The Impatient Gardener: June 2014

26 June 2014


Consider this photo your annual reminder to never, ever plant mint directly in the ground. It will take over your garden, your yard, your life.

Grow mint, but grow it carefully. (The Impatient Gardener)

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't plant mint. It is an absolutely lovely herb that is useful for so many things. Just plant it smartly.

This was a small spearmint plant in a 3.5 pot just three weeks ago. I planted it in a 14-inch pot that is relatively shallow (mint doesn't have particularly deep roots) and you can see that it has almost filled the pot already. Mint sends out little runners that root and create new plants, which in turn creates one giant plant.

If you want to plant mind in your garden, plant it in a pot first, then sink that pot into the ground, but be careful to keep it raised at least a couple inches so that the runners that shoot out can't touch the ground in the garden and root themselves there.

That tiny 3.5 inch plant will provide all the spearmint we could possibly need this summer, and then some. I wouldn't be without it.


25 June 2014


Creepy crawlies are as much as part of gardening as soil and sun. Gardeners tend to have different views on such things, some taking as much interest in the bugs as the flowers and heralding the sight of a helpful critter as much as prize-winning tomato. Others abhor the little buggers.

I remember reading a gardening forum post once in which the poster was petrified of worms. The poor woman was lambasted in the follow-up comments and I felt horrible for her. I happen to be quite proud of my worms, but I can understand how someone might not be fond of them. So I try to take an open-minded view of gardeners' reactions to the creatures that share our yards.

As I mentioned, I love my worms. I actually count them when I dig a hole. When I removed all the sod for the new garden area it took me longer because I picked out all the worms out of the sod and put them back in the garden. I also love seeing bees, butterflies, moths and birds in my garden. And I always talk to the toads when they show up.

But really, that's about where it ends for me. I find everything else to be pretty disgusting. Snakes are a complete deal-breaker for me. To my knowledge, we have no poisonous snakes in Wisconsin, but it really doesn't matter. The garter snakes that tend to show up in gardens might as well be rattlesnakes or boa constrictors as far as I'm concerned. My reaction to them is no different than if they were planning to turn me into dinner: I scream (like horror movie kind of scream) and run faster than I ever have before. And then about three weeks later I realize I will have to go back into the garden at some point. I dislike snakes so much that if someone posts a picture of one on Facebook, I immediately hide the post.

But I don't most bugs either. That presents a problem because in most cases, the best way to deal with bugs in the garden is to physically remove them from a plant. And that involves a lot of bug touching, usually followed by bug homicide.

I'm OK with the latter. Maybe it makes me an awful person, but killing a bug that is not beneficial to my garden is not a problem for me. I'm not sure at what size I draw the line on critter homicide, but I think it's safe to say I couldn't kill anything with fur or anything bigger than, say, the end of my thumb. I offer as proof the fact that the other day there was a baby bunny in front of my car as I turned down the driveway. I suspect this bunny (or his brothers, sisters, mother, father or cousins) is responsible for mowing down my Sweet Summer Love clematis and a few other things, and for one brief second, as that little brown puffball looked me in the eyes, I realized I could prevent a lot of future garden damage with one tap of the gas pedal. But of course I couldn't bring myself to do that. Just as I cannot bring myself to do anything but set up a relocation program for the red squirrels eating our garage (literally).

All of this brings me to my point: Sometimes, as a gardener, you have to kill a bug or two, even if you really don't want to.

The climbing rose 'CanCan' that I have on the front of the house has performed so well for me, but the past two years it has had horrible aphid infestations. My goal for this year has bend to keep it healthy enough to ward off the little buggers (I have a theory that healthier plants will not attract bugs the way stressed plants will). I've been patting myself on the back that despite a lot of lush new growth, so far CanCan has not gotten any aphids. But then I noticed some leaves were looking a bit lacelike. Something was eating them.
My climbing rose looks pretty good from a distance, but get a little closer and you'll see the damage.
Damage caused by sawfly larvae.

