Sunday, June 29, 2008

Not So Much Party Lights as Lights You Might Turn On at a Party

Recently I attended a party for my high school art teacher. I made her this string of lights. Over the years I have seen her collect many skeletons, more dia del muerte than medical mock-up. She is also a fan of sunflowers. Therefore, sunflower and skull lamps, cut into B/C-grade cedar shakes bought at Lowes and strung with a line of 10 lamps bought at Lighting Plus on Broadway at Great Jones.

Black Ants Feeling the Lovage

On our way down from the Adirondacks, we stopped at the Berkshire Botanical Garden to check on Betsy's sculpture. I checked out the herb garden and saw this. Now that's Lovage (no aphids in there).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Too Busy Again

Too much work and social events to post. I have a backlog of things to write. How the vegetables are doing, the perennials, the rain, trellising, and ....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Adirondack Two-Step

Last weekend I traveled to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks. Friends invited us to stay for a couple of days in their sister's cabin on the lake. While there, my friend Mark and I were given this puzzle: 15 two by six by eights and a slope -make a staircase that senior citizens can navigate from the driveway to the cabin. Use no additional materials (except nails). Here are the results, however unfinished.

looking up

looking down

angle shot

I did express concern about water flow (amongst other problems) down the hillside. Duly noted by its owner. Update & Note: Last weekend a torrential downpour emptied the soil from the staircase. Way too many plants and topsoil are turned over to build these steep-sloped hillside get-aways. Summer thunderstorms wash that loose soil right into the lake.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Berkshire Botanical Garden

About two weeks ago I spent a couple of days at the Berkshire Botanical Garden near Stockbridge, Mass. I never would have known about the place if it was not for the exhibition my wife was part of at the garden. The exhibit, called Cultivate, was curated in coordination with the exhibit titled Badlands at Mass MoCA.

This is the piece she made for the show, titled Hope and Weather. Its a solar powered water system that powers the butterfly's wings that change the world's weather. If you want to know more about her work, check out her site

The garden is a small, comfortable space with herb, perennial, and rose gardens. The most charming space was the water garden, subtly tucked away on the bottom of a gentle slope. The pond had a certain magic about it. Planted just right, looking cultivated, yet quite natural. It had an island in its center with a large boulder and a hemlock growing on it. I stayed at the home of one of the trustees of the garden and he told me they had just received a grant to enlarge the pond. Well I made sure to let him know I thought it was excellent just the way it is.

yellow iris

ferns and lily pads

view to the south

This view was gorgeous

I'd see to a way to spend that money building their perennial collection. I was amazed to see some weedy(invasive?) perennials in their beds, including Petasites japonica 'Giganthea' (Japanese Butterbur) and Macleaya cordata (Plume Poppy). I worked hard to eradicate Plume Poppy from my garden, but sources seem to only call it weedy. It must be easier to control in colder climates-such as the Berkshires or where I got mine, central Maine!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Early Girl

This is Aster x frikartii 'Monch'. I bought it from White Flower Farm a few years ago. Its blooming in mid-June, earliest I've seen it bloom. In NYC, June seems to be the new July.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


This heat just wipes everything out. Except for the Yarrow, flowers fading so much faster with the heat on. A good rain seems to be in the making tonight. An extremely local thunderstorm in our neck of Brooklyn on Sunday helped keep the garden hydrated. I haven't put the air conditioner in the window yet. I am trying to bear it, like we always managed to before.

Monday, June 9, 2008

ID These Please

This is a Brooklyn yard. All those plants growing like crazy. Mugwort growing at the bottom, and if you look closely on the bottom right, the all-too common Brooklyn snail hanging out on some of last year's stems.


Here are photos of some of the weeds in my yard. seemed the woody stems aren't the same plant as the mysterious vine. The two vines on the wall of my building are also pretty abundant. Would you happen to know what kinds of ivy they are?

Thanks for your help,


The wall vines were e-a-s-y once I saw them.

This is Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. This plant is native to the eastern U.S. and has nice red foliage in the autumn, though some consider it a weed. Pull it if you don't want it. What I like to do is selectively pull, always leaving some where it looks good and I can manage it(usually along a fence or wall). The "quinquefolia" in the name refers to the 5-leaflet leaf structure. In the photo, you can see it growing with the next plant below.

