Once we had deck liftoff, I spent quite a bit of time contemplating what to do with our new, snazzy outdoor deck. We had a deck before, but never used it really, except for stacking crap that was supposed to go to the outdoor shed... which no one ever remembered to do. Almost from the time we moved into the house, the deck was weathered, splitting, and nails were coming up so it wasn't all that pleasant to walk across. I was determined that after we mortgaged our children's futures to purchase materials for that deck, that we would damn well use it for it's intended purpose and not just for bike storage.

I've always wanted a really nice kitchen window herb garden for cooking but the logistics of my kitchen are such that any attempts to create something like this would involve a game of twister and the need to hire contortionist trainer. So when someone forwarded me instructions to build a deck garden out of a recycled pallet, I thought it would be a cool thing to try. The link above gives very good starting instructions, so I'm not going to go into too much detail on the how to here, except to point out what didn't work for me and what I had to change.

When I showed The KoH my plans for this, he enthusiastically told me he'd bring home a pallet from his factory as they had tons of them and it would be no big deal. I said sure, please do that and I bought some herbs while I waited with baited breath for my pallet to arrive. Then I watched my herbs get root bound and begin to die in their tiny plastic pots while I waited some more for that pallet. Finally, I went over to our local nursery and asked if I they might be so kind as to give me, or charge me very little for, one of the pallets that were lying around their grounds. After I thoroughly confused them with reasons why I wanted a pallet and none of the goods that came on said pallet, they finally just waved their hands and said, "Sure, take one. Whatever you want, nutso." I strapped one to the roof of my car and drove home with no cash exchanging hands. Lesson learned: it often pays to look like a complete idiot in front of people.

Once I got it home, I followed these instructions up until this point:

Then, as they suggest, I let it sit flat on the ground for a few days to let the dirt settle before setting it upright.

Somewhere in this waiting period is where I realized the inherent problem: all pallets aren't created equally. See all those nice supportive slats on the front? Most pallets have about half that many on the back and there is way more space in between them. So as I had suspected, when I made my first attempt to lift the whole garden up and get it standing, I got it about an inch off the ground before I realized that the four slats and landscapers fabric holding the dirt in from the back wasn't nearly strong enough to hold in the five cubic yards of soil I'd smashed inside. As soon as I lifted it up, I felt the fabric start to pull and all the dirt shifted around so I immediately put it back down for a few more days while I thought about it.

Finally, I explained my proposed solution to The KoH and he found me a large piece of press board in his shop. He and I carefully slid the whole pallet onto it without lifting it more than an inch off the ground. Then in a feat of impossibility I'm still not sure I can explain, we stood them both up and I held the press board to the back while The KoH nailed it to the pallet before all the dirt could fall out. Then we took a circular saw and cut the press board to fit the pallet. This whole process would have been infinitely easier had I thought of this issue when the pallet was empty, lighter, and easier to move around before I'd filled the whole thing with dirt and planted everything. If I'd nailed on a back first and then stapled on the landscaper's fabric, it would have been a much nicer looking product from the back. Let's just say that I would do things differently next time.

But igual, no más, we eventually had a standing deck garden for our troubles. This is where I ran into the second inherent problem: I have no idea how these folks suggest securing the pallet to the wall to ensure it won't fall over. It's heavy and will stand by itself, yes, but I simply didn't trust it to stay that way if a big wind or a small child came by. Fortunately, I had thought of this before and not wanting to do anything permanent, we used a belt clamp to secure it to the deck railings. You'll see the orange nylon strap in the picture below.

We added a few camp chairs, a grill and a fire table and now it's actually a nice place to sit.

Run down of herbs: Row one (top): all chives. Row 2: Cilantro, Spearmint, Marjoram, Eucalyptus, Fennel. Row 3: Parsley, Rosemary 4 kinds (HillHardy, Salem, Spice Island, Barbeque). Row 4 (Basil row): African Blue Basil, Mini Purple Basil, plain ol' run-o-the-mill basil, Greek Columnar Basil, Regular Basil, Sweet Basil, Amethyst Basil, more Sweet Basil, Lemon Basil). Row 5: Oregano, Dill, Pineapple Sage, Growers' Friend Sage, Corsican Mint, Regular Mint. Row 6: all Lemon Thyme

There are a few things you can learn about me from this list of herbs: One: I may or may not have a serious basil addiction. Two: I have never, nor will I ever create an herb garden of any sort without including parsley, sage, rosemary AND thyme. Musically, it's a necessity. Three: In almost every photo on this post, you'll see someone's bare foot. It's getting harder and harder to explain to my next door neighbor that I do sometimes wear shoes. Four: Someone asked me what cilantro was and my response was 'I guess people might use it for things other than salsa, but I don't know what.' Five: In fact, there are several of these herbs that I have no idea what to do with except make salsa. But I'm not really sure there is anything else worth making besides salsa, so I'm okay with that.

Some are just the tiniest bit perturbed that they can't join us in our adventures outdoors.

Some are just happy because this improved access to the outdoors means more hot dogs.

Me? I just enjoy having a chair set right next to the garden so I can supervise the growth of my plants.

My favorite thing about this is watching all the little plants come out of the dirt sideways and then try to crane their heads up toward the sun. It's like I played a practical joke on nature. (Go ahead and click on the photos to embiggen and you'll see what I mean when you look at the stalks.)