Introduction: Bench, Lean to and Planter From Re-claimed Wood

Everyone wants a garden that is easy to maintain, but is enjoyable to sit in. A garden for me has to do several things; I want it to produce flowers, vegetables and plants that are enjoyable to look at, maintain and eat, I need it to be space where the dog can roam around and I want it to be somewhere that provides a quiet place to sit and relax.

I love to invent, so I spent my winter evenings on the sofa pondering about what I could do with my bare, 5x10m garden.

My Goal;

- Somewhere to sit and relax (even in the rain)

- A place to grow my own vegetables

- Something easy to maintain

- Something to add value to the house

Step 1: Exploring Ideas

It is all in the planning!

A) Measure the area you want to work on. Pay very close attention to every up, down, in and out of that area

B) Identify any limitations; pipe and cables that can't be moved, windows, doors.

C) Transfer your measurements onto a template, this could be a sketch on paper or 3D modelling software

D) Create a copy of the template so you can explore multiple ideas - you'll have lots

E) Begin designing

I used Google Sketch-up to create a design that works for me. You could do the same by sketching or using other 3D CAD tools, but keep in mind the tips below.

Getting it right;

- Measure and Measure again

- Think hard about your end goal (function or form? - useful or pretty?)

- Think about the materials you will use, what dimensions are they?

- Be patient and creative. Share your ideas and get feedback

Step 2: Mark Up and Layout

Now you have your design, make sure it fits. If you took all your measurements correctly then there is no reason it shouldn't.

For the bench, I marked the materials I was using and lay them out on the ground to visualise how I would be constructing the bench. This helped me to ensure I did not cut any piece too short!


- Measure twice

- Mark each component in an easy to understand way (eg, upper right support)

- Identify each component against the design and understand it's construction

Step 3: Cut

For the bench, I wanted a design that did not show any fixings, but rather showed off the bench as a series of interlocking components. This was all encompassed in the design.

To achieve this look, I carefully measured, marked and cut each component with careful accuracy to ensure a snug fit.

The image shows on of the back legs. This upright support must accompany the seat of the bench, as well as the back support which interlocks above the seat and behind the support. To make these cuts, I used a router and saw.

Step 4: First Mockup

As the design of the bench allows it to be self supporting - I took the opportunity to piece all the components together in place to check their fit.

Additionally, now is a good time to mark the ground using pegs to identify where each component should go back as the bench is fixed in it's position.


- Check each component fits and adjust as required

- Mark the ground to identify each components location

- Place a membrane down to keep weeds from growing

Step 5: Fixing in Place

Before fixing the bench in place, I tanned the bottoms of each component that would be in contact with the ground. As a backup to this, I also affixed a waterproof membrane too, too keep as much water off the timber in order to prolong its life.

I completed the bench by adding shingle and a small artificial plant.

Key Points:

- Treat timber which will be exposed to prolonged periods of damp

- Use a waterproof membrane to keep moisture away

- Use hard wearing furniture paint/stain on surfaces as normal outdoor paint/stain will easily wear down

Step 6: Building a Lean To

Building a lean-to requires the same level of focus on the design. In addition to this, local building regulations should also be considered.

Due to the dimensions of my lean to, Planning Permission is not required. Rather, it is considered permitted development. If you are in doubt, contact your local planning department or visit Planning Portal online for free guidance.

Key Points:

- Check if you need planning permission

- Ensure compliance with Building Regulations (even if you don't need planning permission)

- Measure everything twice

- Find a safe construction method, seeking assistance when needed

- Wear PPE

- Give your dog a squeeky chicken so it doesn't knock your ladder over or stand in your concrete foundations

Step 7: Build a Pallet Planter

To make best use of a reclaimed pallet. Strip it apart first - it's very likely you'll break some of the panels as you pull it apart. They are often held together using large industrial staples, which will be rusty, bent and fixed in at bizarre angles. Just take your time and pry the boards apart inch by inch.

Once you have the board apart, begin laying the pieces out into similar length piles - including the short pieces which have been damaged.

Find a layout which make best use of the timber and mark it out on the ground using pegs - or as I did, the little shards of timber that broke off as I pried the pallets apart.

Use the large supports from the pallet to build the main structure of the planter.

Depending on the shape of your planter, there may be no need to bury the support into the ground - I didn't for mine as it is held rigid by the lean to.

Line the inside of the planter with waterproofing. I used polythene dust sheets which were left over from decorating.

Step 8: Filling the Planter With Compost

To fill the planter with compost, you'll need to know the volume of compost required. To do this, you first need to identify the area of the footprint of the planter. The length times by the width.

Find the Area

For mine, I imagined that the planter is made up of two rectangles, one were 80cm by 90cm and the other was 40cm by 100cm. This gives two areas, one of 0.72m2 (80x90cm) and one of 0.4m2 (40x100cm).

The sum of the two areas gives the total area, for mine this was 1.12m2 (0.72+0.4)

Calculate the Volume in m3

The area, multiplied by the height gives a volume. The height of my container was 30cm. Therefore my volume is 0.34m3 (1.12m2x0.3m).

Convert the Volume to Kg

One cubic metre (1m3) is equivalent to 1000litres. Compost has a density of roughly 0.6kg per litre depending on the variety.

0.34m3 x 1000 = 340 litres.

340 litres x 0.6kg/l = 204kg.

Therefore I required just over 200kg of compost to fill my planter. This equaled around 13 x 15kg bags.

To reduced the amount I required, I re-used the soil I had excavated from the foundations of the lean to.

Step 9: Plant Your Veggies and Enjoy

Finally, after a year of planning, measuring, design and building I can now enjoy my garden. Along the way I have learnt a thing or two and below is my one page summary of the build;

  • Don't measure twice, measure three times at least
  • It's all in the planning and design - take care when designing, I produce more than 20 before i was satisfied
  • Dog's will drop their tennis ball in your excavations, hundreds of times
  • Do your best and do your research
  • Building Regulations matter - follow them and make sure you get planning permission if required
  • Re-purposed materials can produce great quality structures

Planter Challenge

Participated in the
Planter Challenge