DIY Ladder-Style Upright Herb Planter

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I’ve finally pulled together all the specs to share my herb planter with you!  I built this in an afternoon two summers ago and I still remain immensely proud of it! 🙂  It’s nice to have access to herbs near our patio, rather than having to walk up to the garden before I prep dinner (though I do that often, too).  I adapted my planter from Ginger Snap Crafts, but I made several changes: I dropped the planter down to just 4 troughs and I added legs so that it could stand freely, instead of leaning.  Our patio is covered, so if our planter had to lean on a wall, it would by too far back under the roof and wouldn’t get any sunlight at all.  The additional legs allow it to stand on the edge of our patio to take advantage of the afternoon sun.

Also, when I was putting together my planter, I found that the directions weren’t as clear as I would have wished–for instance, while it specified 8 ft long boards, it never gave their width, nor really explained how best to divvy up the cuts needed for the boards.  I did some guesswork along the way, so I’ll do my best here to be thorough with my modified herb ladder!

First things first: I was definitely trying to spend as little money as I could, without resorting to dumpster diving or curb-scouting my lumber.  So pricy cedar, while beautiful, was definitely out of the question.  Since I also knew that I would need extra lumber for the legs to make the planter stand upright, I started to play with the math.  I realized that if I cut the number of planting troughs down to 4, I would only need 4 boards to create the troughs.  Plus 2 more for the slanted legs and 2 more for the upright legs.  That still kept me at 8 total boards of lumber, but, pretty quickly after I looked at the Home Depot website, I realized that I could save some money by adjusting the type of boards I used for the legs of the planter, compared to the type of boards that I used for the troughs.  I ended up using the same boards for all for legs, which were thinner in width.  In poking around Home Depot for some current prices, thinner boards definitely saved some money.  I’m happy to say that (with the lumber I sourced in the links) this planter still clocks in at under $50 to make!

A note on cuts: Home Depot will make a few cuts on lumber for free, or for a few cents, depending on your store.  But this project calls for many more cuts than is worth trying to do in the store.  Find yourself a saw (and some training in how to use it!) or a friend with a saw and knowledge.  I called in a favor with a carpenter friend, who used the saw at M’s work to make the cuts for me in about 15 minutes.  A hazard of my theater degree and my varied basic knowledge of carpentry, costuming, etc, is that I look at A LOT of projects and think “I can figure that out.  And if I can’t, I have friends who can!”  It has held true, so far!  Take advantage of your resources, folks! 😉  I also borrowed  a drill gun from work (returned in perfectly good form, with the battery recharged!)

So, let’s get started.  Here is your materials list:

*If you think you will be moving this planter often, perhaps bump up to a 4 inch wide or 2 inch thick board for the legs.  Mine seem slightly spindly, but since I don’t move it often, they haven’t been a problem.  You can also cut out two boards completely, if you want the planter to lean against a wall or a fence.

**Preferably from the reject/discount section, if you are bold enough to risk the color not quite matching the image on the label.  My Home Depot taps a bit of the stain onto the lid, so you can get an idea of the color.  My stain was also Semi-Transparent, which allows some of the wood grain to still show through.

Your tools needed:

  • C-clamp or a second person to be an extra pair of hands
  • Drill (preferably cordless) with drill bit and screwdriver bit
  • Saw
  • Pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Optional: level
  • Optional: paintbrush + dropcloth

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Let’s get started!

Purchase your materials and gather your tools.  Measure and make your cuts to the 4 lengths of  1″ x 6″ x 8′ boards:

  • Board #1: we cut 3 lengths at 27 inches and 3 lengths at 4.75 inches.  There will be a small piece of scrap left over for every board.
  • Board #2: the same– 3 lengths at 27 inches and 3 more lengths at 4.75 inches
  • Board #3: cut 2 lengths at 27 inches, 2 lengths at 4.75 inches, and 1 length at 30 inches
  • Board #4: cut 3 lengths at 30 inches

Now you should have (in total): 8 pieces of wood that are 27 inches long–these are the bottom and backs to each of the 4 troughs; 8 pieces of wood that are 4.75 inches long–these are the sides of your troughs; and 4 pieces of wood that are 30 inches long–these are the front of your troughs.

You also have the 4 pieces of 1″ x 3″ x 6′ lumber.  These are the legs of your planter.  Leave two of them alone and for the other two, cut a 15 degree angle off of one short end.  Line it up at a corner and you will be cutting a slight diagonal off.  This allows the side legs to be slanting, yet still sit flat on the ground.  Look back at the above picture, at the bottom of the leg nearest the dog.  

Now you are done with cuts!  Let’s get started putting this together!