When I turned over the leaves I found a tiny green caterpillar looking bug. It didn't take long for the Internet to show me that it was sawfly larvae. The solution: get rid of them as quickly as possible.

Sawfly larva on the backside of a rose leaf.

I don't know if I have a "soft" nozzle on my hose, but blasting bugs off with water has never worked for me. Then I tried insecticidal soap, but the next day the larvae were still there and growing. There was only one icky way to get rid of them: Squish 'em.

So I put on my gloves (this is the main reason I wear gloves when I garden, by the way, in case I come in contact with a creepy crawly), sucked it up, and started scraping the little buggers off those leaves. They are so small and soft that that action alone ended their time in my garden.

It was gross and hated it, but a gardener's got to do what a gardener's got to do. Unless it involves snakes. Then all bets are off.

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24 June 2014


There are so many things happening in the garden at this time of year. Sometimes I feel like I mention something and then completely forget to give you an update on it. So today I'm tying up a few loose ends.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned my new strategy for getting the garden in shape: Take one garden area at a time and finish it completely before moving on to the next. It should come as no surprise that I grossly underestimated how long this would take, but I'm happy with the progress I've made.

Chive hedge: The Impatient Gardener

I spent most of one day working on the circle garden which is now looking pretty good. The chive hedge I planted last year has just started blooming and I absolutely love it. So much, that I've decided to continue it around the entire perimeter of that segment of the circle garden. I need a few more chives to surround it (I'm hoping to take a few off my mom's hands or else it will have to wait until I can divide what is there), and eventually I would like hedge the other two segments of that garden.

There are a lot of bare spots in this garden (actually, all of my gardens, which is something I'm discovering as I free them from weeds), so filled them in with 75 kale seedlings. I planted Redbor kale seedlings in one segment and Lacinato in the other two. If they grow well, and I hope they do, I think it will be a really interesting look to the garden. Maybe by the end of summer I'll be able to call the circle garden (which is very much an oval) the kale garden.

Vetch weeds: The Impatient Gardener
See the vetch trying to eat that hosta? Edited: Upon further review, I don't think this actually is vetch. If you know what it is, let me know! I also see a maple seedling there and some jewelweed off to the right. So much weeding, so little time.
We've had a very wet and cool spring and the amount of weeds is astonishingly. Some kind of vetch (see note in caption) seems to have taken over the garden and I'm literally pulling it out by the handful.


Potato towers: The Impatient Gardener

The potato towers are finally starting to show some signs of life. As you can see, there are plenty of shoots popping out and up. I've been "hilling up" the compost on the top of towers as the shoots grow. Other than that, I've done very little with the towers since I planted them. I have occasionally taken the hose and made an attempt to water the entire thing, but that's about it. I'm starting to lose hope that the entire tower will be covered in green leaves, but there is a long summer of growing to go yet so we'll see.


Although I still need to transfer in the unfinished compost from the previous location, I've started layering future compost. On top is nepeta trimmings and under it is shredded paper I picked up from work. Above, you can see the new location of the compost bin. I didn't meant to tuck it in so close to that tree, but I had already dug the trench for it and I didn't feel like redigging it, so that's where it's standing. I'll just trim the tree around it.

I successfully moved the compost bin and ended up going with the sunnier location by the vegetable gardens. I actually tucked it a little more under the tree than I intended to, but once I dug out the trench to level it, I wasn't going to dig it again, so that's where it ended up. There was some lovely finished compost lurking at the bottom of the bin that I've been happily using. I'm throwing all the unfinished bits back in and starting to make some new layers as well. Because its the time of year for lots of greens (plant trimmings and kitchen waste; I never put in weeds), I got a supply of newsprint trimmings from work to serve as "browns" in the pile until some fallen leaves are available in autumn.


A few brave tomatoes have made an appearance but I don't see them ripening any time soon.

