Gardening for nerds

I have always enjoyed plants. They are often beautiful, and when they aren’t, they are usually incredibly interesting.

Growing plants of my own has always been a challenge. Up until recently, I have not lived in a place where I felt comfortable taking ownership of the space. Additionally, I have been terribly absent minded, and unmotivated.

However, I recently, married, and bought a house which means I now have control of space.

My wife is interested in growing plants which gives me some motivation.

I am, however, still absent minded, and we’ve little experience with growing plants. Our initial attempts have been thwarted by our tendency to forget about them, and our ignorance of the conditions they need to grow.

In response to these circumstances, I decided that I could take advantage of my skills as a programmer, my knowledge of electronics, and my general ability to envision/assemble to create an indoor garden where we could more accurately control the growing environment, and automate many of the processes that often slip our minds, leading to the untimely death of too many plants.

This goal to automate the light exposure, and watering in an controlled, indoor environment actually involves the convergence of at least two different projects:

  1. An indoor garden.
  2. An electronic monitoring system capable of automating light and water dispensation.


  1. An Indoor Garden

When I started working on my indoor garden, I had to define parameters:

  1. I decided that I wanted it to fit along the wall in what may be described as my dining area.
  2. I would like to minimize the depth of the garden, or the distance that the garden projects from the wall, out into the room.
  3. I’d like to maximize my use of vertical space.
  4. I would like the design to incorporate components that I have quick, easy access to.

Those parameters being established, I started doing some research.

There are many design examples for indoor gardens out there, but the first that seemed close fitting my needs was what is described as a vertical garden.

There are probably hundreds of different design options accessible by just doing a quick google image search, however, the one that seemed the most accessible to myself was one that used gutters to create horizontal rows.

Gutter Row

Styles of Vertical Gardens

Once I had a design objective, I could get to work making it a reality.

To begin with, I tried to identify some elements I wanted to include in my design:

  • Angled row, tilted slightly down on one end, to facilitate the draining of excess water.
  • Outward tilting shelves, to allow easier access.
  • Mounting points for Fluorescent lights.
  • A system for draining water with included bulkhead fittings, and vinyl tube.
  • Aluminum guttering for increased strength.
  • 6 in guttering for deeper shelves.

With all of this in mind, I drew up plans in Autocad, bought my materials, and assembled my garden.


By now, I have identified a couple of problems with the original design.

First, the placement of the fourth row (bottom) does not provide enough space to include the bulkhead fitting, and drainage tube.

Second, the 2 fluorescent lights included in the original plan do not provide enough light for adequate growth. To correct this, I could try a fluorescent fixture with more bulbs, or I could try using LED lights, mounted directly above each row.

Third, the outward tilting of the shelves is somewhat unnecessary. Access to the shelves would be better accomplished by making them easily removeable.

All of that being said, here are some links to photos of the completed project, along with materials lists, and CAD drawings.

Photos of the finished product, and assembly of a Vertical Garden.

Design Files for a Vertical Garden.

Materials List of a Vertical Garden.