Start by making your troughs: The bottom piece will be sandwiched in between the back piece and the front piece, rather than capping/overlapping the sides.  So, if the bottom board is flat on the ground, the back and front piece come down on either side to also touch the ground.  This is because your very short 4.75 inch side pieces sit in the U-shape made by the back, bottom, and front pieces.  So the hole in the trough is a full 6 inches wide by 25 inches long (you lose an inch to each side-piece) by 4.75 inches deep.  Make sense?  I’m doing my best to explain, but this was definitely where I had to stop to figure it out.  The pieces should fit together like a puzzle.  If you are confused, take 2 each of the 27-inch lengths and the 4.75-inch lengths, plus one of the 30 inch length and just hold them together (without fastening them) until you side the box.  Remember, the front has excess that overlaps on each side by 1.5 inches, to eventually overlap the side leg boards.  Click through the Ginger Snap Crafts link above, she has some photos that help to visualize all of this!

I started by screwing together the bottom and the back boards, because they were even in length.  I just stacked some extra pieces to hold steady the board and screwed it into place with 3 screws along the back seam.  The I added the 30-inch front board, so I was making a U-shape, or 3 sides of a square.  I centered the board so that there was 1.5 inch overhang on either side, and then screwed the front piece in with 3 screws.  Then I was able to wedge in the 2 small side pieces.  These, I secured with 2 screws (one at the top and one at the bottom) of the back board and with 1 screw at the top of the front board.  That is one trough done!  Repeat 3 more times until all 4 troughs are built.  Swap your screwdriver bit for a drill bit and drill 3 to 4 drainage holes in the bottom of each trough, to ensure that your herbs’ roots won’t be drowned.

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This is when that second person or your C-clamp becomes your best friend. We are going to attach the 4 troughs to one of the slanted side legs.

I started the first trough so the bottom about 4 inches up the slanted leg off the ground, but you could even go higher and have the bottom of the trough be 6 inches off the ground.  I measured 12 inches along the slanted side leg between the bottom of a trough and the bottom of the next trough up (below).  I also placed the troughs at angle, so the overhang of the front board was straight up, and there was about 3.5 cm space between the front edge of the slanted side leg and the front board of the trough (above).  I marked the diagonal line in pencilon the side-board of the trough, to line up with the legs and then I also marked on the leg where the top and bottom of each trough should line up.  I set each of the four troughs on their side so they stood upright, then laid the slanted leg board over top of all four troughs and adjusted until each trough lined up with my marks.  Make sure that the diagonal cut–remember the 15 degrees we took off of one end of two of the boards?–is DOWN.  The diagonal end will sit flat on the ground!  That’s what gives you the ladder-style slant.  Scroll back up to the photo of my un-painted planter and look at the bottom of the front leg near Punc.  See how the diagonal is resting completely on the ground?

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Starting at one end, clamp the side leg and the trough that you are about to screw on.  I used 4 screws in a square-ish pattern to secure the trough side to the slanted leg.  Once secure, undo the clamp and move on to the next trough, making sure to keep all of your marks lined up with the appropriate edges as you clamp it down.  After securing all four troughs, you can flip it over as one piece and line up the second slanted side leg.  Make sure that you re-measure and re-mark with your pencil the angle on the other side of the troughs and where each trough should land along the second slanted leg.  Repeat with the clamping and securing each trough.  Now you should have a 4-trough planter on two slanted legs.  If you simply want it to lean against a wall or a fence, you are done building!

If you want your planter to stand upright on it’s own, you need to attach the two final, straight legs in the back of your planter.  I lifted my trough-side leg combo and leaned it against a wall so that I could be sure that the planter was level and my diagonally cut bottoms of the slanted side-legs were flat on the ground.  Then, I slipped the two straight boards on the outside the slanted legs, making sure they were upright, with their straight bottoms flat on the ground.  I clamped the two legs together above my top trough and secured each side with 6 more screws evenly space throughout the space where both legs came together.  Then I repeated the process on the other side.

AND NOW YOU HAVE A PLANTER!  Celebrate!  Get a cold drink!  You aren’t done, though.  🙂  You could be.  The planter is built and it will hold plants and soil.  But the wood is completely unfinished and it will eventually degrade in all the weather outside.  If you would like to prolong the life go the planter, you should seal the wood.  I did not seal to inside of my troughs, where the soil and plants will go, so as to minimize the chemicals that might leach into the soil and then into my plants.  However, I did seal the outside of the planter, to better protect against the elements.  If you are going to paint the wood, spend a little time smoothing all of the wooden surfaces with sandpaper.  Especially your cut sides, which will be the roughest.  I like to use a dry paintbrush to go over all the surfaces after sanding, just to really make sure that all of the sawdust is off of the surface of the wood before I paint.