It has not been very summerlike here so the tomatoes have done very little growing, but so far my new method of staking is working out pretty well. One of the jute strings broke off at ground level. I'm hoping this does not happen to the rest. I had some excess at the top so I lowered that and tucked the bottom back into the soil as firmly as I could.

The "before" shot of the garage taken last fall. Check out that mossy roof!

Hallelujah, I found someone to paint the garage and with luck it will be finished by the end of the week. With all the work there is to do in the garden as well as a very busy sailing schedule (pretty much every weekend from now through August), I knew I wouldn't have time to do all that scraping and painting and I didn't want to look at an unfinished garage all summer.

I ended up choosing Ozark Shadows for the siding color (the top right in these photos), which was a favorite of many people. The trim will be Simply White, which is the same color as on the deck.


Rain barrel : The Impatient Gardener

The rain barrel we put on the corner of the garage is already proving its value, even if I think it's pretty ugly. The garden by the garage is right on the edge of reach of both hoses, so it has been very nice to be able to water that area from it. There's not enough pressure in the hose to actually spray water, but it works great to just set by the base of new plants and give them a good soaking.

It's finished. Well as finished as any first-year garden ever is. I keep waiting for a nice day to take some photos, and that never seems to happen. I'll show you soon and hope that the deer don't eat it in the meantime (they've already munched my Sweet Summer Love clematis to the ground).

That's what's been happening here. What's up in your garden?

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19 June 2014


I've finally finished planting all of my containers for this year. The weather since they've been in has not been great so they are not filling in as quickly as one would hope, but they'll get there, I'm sure.

I thought it would fun to see how they change throughout the summer, so I'll try to check in with them once they start changing a bit.

The first container is the new white oak planter

by the front door. I filled it with a cardoon, white superbells with light yellow centers, Bordeaux petunias, dicondra 'Silver Falls', 'Elijah' blue fescue, and a black sweet potato vine.

On the other side of the front door, I always put my blue containers on the steps. This year I filled them each with plants from Proven Winners 2015 trials. These should be available in nurseries and garden centers next year. Honestly, this isn't the most creative pairing in the world, but I was running short on creativity. Each container has Supertunia 'Black Cherry' and Superbells 'Frostfire' in it. Black Cherry is a very dark red flower (the color is divine and really unlike what you can often find in annuals) and is supposed to be more upright (and therefore more of a filler than a spiller) than many Supertunias. Frostfire is a white flower with a mustard-yellow center with dark red veins.

I've already told you about the window box. So far the only thing that seems to be growing is the nasturtiums.

Near the back door are two more utilitarian containers. In the past we've planted a patio tomato in a container for Hudson (he loved tomatoes). He's gone and our other dog has no use for tomatoes, but I was always a little jealous that Hudson got tomatoes weeks before we did, so I'm growing one in a container again. Next to that is a bit of spearmint, already taking over the container. Let this be your annual reminder to never, ever plant mint directly into the ground.

On the deck, I did planting similar to what I've done in the past, although this year I used pink mandevilla vines instead of red. There is also some creeping Jenny, profusion zinnias, Superbena 'Royale Chambray' and another Proven Winners trial plant Superbena 'Royale Cherryburst'. I've been so impressed with the entire line of 'Royale' Superbenas so I hope this latest one is as lovely.

I snapped this photo quickly in the middle of an epic rainstorm.

In the urn in the middle of the garden off the patio, I was really stymied this year as to what to plant. By the time I got to that container I was sort of sick of buying annuals so I wanted to work with what I had. The thriller in that container is actually a dahlia I grew from a tuber called Urchin. I'm not sure how it will work out in a container, but we'll find out. I also put in some more Superbena 'Dark Blue' and 'Silvervista' Supertunias as well as a little 'Diamond Frost'. I have no expectations for how this container will turn out this year. Last year I planted a 'Diana' clematis in front of it that is already starting to mingle with the container plants just as I had hoped it would.

By the garage, I planted a boxwood with some white annuals around it.

