:

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And this is today!

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Cucumber and Pole Beans in the Veggie Garden

I also planted some climbing veggies! I’ve been growing cucumber for years, and always let them spread freely on the ground. This year, I tried to grow them vertically. I set a trellis on the end of a veggie bed:

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And planted two seedlings at the base of this trellis. The have been flowering for a weeks now and I hope to see cucumbers really soon!

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I also grew two climbing beans: Red noodle, and Limka.

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It is fun to set up the support for my bean babies. Slav lined some T-posts along both sides of a path and I tied some trellis netting to these posts for beans to climb on:

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I also tied the top ends of the netting together over the path, allowing the beans to create a tunnel.

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Look at the beans go! It has been a month since they came up and they are growing an inch per day with the recent heat.

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This is the first year I set up a bean tunnel. In addition to support the beans, I also want it to shade the veggie bed behind. The garlic here will be harvested soon, and I want to plant greens and radishes here hoping the tunnel can provide enough relief from the hot afternoon sun.

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Climbing roses

At last, I want to show you how our climbing roses are doing! I planted four “awakening” climbing roses along the back fence in 2018. They are all doing very well.

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I started training these roses this Spring. After a good trim, I guided the longest branches of each rose towards the back fence using plastic stakes:

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It might look dramatic but are actually good for the growth of these roses. Bending the branches horizontally eliminates apical dominance and should encourage side shoots and more flowering along the branches.

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I also did the same training to the “iceberg” climbing rose planted in the front yard:

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This rose was planted only last Fall, but has already flowered for us. I got all my climbing roses from High country roses and they all came with their own root and are very healthy. I know it won’t be long before this climbing rose to put on a splendid show on the front fence.

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Training climbing roses is a scary thing – you should see how much I trimmed off these poor roses…But in the end it is for their own good. I am looking forward to the growth of all the climbers. Given time, they shall become the stars of my garden and for decades to come. Let us check back next season together!

Home Stay + Spring Garden, 2020!

Hi friends and family! I hope you had a fun Memorial day weekend. For Northern gardeners like me, a successful Memorial day weekend means getting your vegetable garden planted! Being housebound for 10 weeks, I put more hours into the garden that I could ever hope for. This is the Spring I not only stayed on top of basic tasks like planting, watering and weeding, but also made changes to the garden that will improve our landscape in a long run. I cannot think of a better time to show you the garden than today. Are you ready?

The Video Tours

First, here are the garden walk-through videos! You can click the “play” button in the middle of the video, or for better quality, head over to Youtube.

The front yard tour:

The backyard tour part one, which covers the veggie garden and herb garden:

Backyard tour part two: the berry patch and new patio garden.

If you have trouble viewing the video, do not worry! Below are the pictures I took over the last two weeks of different blooms!

I. The Front Yard Perennial Bed

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Here is our front yard flower bed today!  Most of the plants went in during Fall 2018, when they were just babies.

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Boy did they grow up:

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Planted along the dry creek are irises. They have been blooming since early May:

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Last Fall I dotted some Hens and Chicks along the dry creek. Apparently they all rooted in and came back this Spring:

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The white flowers behind the Hens and Chicks are called “Snow-in-summer”. It is a rather tall groundcover that blooms from early Summer through frost. They are such a fast grower/spreader – this patch was started with two 2-inch cans!

At the end of the dry creek, I cut out this small flower bed last Fall, and planted two peonies and a climbing rose. A trio of grass aligns the fence to add some softness.

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Around the corner of the house is a new honeysuckle, underplanted with stonecrop:

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Imagine the honeysuckle climbing 8 feet tall and filling the space between the window and the gutter, with the sedum covering and trailing off the entire planter…

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The rest of the flower bed is filled with flowering perennials:

Salvias, pink:

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Penstemons, Husky red

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Salvias, Purple

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Penstemons, Pineleaf Beardtougue

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Mugo pine and stonecrop “Angelina”

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English lavender, FlowerKisser “After Midnight”:

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Also planted here are Colorado State flowers and grasses. The Columbines have been putting on lots of foliage growth. They are expected to flower from mid-summer through Fall. The Blue Grama grasses are also getting bigger each day.

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I love this Pawnee Buttes Sand cherry! It grew much bigger this Spring compared to 2019, and we are not even getting to the Summer days yet! This particular Sand cherry variety is a western native and supposed to be a low-mount ground cover, but I’ve seen mature plants about 4 feet tall.

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The Silver brocade sage adds a nice ice-blue color to the flower bed:

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Near the retaining wall are planted groundcovers that flowers in different time of the season. They look like low mounts now but will eventually meet each other to create a nice flowering carpet:

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I tacked some baby Hens and Chicks last Fall into the small gaps between the retaining wall and the sidewalk. I did not hold too much hope then, but look at them now!

