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{DIY} Oriental Inspired Garden Bed with Built-In Seat

DIY Raised bed with seat

One of the reasons I love our garden so much is that I can trial ideas and DIYs without the fear of it going wrong (who cares, it's outdoors!) and I can literally put my skills to the test, which is exactly what I've done with this little DIY tutorial.

Building another raised bed wasn't exactly on the agenda for this year, but after we accumulated a ton of bricks from removing walls inside the house, it seemed a real shame not to put some of them to use. I had also eyed up some bamboo in Homebase (£25 a pot and they were taller than me!) but I had read that bamboo was notorious for becoming a bit of a nuisance if not planted in containment/pots and can even start popping up under fences and walls into your neighbours garden if you're not careful!

We really wanted some bamboo (it reminds us of our travels through Asia!) and with hundreds of bricks now sat in the garden, it made sense to combine the two and spruce up the garden near our newly installed french doors.

You Will Need:

  • Bricks
  • Mortar
  • Bucket
  • Drill with Paddle/Mixer
  • Trowels
  • Spirit Level
  • Sponge
  • Wood (I've used pallets)
  • Saw
  • Masonry Paint
  • External Wood Treatment/Paint
  • Compost & Plants

Step 1 - Plan

Obviously the first step is to plan out the exact location and size of the raised bed and also make sure you have enough bricks. I'm building it against a brick wall between us and our neighbour, but you'll notice I haven't butted it up against the house (I've left a good 30cm gap near the soil stack) - you never want to raise the ground level against the house, which includes soil in raised beds, as you will cause yourself serious damp issues on the inside! So, do bare that in mind and keep your planter away from the house.

You can buy engineered bricks or concrete blocks at most DIY stores for just pence each, or you can look on eBay/Gumtree/Freecycle where people are often giving away small amounts of bricks for free. (We got rid of almost all the rest of our bricks this way!)

how to build a raised bed


Step 2 - Dig Out Foundations

In an ideal world you'd want to set your bottom layer of bricks into concrete foundations, however as I couldn't get any bags of concrete delivered without paying extortionate costs (and I didn't have a car at the this time!) I chose to simply set the bricks into a very thick layer bed of mortar. This isn't completely ideal as the ground beneath the bed may well be prone to movement during excessive rainfall and mortar isn't strong enough as a foundation to sit solid, like concrete would. But, I took the risk anyway since I couldn't get hold of any concrete. 

Either way, need to dig out the ground beneath to create a trench for some kind of foundation. Half of my planter will be sitting on-top of an existing concrete floor, which is fine and can have bricks laid straight on top without foundations. It's up to you how deep and wide you want your foundations to be, but I would go for at least one brick in height and two bricks wide in size. You then want to fill with concrete. I'm using an extra thick base of mortar instead.

foundations for garden planter
laying bricks for a raised bed


Step 3 - Begin Laying Bricks

Bricklaying itself isn't difficult, the difficulty is in getting it perfectly level and ensuring a thorough fill of mortar between the gaps. Oh and not making it look like a dogs dinner is also a bit of an art. I'm yet to perfect my skills, but they are more than necessary for this job and you definitely don't need to be a bricklayer to do this!

I've used bagged mortar, which you just add water to and I have a SDS drill and paddle to mix, but you can also do this by hand as well.

mixing mortar with a paddle
bricklaying in the garden

You want to make sure your bricks are as level as you possibly can make them, in all directions. So make sure to have a spirit level at hand! I tend to lay the mortar for a couple of bricks at a time, which helps to ensure I'm laying the correct thickness consistently.

how to lay bricks
how to build a brick planter

You can see my work isn't perfect, the mortar isn't exactly the same thickness throughout and some of the bricks are a little more wonky than perhaps a skilled bricky would have done, but for the most part it's actually not bad at all. And I've never done any kind of bricklaying before this! Because I'm using reclaimed bricks, I already had half sizes - but if you do need to cut any bricks, there are a few ways you can do this, the most simplest is with a masonry chisel. Make sure you wear goggles though!

building a brick raised bed
DIY brick seating in garden

Step 4 - Building Supports for the Seat

If you're not building your raised bed against a brick wall, you'll more than likely have four sides to your planter anyway, so you can skip this step. But for the one I'm building, it only has three sides, so I need an extra support/pillar at the back. I probably should have done this step along with the rest of the planter, but never mind! Again, I gave it a good bed of mortar foundation too. Once I've made a seat for this, you wont ever see the back pillar.

creating a seat on a planter

Step 4 - Rendering

Rendering is much like plastering, except the mixture is a lot less 'sticky' and more sandy. It's quite a difficult mix to work with at first and I'm yet to have a perfect new-plaster kind of finish to it, but once painted, none of the imperfections stand out - and like I said before, the garden is a great place to test your DIY skills without having to worry too much about everything being perfect. Unless you're really a perfectionist, that is!