And this year, there is one more "container." When we had some more trees cut down in spring, one of them had a double trunk that was completely hollow in the center. The tree cutter just left the chunks there, but I thought this piece might make an interesting planter in the garden. If I can keep the deer from eating it, it might be a pretty burst of color out there.

That's all the containers at the house. At work I bought a new planter that was taller for by the door. I think it makes much more sense proportionally than the old planter, which I moved by a pillar and hope to have the hyacinth bean growing up. In that planter I also put some 'Diamond Frost' and an annual called Kiss Me over the Garden Gate. I picked up all four plants for less than $7 and really, that's what lead that that rather odd combination.

In the new planter by the door I used a caladium, an interesting little fern I found at a nursery, more of my vining nasturtiums, some angel wing begonias and a non-stop begonia in white. This is a very challenging location to plant as it gets hot sun until about 11 a.m. and then is completely shaded the rest of the day. The caladiums have already died, so I'm looking for a replacement for them. In the meantime, the nasturtiums have gone nuts and the whole thing looks rather ridiculous.

A note about these planters. I used MiracleGro potting mix in them. I usually never buy it, but I had to use what was available at the hardware store where the company has an account. I will never use it again. In addition to being almost entirely peat (which is hard to soak and once it is soaked, it stays soggy for a long time), it must have been very old because it is so dry I don't think I've still properly rehydrated it.

Anyway, that's the container roundup for the season. I can't say anything is particularly inventive this year, but sometimes it's hard to find the inspiration (not to mention the plants) to do something wildly different. I'll check in with them soon to see how they are growing.

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18 June 2014


Today's post was supposed to be about the containers I planted this year, but somewhere along the line, the photos didn't stay in it. So you can check that out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I offer a weather update, which can be summed up in one word: rain.

It rained Monday night and then again all last night. Then it rained some more this morning. And we're not talking sprinkles here; we're talking build-an-ark kind of rain.

When I left the house this morning the creek had long since jumped its banks and I trying to find protected areas to put trays of seedlings that are still working on growing.

Halfway through the morning, I received some photos from a neighbor that show many of our neighbors' yards looking more like lakes and our road in real danger of washing out completely.

Our road.
A neighbor's yard with a lake forming in it.

What will be waiting for me when I get home—when it will be raining again—I have no idea. About every two years we get a rain event like this in about mid-June and for the most part, the garden perseveres without much disruption. I have lost the odd plant or two when the water near the creek literally washes it away, but when you see the volume of water running through the area, you'd be shocked that it was just the odd plant or two that succumbs.

The basement, I'm certain, will be wet despite two sump pumps running nearly nonstop, and there will be cleanup associated with that.

A neighbor's yard is developing a waterfall where the runoff meets a culvert outflow.

To be honest though, the biggest issue with all this rain, which is expected to continue for the rest of the week, is that it puts a serious damper on my after-work gardening plans. But there's nothing to be done about it and I'm certain that come August, I'll be begging for some rain.


16 June 2014


If you haven't lived in a rural area, you might not know about septic mounds. They are one of the most common ways to deal with septic in the country when you don't have municipality-provided sewer service.

We are fortunate that our mound is on the far side of the property. They aren't unattractive, they are just weird random lumps in your yard. You can't do a lot with them either. You definitely don't want to be planting anything with serious roots on them (our beech trees sort of flank the mound and I doubt that's an ideal situation) and I've read that you really shouldn't mow them because you don't want to compact the ground there.

Well, we mow ours because otherwise it's really ugly. And septic mounds are like elephants in your yard; you can't exactly pretend they aren't there.

Sometimes, instead of hoping people don't see an eyesore, it's better to distract them.

And that leads to my septic mound garden art.

The "grass" (OK, it's all weeds there, but at least it's green) should fill in over the planting area.