This is Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, a common garden and landscape vine. However, Boston Ivy is not native as it originates from eastern Asia. As the first botanical name will tell you, it is related to Virgina Creeper. The second name refers to its 3-lobed leaves. As you can see in the first photo, Boston Ivy has shiny leaves and the Creeper, dull.

This plant I grew up with; it growing on our fence at the edge of the woods. I believe it to be Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus. This plant is native to Eastern Asia and has naturalized over much of the eastern U.S. It can be aggressive, strangling other plants with its twining vine. It spreads by seed, so pull it up while it is flowering to avoid dropping more seeds.

When your yard is overgrown like this with woodland edge plants, its always a good idea to keep your eyes out for poison ivy, which often grows in similar conditions.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Gardens Gone Wild

Yes, its early. I simply must get used to this. I would say the garden is about three weeks early and some plants have been blooming for at least a couple of weeks now. So I present to you my garden porn:

The Drumstick, Allium sphaerocephalon, hasn't bloomed yet, but it's long slow movement towards blooming is as wonderful as the bloom itself. Love these.

Now you can see how densely planted (some simply say wild) the garden is this year. Within this square foot, we have two types of geranium, lily, two types of yarrow, a rose, and deep down in there you can see the sedum.

Yarrow, lily, geranium, and rose blooming.

Climbing rose "New Dawn," pink blooming dwarf spirea to the far, middle left, evening primrose and some yarrow in yellow. Phlox and Lily shooting up to the upper right, Tradescantia (spiderwort) to the bottom right, and Sedum in the bottom center, just beneath the recently clipped russian sage. Blooming, deep-purple lavender to the far lower left, Boston ivy climbing the wall, honeysuckle over the rose, and if you can believe it -a Clematis hiding in the rose.

And the money shot, New Dawn rose petals freshly fallen onto the blooming lavender.

Building Better Boxes

Now that I have been living with my easy wooden planters for two weeks I can say that some are better and some are simply functioning. All will survive the season, but the warping induced by the wet soil on one side of the wood, and sunny dryness on the opposite side of the wood is causing problems. Some woods handle this environment better.

I made boxes with four types of wood planking: Poplar, Pine, Redwood, and Cedar.

Here the Poplar planking is pulling away from the structural framing on the bottom of the box. Additional screws may solve this problem.

The Poplar is most prone to warping. In this photo, the top planks are pulling away because I planked 2 inches above the framing.

The Pine is hanging in there, showing a little, but expected, warping stress.

The Redwood and Cedar are both performing admirably as expected.

So if you want to make boxes that do not warp so readily, pick Redwood or Cedar. There are also some tropical hardwoods, like Ipe and Teak, that will hold up just as well.

As for structural improvements, heavier structural framing (2 X 3 instead of 2 x 2) and sinking more decking-type screws per plank may shore up these easy boxes without too much extra effort.

To get a better planter, you will need to spend much more time and/or money. Professionals would likely use exterior-grade plywood for the interior box and tongue and groove planking for the exterior fascia. Often, they will build in a ledge around the top rim of the planter to keep water from easily working its way between the plywood and fascia. Other decorative touches are often added. The wood will then be stained, painted, or sealed to protect their workmanship from environmental stresses.

Enough to make those 5-gallon pails seem all the rage.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Easy Wooden Planters

This is a very simple planter box. It consists of two "U" shaped framing units and horizontal planks to tie the whole structure together. Wood plank and planter sizes can vary, so take my measurements as a rough guide.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
It all starts with some wood: scrap wood on the right, some bought pine on the left. In addition to the planks, you'll need some 2x2 pine or cedar (better) for the interior framing.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood the toolsOf course, you'll need some tools. Tape Measure, pencil, drill, drill bits, chop saw or handsaw, and some 1-1/2 inch and 3 inch screws. A carpenter's square is useful too, but not necessary unless you're using a handsaw. If you have an air compressor and nail gun, you can forgo the drill and screws altogether.