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How could you not love a plant that is beautiful, always looking like it is flowering, impossible to kill, but not invasive?

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II. The Mailbox Garden

On the other side of the driveway is our mailbox garden:

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This spot is one of the toughest on our property – west facing, beating afternoon sun, water runoff, compact soil, and being pilled onto salt and snow for months during winter. It is my test ground for plants – if a plant can survive here, it will thrive anywhere in my garden without water! And so far everything I threw here passed their entry exam:

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The Red Hot Poker (Torch Lily), Hot and Cold:

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Salvias, Blue

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Lilies:

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More Stonecrop:

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Creeping Thyme:

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One of the best upgrade we made this Spring, is to automate all the front yard irrigation, not only for the flower beds but also for the trees and the lawn. It saved us so much time and stress, and the plants are much happier too for getting consistent water:

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III. The Backyard Vegetable Garden

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This is the third season of this vegetable garden. Starting with just a couple beds, we now have five 4′ x 16′ in-ground beds, two of which are planted with perennial vegetables. I am a believer of perennial edibles – “planting once, harvest forever” sounds great!

The strawberries bed has been producing for two years:

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A chive border was planted in front of the strawberries last Fall by splitting one – yes, just one – chive plant! Gotta love a plant that is beautiful, edible, tough as nails, and attracts pollinators!

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Last year I asked Slav to “pick a vegetable you want me to grow”. And he picked asparagus! The plant ended up loving our soil and intense sun.

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This Spring, I added 25 more crowns around it and dedicated this entire bed to asparagus. All the crowns sprouted nicely. We should be able to start harvesting asparagus next Spring, and many decades ahead!

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I am a big fan of garlic scapes. Growing up, garlic scapes and strawberries were only available for a couple weeks each year, usually around my birthday. Each year I look forward to them as birthday treats. Starting 2018, I plant a whole bed of hardneck garlic every Spring for the scapes.

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The remaining two beds are planted with annual vegetables we love – tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumber, cabbages, radishes, beets, arugula, and salad greens.

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After filming the video tour, I put up some trellises for the climbing beans: This year we are growing Limka and red noodle.

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IV. The New Ginkgo Tree and Helleborus Garden

One of the new addition to my garden this year is a Ginkgo tree. I planted it next to the veggie garden. It is a slow-growing tree, especially during the first a few years, so it would not cast shade on the veggie garden any time soon. But eventually, I would love to have the whole yard covered by canopies of big trees for a forest-type micro-climate.

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Before that happens, this little flower bed under the crabapple tree is my only “shade” garden. I dedicated this whole space to my favorite plants: helleborus.

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Helleborus, or hellebore, is also called Christmas rose or Lenten rose. It flowers in January through April, and offers the most delicate looking flowers that often used for water art.

I planted this garden last year with white, dark purple, and black flowering helleborus, basically what you see in the picture above. They have not flowered this year, but all of them came back from the winter looking much stronger. Without the flowers they still got nice and glossy foliage to look at:

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V. The Pollinator/Herb Garden

Besides the veggie garden occupying the south side of the backyard, and fruit trees and climbing roses aligning the east fence, we also densely planted the north side of the backyard. This part of the yard receives full sun and is on a slope. To prevent water run-off, we covered the entire area with wood chip mulch and turned it into an edible garden.

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The flower bed in the front is our pollinator garden. Planted here are all sun-loving perennial herbs and flowers. There are sage, English lavender, mint, tarragon, catmint, lemon balm, oregano, hyssop, walking onion, Black Eye Susan, lavender cotton, sulfur flower buckwheat, and some ground cover.

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To add more shade trees, I planted a maple tree here in 2019. It will eventually become 40 feet tall and its canopy will meet the canopy of the crabapple tree.

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VI. The Berry Patch!

A big part of our edible garden, besides the vegetable beds, is a berry patch we planted last year. 20 berry plants, including 15 raspberries and 5 black berries, and two hazelnut trees went into this big mulched area:

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The three rows of raspberry are different varieties. You can see the difference between their sprouting time and growing habit. The row on the very left came up first and spreads the most, and the right row has a more of a tight form.

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VII. The New Patio Garden + Planters

Last is the newest addition to our backyard – the patio garden!

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What I call the “patio garden” includes the patio planters (planted with stawberries), the strip of mulched area in front of the planters and the berry patch (which is mulched with dried grass clippings for now), and the area between the herb garden and the shed.

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Due to the pandemic, we did not manage to get perennial plants to fill the new patio garden. To fill the space, I seeded some annual flower and vine crops. The entire patio garden, from the patio to the shed, is full-sun and get overspray from our grass sprinklers. It will be fun to plan this garden this Fall!

