There are several areas of my garden that don’t provide direct access to the soil: the patio, the front drive, and the shady alley down the side of the house. I could leave them like that, but frankly I have too many plants that need homes, and I want to make these areas more welcoming, more fun to be around. I could buy planters in kit form, and whilst they can be excellent, they are expensive enough to put me off. My solution to this has been to build them myself with scrap wood.

To do something similar yourself you will need:

scrap wood, about two pallets worth
crowbar
hammer
hacksaw
tape measure
pencil
saw
hand drill that doubles as a screw driver
or a screw driver
or hammer and nails
something to line the planter

The size and shape of the planter is entirely up to you, of course. In this case I wanted a largeish one, but I have made them pretty small in the past.

Step 1. Acquire the wood. You can of course just buy treated planks from B&Q or Wickes, or from a wood recycling outfit, or you could skip-dive for it. I have a reliable supply of pallets so tend to liberate planks from them. They’re free which is great, but they do look a bit more “rustic” as a result. That doesn’t bother me – my woodworking skills are really only at “rustic” level anyway! Over the years I have come to realise that a brute force approach to dismantling pallets results in split planks and a lot of swearing. My recommendation is to hammer a crowbar in behind the plank just where the nails are. Just enough to create a gap behind the plank. Then I use a slim hacksaw to saw through the nails. This avoids the need to apply too much leverage which is what causes the splitting. And the swearing. In this way I can dismantle a pallet in about an hour, with no split planks. And hardly any swearing. I try to do this well in advance so I have a ready supply of wood for whenever I get overcome by the need to make something.

Step 2. Decide how big you want your planter to be. Mine is about 115cm long and 45cm wide. The length was determined by the length of the pallet planks I had, to save me cutting them. I measured and cut the wood accordingly. In this design I used corner posts which happen to be from pallet rails, but any post-like bit of wood would work well. I cut two rails in half to get the four corner posts.

Step 3. Assemble a side panel. I started with the front of the planter, one of the long sides. I had seen somewhere a self-built planter that had gaps between the planks which I thought looked cool, so that’s how I did this. Gaps or not, screw or nail the planks to the posts, keeping the posts square to the planks to avoid a wonky planter.

Using screws is better, more robust, but is more of a faff, needing pilot holes drilling to avoid splitting planks (and swearing). If you don’t have an electric drill/driver, my advice would be to use hammer and nails instead.

Step 4. Repeat for the back panel

Step 5. Cut the planks for the sides to the size you want, 45cm in my case, 6 planks for each side to match the front.

Attach the planks for the sides. This does require a bit of fiddling about to ensure that the sides are vertical and the correct distance apart, but essentially the side planks need screwing or nailing to the posts. I added to the complexity of this by having gaps between the planks, an additional bit of lining up to be done.

Step 6. Unless you intend to put the planter directly onto soil, it needs a base to hold the soil/compost in. I cut to size two short planks and screwed them to the inside of the corner posts. These will act as joists for the base.

I then cut longer planks to the correct size and laid on top of the two short planks. I left some gaps between the planks to allow for drainage. I could have left them close fitting and drilled holes through the wood instead.

Step 7. Line the planter. I have used all sorts for this in the past, from spare plastic sheeting, to old compost bags, to damp proof membrane. The plastic is helpful to keep wet soil off the wood, prolonging the life of the planter. I have become less precious about this on the basis that pallets are treated anyway to prolong their life out in the wilds of the global logistics chain. In this case I have used weed-proof membrane. Its only job is to hold the soil in so it doesn’t leak out between the gaps between the planks. I did an untidy job of cutting it to size then just stapled it to the wood until it was no longer flapping about.

Step 8. I might sand the outside down and stain using some garden colour paint or wood preserver. Or much more likely, I’ll leave it as it is and let it weather.

Step 9. Move to intended location, fill with planting medium and plant up. Haven’t done this bit myself yet. I’ll probably use a mix of rotted manure, garden compost, sand, multipurpose compost and vermiculite, whatever I can get my hands on to fill a large volume. Best not to use plain garden soil, it’ll be too heavy for a container.

So that’s it. Some basic DIY skills and tools are required, but really these are very simple to build, and much much cheaper than buying one ready made. Will you have a go? Let me know if you do, and I’d love to see some pictures.

I’ll be back soon with some more banging and screwing in the shed. Oo-er.

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