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Bench Planter

A beautiful slab of wood can be transformed into a bench or coffee table with a builtin planter.

This bench planter can work as a bench or coffee table. Mine functions as a bench in my home’s entryway. If you intend to use the piece as a bench, choose a larger vertical plant with some height—otherwise the plant becomes lost. If you’re using the piece as a coffee table you should opt for a plant with a low-growth habit, like a hoya or pothos. This will keep the space where the table sits open and the room’s sight lines clear. Since I wanted my piece to function as a bench, I used a Ming asparagus fern, which has a soft, airy look. Asparagus ferns are not really ferns, so they are not as demanding as a true fern and a little more tolerant of receiving less water. They require bright indirect light. If you have a spot with lower light, use an aspidistra or sansevieria. For a high-light space a ponytail palm would be a fun structural plant.

The piece of walnut was found at a lumberyard. It had a natural opening in it about 51/2 inches wide, which I chose to use as the hole for the plant. I love the organic lines of the walnut and the natural opening it has, but if you cannot find a piece of wood with a natural opening you can make your own by drilling a pilot hole and using a jigsaw to enlarge the hole into an opening large enough for a plant. If you are making your own opening you can opt for an irregular circle or make a perfect circle using a compass. I used a fairly thin 1-inch-thick walnut board. Most slab benches and tables are closer to 3 inches thick. Any board between 1 and 3 inches thick will work. The bench in this project is 52 inches long, but any length between 36 and 60 inches will work.

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I purchased 14-inch-long unfinished-steel hairpin legs on the Internet (see Resources); they’re also available in stainless steel and in other lengths. You could use another type of leg if you do not like the look of hairpin legs.

I used a very simple 6-inch plastic pot with an attached saucer for the container. I thought the attached saucer would be handy for watering, and I liked the fact that the saucer looks like it’s part of the pot. You could also use a ceramic soup bowl with a rim. The main thing to consider when selecting a pot is that it is secured to the underside of the wood slab by the rim of the pot, so whatever container you use should have a sturdy rim.

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MATERIALS

  • Piece of wood at least 3 feet long and 1 foot wide, preferably with a natural opening for the plant (A)
  • Tung oil or other wood finish (B)
  • Four 14-inch hairpin legs (C)
  • 14 screws no longer than the thickness of the piece of wood (D)
  • Wood trim that’s the same width as the lip of the planter (E)
  • 2 to 4 flat metal brackets (F)
  • 6-inch planter with lip (G)
  • 6-inch Ming asparagus fern (H)

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TOOLS

  • Dust mask
  • Random orbital sander with an assortment of sandpaper that includes 80-, 120-, 150-, and 220-grit sandpaper (I)
  • 2 clean rags (J)
  • Stain applicator (K)
  • Pencil
  • Small handsaw (L)
  • Drill with screw bit to fit the screws you’re using (M)

Wearing the dust mask, sand both sides of the wood. Start with the coarse-grit sandpaper (80-grit) and work your way to the fine-grit sandpaper (150- or 220-grit). You don’t have to sand the underside of the wood as much as the top side. I did not use the fine-grit sandpaper on the bottom side at all, only on the top.

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Wipe the dust off the top and bottom sides of the wood with a dry, clean rag, then wipe them again with a damp rag. Wipe the wood several times until there is no dust left and your rag comes away clean.

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Apply the tung oil or other finishing oil to both sides of the wood with a clean stain applicator according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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With the top side of the wood slab facing down, position the hairpin legs so that they’re each an equal distance in from the slab’s four corners. Mine are 2 inches in from the long sides of the slab and 4 inches in from the ends. Mark the holes where the screws will go with the pencil. Predrill pilot holes 1/4 inch deep and then drill in the screws.

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Use the handsaw to cut two 1-inch-long pieces of wood trim. If the container you’re mounting is smaller than 6 inches you will only need 2 pieces. If you’re using a large or heavy pot, cut 4 pieces of wood.

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Place the container over the hole so that the opening of the container and the opening in the wood are aligned.

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Predrill a hole in the center of each of the pieces of wood trim so that they don’t split. Then place a metal bracket over the wood and the lip of the container, lining up the hole in the wood and metal bracket. Drill in the screw so it goes through the wood trim and into the table. Make sure the bracket is screwed on tightly enough to securely hold the lip of the pot to the wood, but loose enough to swing it aside when you want to remove the container for watering. Repeat with another piece of wood and another bracket on the opposite side of the container. If you’re using 4 pieces of wood, repeat two more times so that there’s a piece of wood and a bracket evenly spaced around the lip of the container.

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Remove the asparagus fern from its pot. Turn the table over and place the asparagus fern in the container.

WATER

You can water the fern in place if you are careful not to splash water on the bench (wipe up any splashed water immediately). If you would like to remove the plant to water it, simply reach underneath the bench, hold the bottom of the container with one hand and rotate the metal pieces with your other hand until you feel the container drop. Pull the container and plant down through the hole. The Ming asparagus fern prefers evenly moist soil, but can tolerate dry periods. They like a higher level of humidity, but it is not a must for survival. You can mist them to give them more humidity.

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LIGHT

Bright indirect light is best for Ming asparagus ferns. Direct sun will burn the plant, and insufficient light will cause it to turn yellow.

TEMPERATURE

Asparagus ferns prefer daytime temperatures between 70°F to 75°F and nighttime temperatures between 60°F to 65°F.

MAINTENANCE

The wood slab will need to be recoated with tung oil or another finish from time to time. If the wood looks thirsty and has a dried-out appearance, remove the planter and reapply the tung oil or other finish to the wood.

PLANT CRAFT
30 PROJECTS THAT ADD
NATURAL STYLE TO YOUR HOME

CAITLIN ATKINSON