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Put some life into your garden furniture: Pt 1

by Rhiannon James

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If there’s no space for both furnishings and flower pots on your balcony or terrace, why not combine the two by making some living, growing furniture.

Our first project, a footstool planted with chamomile, is perfect for unwinding after a hard day’s work – just put your feet up, breathe in the calming scent of the plants and relax . . .

Stuff to get

1. A container for the plants – we used an old plastic storage box (length 745mm x width 354mm x height 160 mm – excluding the lip). It must have a lip around the top that’s strong enough to support the full weight of the container when it’s filled with compost.

2. The size of your container will determine how much wood you need. We used around 7.5 metres of 33mm square PSE (Planed Square Edge) softwood.

3. 12 large (2 inch, No.8) and 56 small (3/4 inch, No.6) screws

4. Eight steel 50mm right angle brackets

5. Two pieces of white acrylic measuring 745mm x 160mm and two pieces measuring 345mm x 160mm. You’ll need to have holes around the edge of the acrylic sheet so you can screw it into the frame. You can buy pieces pre-cut and pre-drilled from companies like The Plastic Man (www.theplasticman.co.uk) or you can cut and drill them yourself. If you don’t want to use acrylic, you could also try painted marine plywood.

6. Exterior wood filler

7. Clear wood preservative

8. Exterior Paint. We used Weathershield Exterior Satin in Gallant Grey from Dulux.

9. 20 to 25 Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’ plugs. This variety is often used for chamomile lawns and so is perfect for this project. It doesn’t flower but it is an evergreen perennial so it’ll look good all year round. It grows best in a sunny site.

10. Compost – John Innes Number 3 or a non-peat alternative

Tools you’ll need

1. A mitre jig and saw or hand saw and set square

2. Electric hand drill, small wood bit and countersink bit

3. Screwdriver

4. Paint brushes

Step-by-step

Make the wooden frame

1. Take the container that you’re going to use for the planting and measure its external dimensions (excluding the lip around the top) to work out the lengths of baton you’ll need. Once you have measurements for the length and width, add 66mm to each to account for the thickness of the wood (adjust this according to the size of your baton) plus an extra 5mm for clearance.

2. Then, cut four pieces of baton according to the dimensions you’ve calculated, to form the top section of the frame. Use the mitre jig to cut the ends of the batons at a 45 degree angle so that when you put two lengths together, you’ll have a ready-made joint. If you don’t have a mitre jig, you can mark out the angle with a pencil and cut the wood by hand but this will be less accurate. (We cut our batons to the following dimensions – shorter / width pieces: external 425mm, internal 360mm, longer/length pieces: external 815mm, internal 750mm – the difference in the external and internal measurements is due to the 45 degree angle at each end.)

3. Join the four pieces together by putting a screw through each joint. To do this, drill a small hole at both ends of the two shorter/width pieces you have cut. Drill from the outside in and position each hole so that the screws will go in straight (and not at an angle). Countersink the holes and then screw all four pieces together to form a rectangular frame. Take care, when putting the screws in, to keep the frame aligned because the joints can quite easily slip out of position.

4. Now, cut the legs, using either your mitre jig or a hand saw. These should be around 280mm long, (although you may need to adjust this according to the height of the seating you’ll be using with the footstool), and should have a square edge at either end.

5. Then cut four further pieces of baton to form the lower section of the frame. The lengths should have the same dimensions as the inside of the upper frame (as they will butt up against the vertical legs when they’re in place) and should be cut with square edges. (We cut our batons to the following dimensions: shorter / width pieces: 360mm, longer/length pieces: 750mm.)

6. Drill and countersink two holes in each leg, at the points where you want to attach the pieces that’ll form the lower section of the frame. The lower frame should be positioned so the container is completely hidden – we drilled holes about 120mm down from the top of each leg.

7. Screw two legs to each of the longer/length pieces of the lower frame to create two H-shapes.

8. Then join the two H-shapes together, using the shorter/ width pieces.

9. If you want to, you can attach a right angle bracket inside each corner of the lower frame to increase stability, but this is not essential (as it may mean you’ll need to cut notches in your pieces of acrylic to make them fit into the frame).

10. Attach the upper frame to the lower frame and legs using a further four right angle brackets (attach the brackets to the upper frame first).

11. Fill in the screw holes with the wood filler and leave to dry. Then sand each filled area until it’s smooth.

12. Paint the timber frame with the wood preservative and leave to dry as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

13. Apply two coats of the exterior paint.

14. Once the paint has dried, attach the four acrylic panels to the inside of the wooden frame. If you’ve used brackets to increase the stability of the lower frame as per step 8, you may need to put a small notch in each panel so they sit flush against the wooden frame.

Plant up the container

1. Drill some holes in the bottom of the container to allow water to drain.

2. If you have some old polystyrene, add this to the bottom of the container to reduce the overall weight.+

3. Add the compost (you can mix in some horticultural grit and sand to increase drainage and some slow-release plant food ) and plant your chamomile plugs about 10cm apart.

4. Drop the container into the wooden frame and place the footstool in a sunny spot. If you plant the plugs now, by next summer they will have covered the top of the container, creating a green cushion for your footstool.

5. Try not to use the stool for about three months after planting to allow the plugs to establish.

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