When a delivery left us with a wooden pallet, in battered but solid condition, my Womble instinct took over. There had to be a garden wildlife project we could use it for. A quick search for inspiration came up with the idea of turning it into a vertical planter. It’s perfect for making more space for flowers in a small garden like ours. Planted with flowers of a variety of colours and shapes it will be a good additional food source for insects. It took Dr C and I an afternoon to build and plant up. Here’s how we did it.
What we used:
- A wooden pallet (you can probably find one for free – some garden centres etc. give them away)
Heavy-duty landscape fabric (you can get this from a garden centre / DIY store – either buy a roll, or by the metre – we used 3m)
- Staple gun and lots of staples
- Peat-free compost (we used four 50l bags which cost £4 each)
Pipe to make an irrigation system (we used overflow pipe from a DIY store, which cost 86p for 1.5 metres – we used 3 metres worth, plus two elbow joints which cost 60p for two). A length of hosepipe would also work well, but seemed to cost quite a bit more
- Hammer and nail to make small holes along the irrigation pipe
- Screws and rawl plugs (and a drill and small screwdriver) to secure the pallet to the wall to stop it falling over)
- A cheap plastic funnel
Lots of small plants (you can buy trays of bedding plants from a garden centre, or grow your own from seed in small pots)
Constructing the vertical planter
- Our pallet was a bit mucky, so we gave it a bit of a wash down and let it dry. I suppose you could paint yours with paint suitable for exterior woodwork if you wanted to, but we decided to stick with its battered look. Hopefully the plants will grow to cover it soon anyway.
Work out where to position it. You’ll need a sturdy wall to attach it to, as otherwise it’s likely to fall over, and when filled with compost it will be heavy. We chose a small garden wall just opposite the window of my study. When choosing your site, pay attention to how much sun it gets, as that will affect which plants will thrive there.
Once you’ve worked out where you want it, drill a couple of holes through the pallet, and use a pencil to mark where this comes on the wall. Then drill a couple of holes into the wall, and insert a rawl plug. Don’t screw it in yet – you need to do some work on the planter first.
Cover the back and underneath of pallet with the landscaping fabric. Make sure there’s enough to cover the sides as well. Using the staple gun, attach the fabric to the pallet underneath and at the back. I used so many staples my hand muscles ached for days afterwards! You may want to use a double layer of landscape fabric for extra strength. Fold the cut ends in underneath before stapling, to give a neat finish and a bit more strength. Don’t staple the fabric in place at the sides yet, as you’ll need to be able to get to these to screw the pallet to the wall.
Using a hammer and nail, make lots of small holes randomly along the length of your irrigation pipe, so the water will reach all parts of your planter.
The photo shows how we arranged ours – a big v that went from the middle of the bottom to the sides of the top, and a smaller v that went from halfway down to the top.
Position your irrigation system in the pallet, making sure the tops of the pipes come out of the top of your planter so you can water it.
Move your pallet into place, and screw it into the wall (a Swiss Army knife screwdriver was handy for this, as most other screwdrivers would be too long to fit in the gap).
- Staple the landscape fabric securely to the sides of your pallet (again tucking in the edge so you get a neat and strong finish).
Holding your irrigation pipes in place, fill your planter with compost, giving it a good water every so often as you go, so not just the top compost gets wet. Make sure you firm the compost down a reasonable amount, otherwise the level will sink quite a bit later.
- Now it’s time for the fun bit – planting up your planter!
What plants to use
I’m definitely not an expert gardener, so can’t give you much advice on this, but here are a few points to consider:
- If you think there’s a chance your pallet may have been treated with chemical preservatives its probably best not to grow plants for you to eat in it. Go for stuff that looks pretty instead.
- Different sorts of insects prefer different shapes and colours of flowers, so try to pick a variety that will flower over a long period.
- Trailing plants will look good cascading down the vertical planter – I chose a mix of trailing lobelia, petunias and other non-trailing flowers.
- Go for single rather than double varieties, as these are easier for insects to get pollen from.
- When choosing flowers, think about the conditions they’ll have where your planter is sited – do they like full sun, part shade or full shade?
- If you’re not good at remembering to water plants every day you may want to pick varieties that don’t mind being a bit thirsty every now and then.
- Pick ones that smell nice as well as look nice – this will help attract insects.
- Growing from seed will be much cheaper than buying bedding plants from a garden centre, but requires greater organisation. We don’t have a greenhouse at the moment, which makes looking after young plants hard, so we went for the lazy option. I’m looking forward to being a bit more adventurous next year, and hope to choose some native wildflower species instead.
Planting it up
This is the fun bit. Make sure your compost is nice and damp (try out your irrigation system for the first time!), and water your plants well before starting. I started at the bottom row and used a wooden dibber to make a hole in the compost before poking the plant through. I planted it up quite densely (much closer than it said on the plant labels) to create the visual effect I wanted, but if you’re more patient than me then you could probably use fewer plants. I alternated different types of flowers, to try to keep it interesting visually.
For the first few days it’ll need plenty of water and TLC. Your funnel will help get the water into your irrigation system. Some of my lobelia have suffered as their roots aren’t well enough established yet, so I use a small watering can to make sure they get enough water. But others are doing well with the irrigation system. We’ll see how it does longer term… A few bumblebees have already started taking an interest.