I saw a photo of steel rings planted in a garden and really loved it. Mr. Much More Patient found a steel worker (the same guy who built us the insert for the wooden planter) who could make us some, even though he wasn't exactly sure what my plan for them was. We got four rings, each 5 inches wide in different diameters—5-1/2 feet, 5 feet, 4 feet and 3-1/2 feet—plus a huge 6-foot diameter, 18-inch high ring to serve as a massive fire pit, for (I think) about $125 total.

We had him drill a hole in the bottom of each ring so we could drive a stake through them to help them stay standing.

The larger rings are a little floppy and have a tendency to collapse and become oval, so when we "planted" the largest of the rings on the mound, we supported the buried portion with bricks, to help it keep its shape. Then we made sure to firm it in very well.

Looking at it from an angle you can how the rings are offset, as well the cool patten the shadows make.

When we set the second ring, we put it at an angle and overlapping the larger ring. Because they are pretty thick, the perspective on them changes depending on where you look at them from. I particularly love the shadows they cast in the evening. We can even see them from the living room window, which is nice.
The view (more or less) from the angle of the living room.

The other two rings will be going elsewhere in the garden. I haven't really figured out where yet, but I'm sure I will soon.

The view from the road that has neighbors asking questions.

The response to them by the neighbors has been mixed. A lot of them thought the circles were meant to be supports for some kind of plant (they are convinced I will try anything now that they've learned about the potato towers). When I tell them they are art, the responses range from, "Um ... OK," to "Oh, I love it!"

I am firmly in the latter camp. I think they are uniquely sculptural. You could even go so far as to say that it sort of looks like we put a hill there to show off the new garden art. OK, maybe not, but I think it's the best looking septic mound I've ever seen.

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13 June 2014


I've been feverishly working on finishing up the new garden area in the side/back yard and I'm almost there. I'm at the really fun part of arranging and planting now. I love planting a new bed. There is something so wonderful about a clean slate to plant in.

But with me spending so much time in that area of the garden, the rest of the garden has been completely neglected. I have so much weeding and edging to do, it's not funny. I've been down this road before and every time I tell myself, "NO MORE GARDENS!" The (maybe) good news is that I'm starting to run out of places to put new gardens. Also, there's a special satisfaction in working in this area of the yard because it has been a weedy mess since we bought the house and I've put it off for more than a decade just because I knew how much work it would be. It will be very nice to have a nice view to enjoy when we sit on the deck.

I'm showing you this little peek of a small portion of the new garden area not because it's particularly good—it was taken at 8:30 p.m. after a full-day rain with my phone—but because I feel like it's a little mean to keep talking about it and not showing you anything.

The goal for the weekend is to finish up the planting (I get to the point where I just need the plants to be in the ground so I can stop worrying about them in pots) so I can move onto the other areas of the yard that need serious attention.

I tend to organize my gardening tasks so I can check them off my mental (and sometimes literal) list. In the past I've set goals such as, "Weed the garden." The problem with that is that it's just not possible to weed my entire yard in one day. You'd either die of boredom or suffer severe hand cramping. And then if the next thing on the list was to mulch, well, by the time I got back to the part of the garden where I started weeding, the weeds would all be back and I'd never feel like I'd finish.

This year I've sort of mentally divided the yard into areas or specific gardens. My plan is to tackle an entire garden at one time: weeding, edging, mulching (in some areas, I'm not mulching everything this year), dividing and sowing a few annual seeds. This way I'll at least be able to enjoy a completed area while I work on the others.

Once I get every garden in good shape, then it's just a few hours of routine maintenance for awhile. In theory, anyway.

Even if I've not been working in all areas of the garden, I have been surveying them (this is what cocktail hour is for) and I'm happy to report that the damage from one of the nastier winters on record is not nearly as bad as I had feared. I lost a few perennials, but in most cases these were plants that were either new and not established or already stressed going in to winter.