You can apply a scratch coat of render if you want (a rough application with scored lines) but I've gone straight on with the final coat to save on money and time. From previous rendering experiences, I haven't had any problems doing it this way.

I try to apply the render as smooth as possible, but you don't want to worry too much at this stage about any fine lines or dips, which you'll smooth out a little later. Rendering isn't easy, so take your time and be ready for a challenge! I tend to do one side at a time, letting it firm up before attempting any corners. If it's firming up too quickly for you, apply some water with a paintbrush over any areas you want to re-smooth.

how to render a garden planter
rendering a garden bed
diy rendering with mortar


Step 5 - Smooth Out Lines

Because mortar is a completely different texture to plaster, it's incredibly difficult to keep 'smoothing over' to get a perfect finish. To deal with this, you want to take a wet sponge (before the mortar completely dries, but not when it's too wet either!) and buff any imperfections out this way. This means your render will have a slightly rougher texture to it when it dries, but it will look more consistently flat and any fine lines will disappear.

smoothing lines in render


Step 6 - Sand & Paint!

After having buffed out the lines with the wet sponge, once it's completely dry you can then sand the render for a more smoother finish. I quite like the rough texture, so I only do this step to take out any larger raised bumps. You can then find  yourself some masonry paint and paint away! I always use testers for these projects as you really don't need a whole tub and a tester size tends to do the job! I'm using the colour 'Slate' in Homebase's own brand.


Step 7 - Apply a Concrete Base

This step is only applicable if you're planting bamboo and want to ensure you're containing it so that it can't venture off into other peoples gardens or elsewhere in your own. I've made a cement mix (ideally you'd use concrete - but again, I didn't have any) and poured it into the planter. This will act as a base so that the roots of the bamboo can't get through. Once fully dry you can add plants.

how to keep bamboo from running


{To Make the Seat}


Step 1 - Cut Wood to Size

I'm using some free pallet wood, which are perfect for outdoors as they're usually already pre-treated. To break the pallet up, we're using our trusty lifting bar (makes quick work of jobs like this!) but you can also just use a regular crow bar. I then cut to the wood to size so that it sits on both the back pillar and the front bricks. You also want two lengths of wood that will sit horizontally underneath the seat to act as extra support.

how to take apart a pallet
making a seat for a brick planter
cutting pallet wood


Step 2 - Treat

Despite pallet wood being pre-treated, I always go over with another level of treatment just to be on the safe side. I'm using a deck treatment this time, which was given away free recently from my local Homebase. It's really important to treat any end cuts you've just made too.

treating pallet wood
decking treatment on pallet wood


Step 3 - Screw together

I'm using stainless steel screws, which are rust proof to screw the wood together in a formation similar to below. You can see the horizontal lengths of wood will provide support to the seat and they'll be purposely placed so that they slot into the planter and stop the seat from wiggling around. Because I'm screwing these pieces of wood together from the underside you'll never see the screws from the top of the seat, which will give a much neater and sleek finish.

how to screw together a seat


Step 4 - Enjoy!

And now you're done! You'll notice the bamboo is looking much healthier in its new planter and I think the little seat is a lovely touch that creates a little hideaway nook in the garden. I'm going to have to keep trimming the bamboo so that it doesn't overgrow the seat too much, but I absolutely love it and I'm pretty pleased with out its turned out.

diy garden seat in bamboo
modern seat in bamboo planter
asian inspired garden planter
raised bed with wooden seating
oriental planter for the garden
bamboo in raised bed with seating
brick planter with wooden seat

Obviously this area of the garden still needs a bit more work - we'll be adding decking at some point  which will sit around the planter and I also hope to grow some climbers up the back of the house  too. (nothing that destroys brickwork obviously!) But it's definitely brightened up this area of the garden a little and I'm sure will become my morning spot for a cup of coffee.

I'd love to know what do you think? Would you/have you created something similar?

Costs:

(rounded to the nearest pound)

New Tools Purchased:
None

Materials Used:
Mortar x4 £20
Cement £5
Bricks - free
Screws £6
Masonry Paint £2
Wood - free

Total: £33

(+ £50 for the Bamboo)


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