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Michelle purchased a townhouse and was ready to get her fingers in the dirt. On her full-sun deck the floor space limits the number of containers she might plant. Sometimes to see potential solutions we have to look up and we did. The privacy fence along the west side of her deck waited for a gardener who could think outside the box.

We call our design The Hanging Gardens of Durham or perhaps Mi-shelves. I am sure there are commercial solutions available but we needed to limit cash outlay and put the bucks into the plants, a worthy gardening goal. We didn’t use redwood, teak or cedar and designed around simple pressure treated pine fence pickets. The solution is:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to build.
  • Makes use of readily available materials.
  • Aesthetically pleasing and matches the existing deck.

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My wood shop with its healthy tool collection is a blessing I count on a regular basis. For the Hanging Gardens we used the table saw, chop saw, drill, drill press, and trim gun. I won’t offer many woodworking details and suggest that you make a woodworking friend if your tool collection is sparse. I will share these important shop tips.

  • Use a push stick with the table saw.
  • Keep your fingers out of the rotating machinery to avoid pain and discomfort.
  • Protect your eyes.

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The privacy fence was constructed of evenly spaced pickets nailed to 2×4 cross members. Our design exploited the unused space inside the fence structure. If we could build shelf standards and slide them into the void, we could install shelves at any locations along the fence. Each shelf could hold a pair of 6” pots. Of course, daily watering would be needed in high temperature conditions.

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To build 3 sets of these hanging shelves I used:

  • One 2×4
  • Two 6” dog-eared fence boards
  • Four 3.5” pickets
  • 1 1/4” and 2” deck screws

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We took our measurements on site then Michelle and I penciled rough sketches of what we thought would work. I returned to the shop to make a prototype to test our idea. We made a few adjustments then I cut pieces for 3 shelf sets.

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I stacked the wood together and used the square to mark the boards for cutting and drilling to save time.

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The project could be done with a hand drill but the drill press is more accurate. I included drain holes in the shelves to accommodate rainfall and over-watering.

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The shelves were assembled using 1 1/4” deck screws.

Container Gardening Shelves Trim

Trim can be purchased in a variety of sizes and shapes at the home center, but I ripped ours from a piece of 2×4. We left a slight gap at the back so dirt can be brushed off the shelf without removing it.

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The shelves were sealed with a coat of Thompson’s WaterSeal.

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The shelf standards are basic boxes and I drilled pilot holes to prevent splitting during assembly.

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Three new boxes ready for cross members.

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Cross members came from 2×4 chunks. I ripped a long piece to the correct width then used the chop saw to cut the lengths.

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I worked from the back of the privacy fence, inserted each assembly and slid it to the correct location while Michelle watched from the front to guide me.

One step that makes installation easier is to use a candle to wax the top and bottom of the standards. Waxed wood slides easier than dry wood, as any kid in sock feet knows. Simply rub the candle across the wood several times while applying pressure. The color and style of candle does not matter. Pick the one in your house that smells the worst and move it to the garage for carpentry duty.

A candle can also be used to repair a door that is sticking. Rub the contact points on the frame with the candle and be amazed at how easily the sticking disappears. Men, I suggest carrying a full tool belt and pretending to adjust a few hinge screws while muttering about torque and coefficients of friction. Tap a couple places with a hammer, too. Keep the candle hidden and remember a good magician never shares his secrets.

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Ouch! It turns out the horizontal 2×4’s for the fence were warped so my shelf standards were slightly larger than the opening in some sections of the fence. No problem. We had a hammer and a scrap board for tapping. Michelle and I acquired a few splinters and a couple of mashed fingers until we learned only one of us should be moving the wood at any given moment.

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Once the standards were in the right locations we added a 2” deck screw top and bottom using a 6” (or longer) #2 Philips bit. Note how Michelle’s hair glows in the sunlight.

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Helping hands are always helpful. My hand held the shelf standard so Michelle could keep both hands on the drill.

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Our design concept can be reused but each user will have to size the end product and adapt it to fit her specific needs.

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Can anyone explain why sticking out one’s tongue in moments of intense labor helps?

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We used 2 screws to mount each shelf and staggered the entry points.Take care to insert the screws slowly. Splitting something at this stage would require a time consuming repair.

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Mi-chelle chose the final location for her Mi-shelves. The top horizontal 2×4 on the fence offers gardening space for additional pots and may be a perfect location for vining plants. The shelf configuration can be changed if the need arises.

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My daughter’s smile outshines the sun as she tests the installation with plant #1. I like being a Dad and I especially love it when a plan comes together.

Container Gardening Shelves Planted

Behold! The Hanging Gardens of Durham!

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(And three years later a stray cat found the perfect napping spot!)