ideas for a big planter box?
April 4, 2008 3:03 PM   Subscribe

What should I do with this giant brick planter box that fronts my house?

Here's what it looks like. It's about 15 feet long, 2.5 feet high, and 1.5 feet deep. Right now it contains a mix of dirt and potting soil (and LOTS of cat shit and peanuts buried by squirrels).

There is zero direct sunlight. The light you can see in these pics is the most it gets, and the sun is at a very low angle.

The shade, combined with the crapping neighborhood cats means nearly every flower we've put there has died. The straggly fern in the corner is the longest-lived plant so far, but I'm not a huge fan of ferns.

I want to fill it with rocks and call it a day (ok, maybe not literally, but I'm going for simple, cheap, and easy). My husband doesn't want anything "too boring."

He wants to do "some kind of water feature." I say that's a huge money pit, and a half-baked idea anyway since he doesn't really know what he wants or how to accomplish it.

Any ideas?
posted by peep to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
What about a row of shrubbery? It would give you some privacy to that window there, if it was tall enough.
posted by loiseau at 3:11 PM on April 4, 2008

Cat grass may be a win-win...-win.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:13 PM on April 4, 2008

Any water feature is going to look so out of place.

You could do interesting rocks with a few shade plants to liven it up (and keep with the style of your house).

Here's an article on Fine Gardening about planning a shade container garden.

Search their plant finder for full shade plants (like this sort of thing). Get a perennial that's drought tolerant and likes whatever kind of soil you have, plant it, water it until it takes and forget it.
posted by Gucky at 3:14 PM on April 4, 2008

Best answer: Just deck it over with planking and turn it into a bench. Simple, easy, inexpensive. You can put potted plants either end and it will look quite nice.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 PM on April 4, 2008

Put in some plants that cats hate? I know they hate citrus, which isn't very shade-friendly, but perhaps there are some citrus-scented plants you could use there.

I like the water feature idea actually, with some large and pretty river rocks you could have a very, very shallow splashy river-type affair that becomes a birdbath/cat drinking fountain, and I'm going to assume that cats won't want to poop in pebbles :)

I'm thinking of something like this, but without the giant rock column weirdness. Or you could use large flattish stones at slightly different heights to create a series of mini water pools that flow into each other, like this.
posted by Joh at 3:42 PM on April 4, 2008

A herb garden. Strangely enough, many of the most beautiful, fragrant or delicious garden herbs grow best in raised beds, where the soil is relatively poor and well-drained. They don't need full sun. I would suggest rosemary (the trailing variety is prettiest in a raised bed), thyme (smells wonderful & v. pretty, especially the variegated sort - but variegated thyme is not so hardy to frost), some coriander/cilantro (can be grown from seed easily), a couple of basil, bushes (an annual, so replace each spring), and some strawberries (also do well in poor soil) trailing over the front!
posted by sgmax at 3:50 PM on April 4, 2008

By the way, I grew these plants (above) in my own raised bed, in England, for years and they did excellently. If flowers die, you may want to mix in some composted leaves (or bought compost) to start off -- it may be just that there are no nutrients left in the soil. Nutrients wash out of soil in a raised bed very quickly and need to be replaced. Don't rely on fertilizer as this washes out even more quickly!
posted by sgmax at 3:53 PM on April 4, 2008

Personally, I would be super tempted to turn it into a little countryside scene, with houses and cars and maybe even a model train.

That, or a tiny graveyard at Halloween.
posted by pupdog at 4:10 PM on April 4, 2008

You may have luck putting landscaping rocks around your plants to discourage the various critters from digging or disturbing things. It's worked somewhat for me. (Even better--it was an answer to one of my previous AskMe questions!)
posted by gimonca at 4:32 PM on April 4, 2008

Best answer: Looks like you have a nice patio area in front of the planter box (nicely shaded for when the heat of summer becomes too much). If you really have a black thumb and can't get anything to grow in it, why not turn it into some sort of outdoor seating? You could fill and cover the box and get some nice outdoor seat cushions to lay on top. It would be perfect for entertaining a bunch of people, and the damn cats would stop pooping in your planter.
posted by folara at 11:50 PM on April 4, 2008

Aspidistra is known as cast-iron plant because it tolerates all kinds of crummy conditions, zones 7-10. It's very vertical, so it looks nice in horizontal planters with something else draping down between it. Large pebbles should discourage cats- leave enough room for a 2" layer in the top of your planter. I'd use a 1 1/2 to 3" pebble size that is too large for cats to easily dig in.

A water feature in a planter adjacent to your foundation is a bad idea. In fact, make sure you've got moisture barrier on the house side and drainage out the front side of your planter before adding plants.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:06 PM on April 5, 2008

BTW, those Aspidistra I linked are fancy collector's hybrids. You should be able to find plain green (or possibly variegated) at your local nursery for much less. Mix in a few fancy ones if you like, and some bright green, flowering, trailing thing for shade. Maybe Bacopa, Lysimachia, or Lamium maculatum.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:13 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: We haven't started work yet, but we're going with the bench idea! Thanks everyone.
posted by peep at 10:00 AM on April 28, 2008

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