The smokebush with 'Princess Diana' clematis growing through it in happier times.
The one shrub loss the garden suffered is as heartbreaking as it is befuddling. The purple smokebush (Continus coggygria) has always done well and I quite liked its location at the back of the patio garden. I grew a 'Princess Diana' clematis up it to great effect: the smokebush looked like it had nodding fuschia flowers on it. Smokebushes are notoriously late to leaf out so I kept thinking it would spring back to life, but when I started cutting into the wood, it was all dead.

When something in my garden dies, I rarely replace it with the same thing because I tend to believe that the original died for a reason. I can't explain the death of my smokebush, but I knew it needed to be replaced. So I did just that. Fortunately, they are quick growers so I don't think it will have a hard time supporting the clematis.

On the bright side, the replacement smokebush has a much nicer shape than the original. Let's chalk that up to everything happening for a reason; even in the garden.


12 June 2014


We didn't plan it this way, but this year has become the year of the back yard. Between the renovation of the gardens there and fixing up the garage, I think we're finally taking care of some of the things that have needed attention since we bought the house 12 years ago.

This is the before, farther down the driveway.

far the biggest change to the yard that we made was having the driveway paved. We've put this off for years for a few reasons. Not only is it an expensive project, I've also had some trepidation about the look of an asphalt driveway. I would have done concrete in a heartbeat, but we didn't even bother getting quotes for that because we knew it would be well out of our range. 

As an aside, this is a good reminder to get lots of quotes. The first quote we got to asphalt the driveway was more than twice the amount of the quote we ended up going with. I think the first company just didn't want the job so they purposely inflated the quote. 

A bigger concern for me was the look. I don't particularly love the look of a fresh black driveway. I think gravel is charming and more in keeping with our house and the area (our road, which is a private road owned and maintained by all the homeowners, is also gravel). And if I lived in an area where there wasn't much snow or ice, I think it would probably be perfect. But our driveway is big enough that it has to be plowed, and plowing a gravel driveway creates a huge mess. Every spring we'd have to scrap gravel out of the grass and the flower beds and the driveway sort of creeped into the lawn. 

To make matters worse, it was a huge ice rink that rarely thawed until late April. All in all, it was a pain. So, although I think I like the look of gravel more, the downsides were just too great. And I'll be honest here, Mr. Much More Patient really wanted it paved (far more than I did) and sometimes he has to get what he wants too.
This was taken at the end of the driveway last year when we had a couple of large spruces cut down by the electric company.

Anyway, the process of having the driveway paved was really simple. They came on a Saturday and graded our existing gravel, parked all their machinery there on Monday and were there at 8 a.m. Tuesday to pour the asphalt. They were finished by 2 p.m.

We will fill in around the driveway to level the lawn out with it, which will be a very nice improvement, and although I feel like it's a little black right now, I'm sure in a month I'll be saying I wish we had done it sooner.
We'll fill in the lawn up to the level of the asphalt so areas like this should look better in a couple months.

Even though we didn't really mean to concentrate on fixing up the yard this year, I might as well share the to-do list that has developed:
  1. Re-roof the garage.
  2. Paint the garage.
  3. Install a pergola over the garage doors.
  4. Have the driveway paved.
  5. Regrade the lawn around the driveway to even it out.
  6. Paint the garage doors (temporary solution until we can replace them in the future).
  7. Redo side/back garden beds (partially finished).

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11 June 2014


Since it's finally finished and planted, I think it's high time I share with you how we built the wood planter by the front door.

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter

When the old planter fell apart after five or six years of year-round service, I was shocked when I found out how much large planters cost. Having found some wood ones at Restoration Hardware that I really liked the look of, but not the price of, we set out to create our own.

Before I get into how we did it (and how long it took us), there are a couple of things to declare right away:
  1. It didn't turn out exactly how I had planned but I'm still very happy with it.
  2. There are things I would do differently if I were doing it again (see the bottom for those notes).
  3. It ended up costing way more than I expected, even though we built it ourselves.
We ended up with a planter that is 32 inches wide and about 30 inches tall (and weights probably 150 pounds). Yes, that is enormous, but with the stairs that lead up to our front door, I feel like we need a large planter there to balance everything out.

