It is frequently difficult to find garden containers to fit a particular space. Windowsills may be too large, or too small for the boxes you can buy: balconies may require larger boxes than those you can find if the overall design is to be maintained, or you may not like the design of the individual planters available. One solution is to make your own containers. A range of containers can be made quite simply from wood or MDF. With care and proper treatment, they will provide long service.
You can also make a number of wooden containers, such as troughs and Versailles tubs in various shapes and designs that fit the style of the garden. Most good garden woodworking manuals contain a number of design ideas that you can adapt to what you need.
Wooden boxes. There are many good books available that give advice on constructing window boxes and troughs for the garden. The projects vary in complexity and the number of tools that are required. If you plan to make a number of boxes for a special situation then it is well worthwhile purchasing good quality woodworking tools as they make any job of this type much easier.
Measure everything carefully. Nothing is more irritating than building a box for a windowsill and finding that it is fractionally too small, or worse still, too large. Use substantial, thick wood or MDF board. It should be at least 19 mm thick. Make sure that the corners and bottom are properly secured. Either buy a routing tool that enables you to make grooved joints or secure the sides and bottom to battens so that the box is rigid and firm.
Don’t just bang a nail or a screw through from one board into another and expect the box to last.
Check the design. Make sure that the window box fits in well with the window and looks right in position. This also applies to planters that stand on their own on patios or balconies, such as Versailles tubs or wooden boxes. You should treat all wood with horticulturally recommended preservative, following the instructions on the label, and paying particular attention to the cut edges. Drill holes in the base to allow the container to drain and line it with thick polythene that can be stapled in place with a staple gun. Make drainage holes in the polyethene and check that these align with the holes in the base of the container.
Raised beds. If you have a larger patio, you may want to build some raised beds. These allow you to grow larger and more substantial plants, such as fruit trees and shrubs. They are also a great help to gardeners who cannot reach the ground easily.
Pay attention to the design and think carefully about the final result before you start. There may be room for small, freestanding beds in the middle of a terrace or roof garden that allow all-round access, and two small beds may look better than one large one.
Raised beds can be built out of brick, decorative blocks, or concrete slabs that can then be rendered and painted. Choose the material to fit in with the surroundings. Natural materials, particularly wood and brick, always look attractive but most surfaces can be painted to tone in better with the surrounding space.
If the bed is to be built on a solid surface such as a patio, check that the base is broken up so that the container can drain freely; otherwise it will become waterlogged. You can have raised beds built professionally or build them yourself.
Building a raised bed
1. Mark out the area with string and then dig out a trench 30 cm (12 in) wide and 30 cm (12 in) deep. Fill this footing with concrete;
2. Leave the concrete over night and then start building the inner wall using cinder blocks. Each block is laid on a 12 mm layer of mortar with one end ‘butted’ with a triangular dab of mortar. Check the level;
3. Build the outer walls out from each corner. When you have laid 3 or 4 courses of bricks set a string guideline between the two corners and infill with bricks inserting metal wall ties at intervals. When the walls are finished lay a top layer of bricks lengthways across both the outer and inner walls. Fill the base of the bed with stones or other drainage material and then fill with good potting compost.
Unusual containers. Painted old car tyres make unusual containers for all plants and are much used for planting potatoes. Add a base to the lowest tyre, ensuring that there is sufficient drainage, then pile the others on top.