The paint I’ve linked to, above, is the type I found: meant for the outdoors, meant for weatherproofing, meant for use on wood, and–best of all–a stain/sealer combo which means that I didn’t have to paint/stain the whole thing and then do it all over with the separate sealer!  Win!  My sample can was just barely enough to put 2 thin coats of stain on all of the outside surfaces of the planter.  I did one coat in the afternoon and the second the next morning.  Follow the directions on the can–mine required the stain to “cure” for 72 hours without getting wet.  This was pretty easy, since our patio is covered.  I moved it as far back as I could to keep it shelter, because, of course, it rained during those 72 hours, but my planter was no worse for wear.

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NOW YOU ARE DONE!  After 72 hours–or whatever time is recommended on your can of paint/stain/sealer, you can fill up each trough will soil and start planting!  Just remember, like potted plants, these plants in the troughs need to be watered more frequently because the shallower soil will dry out more quickly.  This summer, my planter will be 3 years old and it have held up beautifully!

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My 2015 Planner and A Lesson in Slowing Down

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Happy 2015, everyone!  I’d like to say that I eased into 2015, but that would certainly be a fib.  After flying home from Colorado on December 30, we promptly threw a New Year’s party the next evening. Copious amounts of champagne bottles popping, plus celebratory fireworks (one of our neighbors seems to be hoarding a stash) had Punc terrified for much of the night.  She is a bit of a chicken, so it was not surprising.  Though fireworks are a rarer occurrence, we may need to get her a thunder vest.  This past 4th of July was a mess–we end up wrapping her in an ace bandage to apply some comforting pressure, but she still cowered under our bed for most of the night.  Thankfully, Punc recovered from New Year’s Eve pretty quickly, as we were dropping her back off at my mother’s house just two days later.  It is a tradition that a large group of our friends takes a vacation in early January.  M and I went down this year and joined in the game of Nerf Gun Assassins (I earned the title of “Best Rookie”), hung out in hot tubs in the frigid January weather, and–in my case–caught up on sleep.  I also made a massive batch of my Swedish Meatballs when it was my turn to make dinner.  Quadrupling the recipe was a little more stressful than I expected, to be honest.  I don’t think restaurant cooking is in my future.  But, ultimately, they turned out just as delicious as usual, in spite of an oven that wouldn’t fully close.  Another highlight of the trip was having real homemade Korean food on our last night.  It was amazing! And the cook was careful to check with us on all of the ingredients, so that we could eat entirely gluten-free.  I may be trying my hand at some Koren BBQ ribs in the near future!

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While our vacation was quite relaxing, M and I jumped back into the deep end as soon as we came back last Thursday.  I auditioned my cast for the sixth grade play that I am directing and M went right back into his usual schedule of tech builds, rehearsals, performances, and break-down.  Saturday and Sunday, I did work as an extra for a friend’s film.  It is set in the 1840s, which means some awesome costumes.  However, I had signed on for an outdoor scene on Saturday.  We were filming in the snow for ten hours while the January sun managed to raise the temperature from 16 degrees to a whopping 20 degrees.  Thankfully, I was in a full-length skirt and cape, which allowed me to pin my costume over my winter coat and the four layers of clothes that I wore beneath it.  I definitely should have put on more socks, but given the environmental ordeals and length of the day, I actually stayed fairly warm.  The weather was certainly a bonding experience for the extras.  I was also able to catch up with several old classmates, whom I had not seen since we graduated from college.  I started some French Onion soup in the crockpot before I left, so I had piping hot soup and whiskey to warm me up when I got home, in addition to a long, hot shower and several heating pads.  Sunday was a late night shoot, thankfully indoors, and for a fancy ball.  I was chosen to be in a particular shot in the hall, because the back of my head looked so good!  Seriously, I should have high-fived the makeup girl, since I just arrived with my hair in ringlets.  She piled it all up with this lovely peacock-feathered hairpiece.  I think I have to give her the credit for that achievement.  So we stood and looked pretty and pretended to chat for another 10 hours.  I got home at 3:45am and managed to noticed that I had a great 50’s-style hair-do after taking the pins out (check it out on instagram–>).  Then I collapsed gratefully into bed, knowing that I still had work the next day.