How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap woodFour 2 x 2 x 14 inch posts for the interior framing. Measure and cut each at 14 inches long. It is important that your cuts are square (90 degrees to the edge of the wood) so that the posts sit squarely in your box.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap woodNow take another piece of 2 x 2, measuring and marking it at 12 inches long. Cut. Repeat once.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
These two twelve-inch 2 x 2 pieces will become the bottom framing. Drill two pilot holes, about 3/4-inch from each end and centered. Then sink one 3 inch screw halfway into each of those holes.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
Afterward, line up two 14 inch posts in the fashion you see above. Lay this "U" on its side and drive two 3-inch screws through the bottom 2 x 2 and into the posts, making sure to keep the posts and bottom lined-up. One screw for each post.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
You will do this twice, one "U" shaped frame for each side of the planter box. Now you are ready for the plank sides.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
Take a plank, measure, mark, and cut it at 12-inches. The planks should fit exactly on the "U" shaped frame. My planks were about 3.5 inches wide, so that I needed four planks, laid side by side, to rise to the top of the 14 inch tall posts.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
Here I have four planks fitting nicely on the frame and an additional four planks for the opposite frame.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
Here you can see the edge of one of my planks. It has some holes, but none too big to interfere with its purpose. Drill a pilot hole (the small one near the edge) so that you don't split the plank when you drive a screw through it.


How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap woodHere you can see all four planks lined up with all pilot holes drilled. 

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
This image shows all the 1-1/2 inch screws driven through the planks and into the "U" shaped frame. Do this for the opposite side as well.


How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
Both "U" shaped frames have been "planked." It is up to you to determine the ultimate size of your planter box. I decided that this box would have a rectilinear shape, 12 x 16 inches. Take the overlap of edges into consideration when determining your planter's dimensions.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap woodI measure another 8 planks at 16 inches long and cut each. The interior dimension of this box will be 12 x 14-1/2 x 14 (L x W x H) inches.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood finished planter box
After drilling pilot holes in each plank, you line up the edges of each and sink a 1-1/2 inch screw into each pilot hole. Do this for each of the eight planks and you should have a fairly substantial box.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood no bottom yet
Now you need a bottom to your planter box. This is the most complicated part of the entire planter box building project.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood
First, take a measurement of the bottom interior of the box. Make sure you are measuring across the bottom 2 x 2 framing as the bottom planks will rest on the ledge made by the 2 x 2's. I had different widths of scrap wood for the bottom, cutting all of them to length (14-1/2 inches). I put the bottom planks side by side, on the ledge, in the box. I then measured to make sure the needed remaining planks would fit. They did, so I cut the 2 x 2 post dimension (about 1-1/2 x 1-1/2 inches) out of the corners with my hand saw. I fit the cut planks in (you may have to tap it in) and then drilled drainage holes.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood finished planter box
Here's how it looks from the top with the bottom planks in, but before I drilled drainage holes.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood finished planter box
And here is the finished planter box. This is easiest, but scrappiest, box I could make. There are many ways to do it better in terms of fit and finish, but the basic building can be the same. An improvement on the box you see here would be to bring the posts all the way up to the top of the planks. You can see how my posts are a little short, disabling me from sinking a second screw in the upper row of planks. A second screw would help keep the wood from curling back when it gets wet. But I can accept this flaw. I was looking for functional, scrappy boxes made on the cheap (or mostly cheap). You can use cedar posts and planking for a longer-lasting planter, although avoid treated lumber (the greenish stuff) and ordinary plywood. You can also plank your boxes vertically, although you will need to change the "U" shaped frame on each side to a square 2 x 2 frame, positioned on the bottom and top.

How to make an easy wooden planter with scrap wood finished planter box artistandbuilder.comThree finished planter boxes in poplar, redwood, and pine.

A few things to note if you are planting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and others:
  • Make the interior dimension wide (say 12 x 12 or so), but more importantly -make it deep so that the roots have room to spread out. The deeper the better for tomatoes.
  • I filled my box with pure compost. But I also added some moisture-absorbing potting mix to the soil so that the planter box retains moisture (soil separated from the ground can dry out rapidly).
  • My mixture was roughly 60% compost, 40% potting mix.
  • Check often so that your vegetables aren't stressed by drying out.