This is an awful time of year for gardeners, especially a certain retired gardener in need of a winter hobby who shall remain nameless. So how do I occupy my time when Arctic blasts hit? I look for tasks that will make the coming season’s gardening work more efficient and productive. At least I hope so.

A well-organized garden shed is a beautiful thing. Photo by Tom Atwell

Shortly after Christmas, when we realized the garage was a mess, my personal shopper – yes, I was lucky in marriage – purchased a kit of about a dozen garage-storage hooks that allow me to hang most of the tools we use, either in the garage or in the garden shed and keep them organized. In the past, my tools leaned in corners, and to find the one I needed, I usually had to move several others out of the way. Hanging the tools on the garage walls has another advantage: It keeps them from touching the floor, which can be damp and cause rust. For now, I’ve put the snow-shoveling equipment in the most accessible spots, but I will probably reorganize in late March – when I hope the snow will be done for the year.

If you don’t have a garage, you could install the hangers on the basement rafters. Or, if your house has an outside wall that is mostly hidden from view, hang the tools there. To keep the tools in better shape, and keep the house looking attractive, attach a tool shed to that wall. Online advice suggests you build the frame from cedar two-by-fours, which are rot resistant. If you want to be fancy, use tongue-and-groove boards for the outside walls, but plywood is less expensive and faster. Build the shed about four feet wide and two feet deep and split the inside in half, with shelves on one side for small tools and supplies, and the other side open top-to-bottom for hanging shovels and rakes.

A planting bench is a related option. We often do our potting and replanting on the tailgate of our trucks, but not everyone has a truck. A shorter version of the tool shed, with a top about three feet high, would be a perfect potting bench.

It’s winter. What’s a gardener to do with his time? Maybe rehab/re-cane an old garden chair. Photo by Tom Atwell

Still looking for a winter chore? I suggest garden furniture repair. I’ll be doing some of that to replace the woven seats on a couple of porch rockers that I last repaired about a quarter century ago.

If you didn’t inherit vintage porch rockers, you could try your hand at building garden benches. Different styles require different levels of skills. Some of the benches in our gardens are simply two-by-10 planks resting on decorative concrete blocks, but you’ll need something more complicated to occupy these dull, not-in-the-garden times. Maybe make an Adirondack chair or other wooden furniture?

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My wife Nancy and I have decided our garden could use more mid-level height. We have a lot of tall trees, and a lot of perennials that aren’t much more than a foot off the ground. What we want are some vining plants, and what they’ll want is something on which to climb.

A couple of years ago, I made a couple of trellises out of copper piping taken out of the house as part of a renovation project. But you can make trellises out of wood, as well. Find plans online, or, if you have access to a weather-beaten, paint-splattered ladder that has been used for a generation or two, use that. Just cut the ladder to trellis-size and lean it against a building. You can also make a ladder-style trellis using two-by-fours for the sides and one-by-threes for the rungs. Vintage or not, the vines will be happy to climb it.

If you’d use a wooden compost bin, you could make it from similar lumber, with the advantage that you could build it to fit in an awkward, out-of-the-way space in your yard.

These are just a few of the ideas that struck me. Something else might tickle your fancy. Go through the garden catalogs, see what you might like and then figure out if you can make it yourself. Your garden will be better in the spring for your efforts, and while you’re hammering and sawing, you can think about what you plan to plant when the warm weather arrives.

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


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