The space closest to the house now have a couple annual herbs, with cosmos seeded in between:

Lemon verbena

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Rosemary

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Cosmos

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The pink flags are there so Roxie does not get into the flower bed – this girl likes to nap on fresh mulch, which I totally understand. But the new flower seedlings would like to disagree.

I did manage to put in two perennials here, one being a Chinese Snowball Viburnum. It will eventually grow to be a multi-stem tree, 8 feet tall with a 6 feet spread. It will provide some afternoon shade for the snowboard bench and the flower bed below.

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The other perennial is a lingonberry, and it flowered right after being planted!

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Where the patio garden curves along the berry patch were recently seeded with lettuce and beets. It is treated like an extension of our veggie garden this year, but will be plant with pretty perennials this Fall! I have some leftover cantaloupe seeds that are fairly old, so they all got thrown there too. Maybe one of them will come up!

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Near the newly built shed patio I planted a vine crop patch! All the seedlings of  zucchini, squash, cucumber went in here.

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The goal is to let them becoming a green mulch for the area, so less weeds can come up:

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I did manage to get one perennial in this area, and it is an apple tree!

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We already planted a honey crisp apple tree a couple years ago, but transparent apple is Slav’s favorite. Although popular in Poland, we could not find this apple sold in stores around us. So let us grow it!

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VIII. The Shed Patio and A New Pollinator House

Remember the shed patio I created a few weeks ago? It is still bare and covered by black plastic…given the current situation of the pandemic, this patio might have to wait until next Spring.

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We did spice it up a bit by setting two faux evergreen trees in front of the shed. One of (many of) Slav’s snowboards serves as a temporary seating.

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Oh, the leave-cutting bee house we DIYed last year reached full occupancy! Totally did not expect it and very encouraged by it. We put up a bigger native pollinator house for native bees and butterflies this Spring, and hope it ill be appreciated.

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So, here you have it, our 2020 Spring gardens! We put lots of hard work into landscaping over the last two years, and I think the garden really shows it. Although many of our trees and perennials are still young and need time to fill in, I’d say that we’ve landscaped 90% of the property already! I especially appreciate the hardscape we put in, such as patios, fence, dry creek, the retaining wall, and the most recent drip irrigation and automation system, which will all serve us well for years to come. I cannot wait for our garden to mature and to support the native ecosystem – the pollinators, birds, and even animals. Grow little garden, grow!

Home Stay + Patio Planter Build

My personal life has always been driven by getting rid of stuff. I was Marie Kondo loooong before I even knew her existence. This Spring the urge of purging came stronger than ever, probably because I am stuck home with a husband and two messy dogs. But I am also cheap, led by my Chinese heritage. So I refuse to throw away anything that I can juice value out of. Balancing between saving things that can be used to create and getting stuff out of the house is the delicate dance I perform.

All this is to say that please imagine the extraordinary joy and relief I had when I turned leftover lumber from our horizontal fence build into a set of planter/seating combo for our patio. We used exclusively 1″x 6″ planks for our fence. But we did purchase fifty pieces of 1″ x 4″ planks for creating a decorative pattern, an idea was nixed quickly. Since returning these planks cost a restocking fee, my Chinese side decided to keep all the lumber in the garden shed for “future use”. Then my Kondo side blamed myself for the next 16 months every time I walked into the shed and saw this giant pile of wood.

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But not anymore. They are now my new planter/seating for our patio and for strawberries we will immensely enjoy over the summer months. Allow me to brag to you how I executed this perfect plan intersecting home organization, building projects, and garden planning. And feel free to admire along the way.

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A light bulb went off (on, actually…English is weird) moment

I’ve been wanting a planter/trellis combo on the north end of our patio. Our northern neighbor’s house sits lower than ours. Even though there is a 6′ fence between our properties, our patio is completely exposed to their eyes.

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We did plant some privacy trees along the fence but it will take years for them to grow into a sizable hedge. We need something to stop neighbor’s curious eyes now and for all four seasons. After some research, I decided on this design of planter box with tall climbing trellis.

Planter Boxes with Climbing Trellis

It offers not only privacy, but also function for growing herbs and flowers near the kitchen. I also like how the simple look of this planter box echoes our horizontal fence. Lastly, it is easy to build with the 1″ x 4″ cedar planks I intended to use up.

The cedar I had on hand could build more than one planter. For the second one, I landed on a bench planter design. This planter will be facing our backyard, where we do not need tall trellis for privacy. Rather, we need more seating that can be utilized from both side. Compared to having individual chairs on the patio, integrated seating reduces visual clutter while offering seating for multiple guests when needed.