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I’ve spent this week adapting and casting the script for my students and desperately trying to get my feet under me as we prepared for our largest season: Summer.  One thing that has helped me keep track in this past hectic week is my 2015 planner.  I created my very first planner last year and noticed room for improvements almost immediately.  I keep a running list and, truly, I am very happy with the new format for my 2015 planner.  I knew I wanted to turn the days from vertical to horizontal in the weekly spread.  I also wanted to ditch the space for breakfast and lunch in favor of a cleaning and workout schedule.  Routine and schedules are one of my goals for this year.  A cleaning schedule, so that I am not stuck cleaning the entire house on my day off; and a workout schedule because I am definitely feeling my 8-10 hours spent at a desk each day.  I’m too young to feel so creaky and stiff-jointed.  I thought about ditching the dinner section, because I knew I would be keep my weekly full meal plan page, but I like seeing dinners at a glance, so I can plan my prep throughout the day.  I also knew I wanted to better utilize the page opposite of the weekly meal plan.  Last year, if was a full notes page, but I barely touched it.  This year, I added a timesheet space.  I work flexible hours, rather than a 9-5 schedule, so I knew a dedicated space would be very helpful for keeping record of my hours.  I also added a little blog planner, because another goal for 2015 is to actually build a routine and posting schedule for this blog, as well.  My month spread stayed nearly the same–though I remembered to add the day labels.  I did, however, forget to provide a space in the weekly spread for each day’s date.

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My other problems with the 2015 planner are, thankfully, more visual/physical than functional.  I designed this planner leisurely during our time in Colorado.  But I was rushing to print it as soon as we returned home.  I couldn’t figure out why the printer was shrinking the pages to provide blank margins.  I’d managed to circumvent that last year, but I couldn’t figure out how I had done so now.  Then my ink cartridges ran out about 1/3 of the way through printing.  I tried to remain unfazed and replaced the cartridges, set it printing again, and let my attention wander.  When I glanced over again, the lovely peach+teal combo that I chose to complement the front cover was…well, gone.  Instead, it was printed in a pale pink and bright blue.  I stopped the printing, reran the alignment, and was still stuck with pink and blue.  At this point, I sat back in apathy and assured myself that I didn’t care as the planner finished printing.  The pink isn’t so bad. The blue is a little dark.  I had forgotten to make the decorative print slightly translucent, as I had last year.  That would help to solve the problem, but now it was too late.  With my pink and blue planner in hand, I set to work chopping the pages in half…with a dull paper cutter.  It ripped several pages, and even more were chopped unevenly.  Finally, I began hole-punching without any further thought, except to get this damn planner done.  And wouldn’t you know, I was left with another mistake.  Last year, I had compared, to make sure I was placing the 8 holes correctly.  This year, I forgot to do that.  I ended up with 9 holes that were far too oddly-spaced.  I actually had to chop a half-inch off of the top of every single page, because they would not fit within the covers.

So now, I am left with a weird-size, discolored planner that carries a ton of wasted space in the margins.  But as I said, the functionality is not really affected.  It simply isn’t quite as pretty as I had intended.  But, as much as I told myself it wasn’t, it was frustrating!  I wanted something pretty and perfect!  I had been so careful with my notes and my plans over this year.  I was so ready to fix last year’s mistakes.  So ready, in fact, that I didn’t take the time to check my work or to slow down and think about the consequences.  Thankfully, these poor decisions were made over a stack of paper, and not anything more serious.  But it was a good reminder to take a step back, to slow down, to think things through. Theater major that I was, to my chagrin, I was reminded about the Greek tragic plays and their focus on hubris.  Hubris, to keep things simple, is arrogance, overconfidence, or ‘excessive pride’.  It was almost always the downfall of the tragedy’s main character.  Now, I am not saying that I am in a tragedy, but I do think that I get a little too sure of myself when I have done a task or an act before.  I had made a planner before, and I had planned out all of the design.  I did not even consider that I could encounter problems when I tried to make another planner.  And worse, when I did encounter a problem, I did not stop or slow down to reevaluate.  I gritted my teeth and pushed forward with my original plan, refusing to acknowledge that the original plan had failed.  So I was left with a planner that has far more mistakes that it would have if I had stopped and taken my time to work out those problems one by one.  This same sort scenario is playing out in my life more and more frequently.  I do not like that.

All to often, these days, I find myself rushing.  Rushing to the next task, or the next place, or the next plan.  I do not let myself slow down, so whatever plan I start with has to carry me through to end, for better or for worse.  I think my work, my relationships, and my own mental health are suffering a little from this.  I want to stop this behavior before it gets worse, and before something more precious than a planner suffers from it.  I’m not exactly sure how I can do this, but the thought has certainly been at the front of my mind over the past few weeks.  While I am trying to consciously slow down and consider all of the factors,  the whole process is (haha) slow going.  To start with, I am focusing on multi-tasking less.  And giving myself a break.  I do not always need to be doing something while I watch TV.  Giving a movie my undivided attention after dinner is not a waste of my time, especially when this break from racing thoughts is actually so restorative.  Multi-tasking has become a detriment, and, until now, I have stubbornly ignored that.  That needs to change  So here we go 2015: let’s slow down, establish routine, and be a little gentler on ourselves.