You may recall my trip to the lumberyard for the white oak to build the planter. I loved the white oak planters at RH and wanted a similar look. And no, I'm not doing anything to protect the wood and intend to let it age naturally.

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter

This is where we come to the first, and biggest, mistake I made. The guy at the lumberyard suggested I buy "wet" wood to help keep the price down and be able to get what I wanted. Buying wood that was not kiln dried was a huge cost savings (I got all of the 1-inch-thick white oak for $60 including planing and cutting) and the guy at the lumberyard figured that since it was going to be outside, it would just swell up anyway. I think I underestimated just how wet the wood was when I bought it. It has continued shrinking (widthwise) since I got it (you will see that through the progression of building pictures) and there are now quarter-inch gaps between the boards. I wanted nice, tight boards, but it still looks OK. Anyway, if I were doing it again, I'd definitely just spend the money for the kiln-dried wood.

The first thing we did was choose which boards would be on which sides, picking the best matching boards for the front and most obvious side.

Then we built the frame out of pressure treated 2x4s. We did simple butt joints and used galvanized mending plates to hold the boards together while we screwed them. We had the mending plates left over from when we built the raised garden, so they aren't necessary but they made it easier. Definitely check for square when assembling the frames.

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter
Keep it square!

We used all stainless steel screws for the construction.

On the bottom frame, we screwed in 2x4s to create the bottom for a metal insert to sit on.

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter
A frame with 2x4s on the bottom serves as the base. Leave a gap between the boards for drainage and air flow.

Next we started screwing the boards onto the frame. We positioned the bottom about three inches up from the bottom of the oak boards to allow for the cutout later. We used four 8-inch-wide boards for the front and the back. On the sides, we trimmed an inch off of two boards, to allow them to tuck in behind the full boards. We predrilled all the holes and followed with 2-inch-long stainless steel screws drilled in from the inside.
The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter
This is the process of starting to attach the boards to the frames.

On the edges where screws would not go into the frame, we drilled in from the face and I later filled those holes with wood putty. The proper way to do it that would be to make wood plugs from leftover white oak, but I was more interested in efficiency at that point.

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter
The planter before the curves were cut. You can see that we weren't overly worried about lining them up because we knew we'd be cutting the top and bottom.

Once all the boards were screwed on, we did the cut-outs on the top and bottom. I used a piece of sturdy cardboard and a yardstick to make a template for the top curve. For the bottom I made a similar template, just drawing a straight line and using a glass to create the curve. Mr. Much More Patient used the jigsaw to cut out the pieces after we used the template to draw them on.

I used a glass to create the curve for the bottom.

The two cardboard templates for the top and bottom curves.

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter
Planter with the curves cut before adding decorative details.

Because I didn't want the wood touching the ground (and soaking up water), we put casters on the bottom frame. It raises the bottom just a touch, so you can't see them there or really notice that the planter is not sitting directly on the ground unless you look closely.

Everything I did from there was cosmetic (and therefore optional if you're trying to recreate this). I really wanted the lead trim on the top (and now that the boards have shrunk so much that is even more important). I bought a roll of 1/32-inch thick, 12-inch wide lead here and cut it vertically into four 3-inch-wide pieces. Lead is so soft you can cut it with almost anything, but I used  tin snips. Then I got 1-1/4-inch wide strips of wood from Home Depot and cut slits into the back of each strip of wood. In order to be able to bend the wood to the curve, I made cuts about every inch and cut about three-quarters of the way through the wood using a Dremel Multi-Max cutter (you could also use a coping saw). On a couple pieces I went too far, cutting all the way through the wood but that was easily fixed with just some tape to hold it together until it was wrapped in lead.

Trim wood with cuts to help it bend.

