The early snow forced me to turn to indoor garden projects sooner than I had planned. I still have some raking and other outdoor chores that I never finished.

I haven’t given up hope. I am convinced that along the coast here, we’ll get enough warm spells this month that we will see bare ground before the New Year.

Meanwhile, I have some indoor projects that will keep me thinking about the gardens until we can get back outdoors.

First, I have to build some fences.

Although we have lived in the same house since 1975, we didn’t install the first fence until the late 1980s. We bought 13 stockade-fence panels from a chain store, buried pressure-treated posts and screwed the panels to the posts.

When that fell down after about 15 years, ignoring the statement that insanity is doing the same thing again looking for different results, we replaced the fence using the same method.

That second fence, well rotted, blew down two years ago, and we have since gone without a fence. We get along with the abutting neighbor, so we’ve no protect-the-boundary need for a fence. But my wife Nancy believes that the gardens look better with fences as backdrops, so we will put up a fence this spring.

To complicate matters, Nancy doesn’t like the look of fences that are readily available: pointed picket fences or stockade fences.

As a test, I built few panels of fencing to separate our vegetable garden from a shortcut to the public schools. I used standard 2-by-4s with strapping (1-by-3 pieces of lumber) nailed to them, with three inch spaces between the strapping. Instead of pressure-treated wood, which I have since learned is toxic to the environment and still rots, I intend to use steel posts – which I hope will last the rest of my life. I don’t want to do this again.

I hope to build them in the cellar but I need to be sure I can get the completed panels out through our bulkhead in the spring. I built the test panels in our garage while it was fairly warm last spring.

The test panels were four feet high, but I think I will make the back ones six feet tall. And I will need 13 or 14 8-foot panels. That should keep me busy until the ground thaws.

My favorite recent project was creating a copper trellis that we use for our golden hops plants to climb.

This garden accessory took advantage of a house project we had done to add a shower to what was a first-floor half-bath and laundry room. In the process of that job, the plumber removed more than 30 feet of copper tubing.

Copper has gotten pricey in recent years, so I wasn’t going to let this sit in the basement. I bought some T-shaped and L-shaped connectors and created a three-sided structure for a part of the garden. At this time of year, it looks good covered in snow.

What else could you build? That depends on what you need, obviously.

The beauty of construction projects for the garden is that they don’t have to be as fussy as projects for the interior of the house. Anyone who can pound a nail or cut a piece of wood can create things that add to the garden using rough (read inexpensive) material.

My cellar workbench is made of 2-by-6 framing lumber, and it would work as a potting bench if I moved it outside. (Nancy and I use the tailgate of our pickups to pot plants, so we have never actually needed a potting bench outside.) But if you want an outdoor potting bench, you can find hundreds of plans online. Some use rough lumber and many use wood from pallets.

Sitting benches are easy to make. A friend who was downsizing gave us some decorative concrete blocks, and we use a plank on top of those as garden bench. This simple construction has the advantage of being super adjustable, both in size and location.

Twenty years ago, I made a garden shed, where we store wheelbarrows and other equipment, and where I dry potatoes and onions before bringing them indoors.

A shed probably would have to be built in place during warmer weather, but smaller storage containers – perhaps designed to resemble portable closets – could be built now.

Remember, these structures aren’t just to hold things. They are garden features. Paint the potting bench red or bright blue, put it in the distance where you see it from the house, and it can become a focal point. I like it when items are both useful and make the garden more beautiful.

Finally, two things to remember: Even the gardener who has everything might like a gift certificate for a future potting bench or copper trellis. Second, before you pick up hammer and nail, check at your local dump or recycling center for materials you can re-purpose into something for your garden.


TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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