One big advance of DIY is personalization. Slav has some snowboards than he could ride. But just like me, he has a hard time to throw them away. I planned to use one of them to create an unique seating bench – a good way to incorporate things that reflect our interests and taste into this build.

Cut list: the Basic Design and Dimension of the Planter

The first step was to decide the dimension of the planter. The picture below shows the northeast corner of the patio, where the two planters will be placed. The trellis planter will be set on the short edge, to the right in the picture, whereas the long side of the patio will be boxed in with the bench planter. Our patio is 6″~8″ above the soil at this corner, so I decided the planters should be 32″ tall, with 24″ above the patio when placed next to it.

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I also decided on this dimension because the 2″x 4″s we would use for vertical support for the planters are 96″ long. So there will be no waste when I cut them to three 32″ pieces. In addition, the 32″ height happens to accommodate nine of the 1″ x 4″ boards when arranged horizontally with minimal gaps in between. It is a fairly polished look I like.

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To minimize the scraps with 6′ long planks, I decided to make the width 2′ (24″) for both planters. In this way each dog ear plank will produce three side pieces without any waste.

Planter 1: Design the carcasses

With the plans in place I got to work. First I transported all 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6″ boards and some 2″ x 4″s left from the gate build to our newly organized garage. It was so nice to have plenty of room and all the right tools in place.

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I started with the planter bench and built the side panels first (32″ tall and 24″ wide).

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Next was to decided where the planter ends and where the bench starts. I like the look of square planters, so I kept the length of the planters equal with the width (24″).

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I used a couple of the full length 1″ x 4″ planks to link the two side panels together. They also kept everything straight and square. Then, I built the third side panel (furthest to the right) as the side of the snowboard bench. It does not only offer support for the snowboard, but also creates a side table on each end of the seating.

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The picture below offers a better view of the third/inner side panel. The snowboard/seating surface will be inserted into it and on both sides.

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The next step is to add planks onto the carcasses. I decided to cover the back of the planter+ table area completely, but leave the under the table area open to the patio side for additional storage.

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Above is a top view of the 2′ x 2′ planter box on one end. The pictures below show how the snowboard seating would be positioned into the inner side panel.

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Planter 1: Complete the Other End

It took a while to build the first end of the planter. But once I figured out exactly the style I wanted and the dimension, the other end was fast to build.

First the far end panel:

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Then the middle panel with half of the table top incorporated. To save the 1″ x 4″ I used only the dog ear portion and one piece of leftover 1″ x 6″ at the bottom. This panel will be mostly hidden anyway.

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Last was the inner side panel. I left out one horizontal board to accommodate the snowboard.

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After all three side panel were built, I connected them with horizontal planks:

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it is worth while to line up the screws. For any horizontal build, this step really elevates the look:

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Now we could get a good idea on what the final planter bench looks like.

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I made sure that the height of the snowboard works as seating for our patio. The table top part was not in the initial design – it was created to accommodate the curvy ends of the snowboard. But I like it now. It offers a nice separation between the soil and seating, and serves as a great spot to set drinks.

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The Second Planter Build

was a lot more straightforward as it is just a big box. We will get a already-made trellis once the stay-at-home order is over.

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The height and width of this planter remains the same, 32″ and 24″, respectively. After building the sides we have only 18 1″ x 4″ planks left, and I decided to use all of them and make the most of them too. Since taking the dog ear portion off the 6″ planks results in 70″ of straight planks, these planters are set to be 70″ long.

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Being this long it needs additional vertical support. I added another two pieces of 2″ x 4″s to link the planks from the middle. I also linked the two middle vertical supports with scraped 2″ x 4″s at the bottom, so the pressure of the soil is less likely to cause blowout in the middle of the planter.

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Out of 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6′ material I was only short for two 24″ horizontal boards – soooo impressed! I did have shorter scraps so two were jointed together on each end to create the top boards.

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With the supporting blocks they looked pretty good from the outside. I was pleased.

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Placing the Planters on the Patio

It took me two days to design/build these planters. Before sunset on Sunday, the planters were set onto the patio. They looked sharp! And I think they balanced out the visual weight of our fire pit + seating on the other side of the patio just right. I left the long boards at the bottom – they will come in handy to ensure everything is at the right level when we set the planters in place. Of course after all the snow melts. 🙂

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I am extremely pleased to have these new planters on our patio. The current plan is to move our strawberry plants, which are currently in ground, into these planters. We got beautiful and delicious strawberries from them last summer but had to fight bunnies for the fruit. But not this summer!

More importantly (to me), now the shed is empty again! Crowded by these boards our poor garden shed has become so dusty and disorganized. I can see my next project in the horizon…

How are you doing in quarantine? Are you managing to work on some fun projects? Or just enjoying life? Be good and be well, everyone!

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