Since the curve on the top of the container is straight for two inches in the corner, I cut a piece of wood off for that, then started the cuts for the curve (having measured the length of it ahead of time, of course). 
Here you can see how I completely cut the first 2 inches of the wood strip, which lays flat on the planter. Then the scored wood follows the curve. I left a small gap between the cut off and the score wood to ease it down the bend.

With all my cuts made, I laid the wood strip, uncut side down, in the center of the lead and then started bending the lead up around it. A note about this: please wear gloves when handling lead and wash your hands well when you're finished. 

Once I had the sides bent up, I used E6000 craft adhesive (I bought it on Amazon, but I would think a hobby shop would also have it) to glue the lead to the wood by putting some glue on both the lead that would fold over and the wood strip. There was a bit of wood exposed in the middle, but that's fine because I was gluing it to the planter anyway. In the corners, I trimmed the lead away (see photo) and then folded the flap over and glued it down. When it was finished, I used a rubber mallet to crisp up all the edges and tuck in all the bits on the end (lead is extremely forgiving).

This is how I trimmed the ends before gluing it down.

After shaping it with a rubber mallet, the corner lays flat and loses all its sharp edges.
After letting the glue dry for a day or so, I took the edges out and hand bent them to fit the curves. Again, I used the E6000 glue on both the planter and the lead-covered wood strip and attached them. then I weighted it all down with cobblestones and bricks, just to make sure that there was good contact while the glue dried.

I weighted down the lead strips to keep them in good contact with the planter while the glue dried.

For the knob accent in the corners, I just used drapery rod finials from Home Depot spray painted in Rustoleum's soft iron. I predrilled a hole through the lead trim and into the planter and just screwed them in.

While the planter itself was finished, there was still the issue of how to protect it. Obviously if you plant directly in a wood planter, it's going to rot faster. My intention from the beginning was to use a metal liner, and we actually built the planter to accommodate a galvanized liner from Restoration Hardware. There were two problems with that: it was backordered until the end of July and no one at RH could tell me the actual dimensions of the liners. All of them were the same dimension as the planters they were supposed to fit in, which obviously was incorrect.

The steel insert is super sturdy and has a lot of drainage holes in the bottom. The handles on the side will help me remove it if I need to. When I planted it, I just covered those holes with paper towel to keep the dirt from falling out.

Instead, Mr. MMP had a local steel worker build a box to our specifications, so it fit perfectly. I had handles built in to the sides to make it easier to remove and had several drainage holes (I feel pretty strongly that a large container needs more than one drainage hole) drilled into the bottom. I primed and painted it with spray paint to help protect it because it was not galvanized and therefore will rust.

And this is where any concept of this being an inexpensive project blew out the window. Although he would not appreciate me saying it, Mr. MMP doesn't have the best hearing. So when he talked to the steel guy he thought the quote was for $50, but when he picked it up, he found out that it was actually $150. Ouch. The good news is that it will probably outlast the planter itself so we can do this all again in a few years.

So that's how we made it. And here's what it cost:

Budget breakdown:

  1. White oak (not dried, rough cut): $60
  2. 3 pressure treated 2x4s: $9
  3. Stainless steel screws: $30 (we have some left over)
  4. Sheet lead (including shipping): $35
  5. Drapery finials: $20
  6. E6000 glue: $8
  7. Casters: $20
  8. Steel planter insert: $150
Grand total (gulp): $332

The Impatient Gardener -- DIY oak planter

OK, that's not at all inexpensive. And honestly it's about three times as much as I planned on spending. But there are ways that you could make this and have it be much less expensive. Obviously, you could line the inside with a thick plastic membrane or do something else for a liner. You also skip the decorative details like the lead and finials. And you could reduce the size and it would all cost less.

The bottom line? I don't think I could have found something I like as much for the price it cost us to build it. I would, however, be much happier with it if we didn't have the wood shrinkage problem and if we were going to be spending that much, paying a bit more for the wood wouldn't have been a big deal.

The plants are a bit dwarfed right now, but they are growing quickly (they've actually grown quite a bit since I took that photo) and I think soon it will be looking great.

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