Making the most of a small garden or beautifying an outdoor area? Ladder stands are ‘stepping’ in to help. John Mason and the staff at ACS Distance Learning investigate and build one
As gardens and outdoor spaces are diminishing in size, many people are looking at ways to make the most of their available space. One easy solution is to use plant stands. They have been around for many years in all sorts of different guises, and they allow you to fit more plants into a small area by using vertical space. Pedestals are ideal for highlighting a specimen plant, and smaller items often look at their best grouped on garden tables, but the new kid on the block is the ladder stand. It’s a variation on a theme, really – they’re old-style tiered plant stands, but with a modern twist. They’re made to look a bit like a short set of steps dressed up with plants in pots, and perhaps one or two other embellishments.
Some people are adapting them for indoor use too, although you’d need to position them near a window if you want to successfully keep plants on them. You’ll not only find them in garden centres, but also at furniture retailers. It’s outdoors, though, where they really come into their own. You could say ladder stands are a way of creating a type of green wall – bringing greenery and colour to a confined area by raising smaller plants closer to eye level and showing off their marvels. A great bonus of this solution is that you have the flexibility to change a display around, keeping your horticultural feature looking at its best throughout the year. Then, if you tire of the look, it’s easily changed.
If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon an old wooden set of steps, these could easily be adapted for use as a stand. You may need to paint them with a waterproof sealant or use some primer and outdoor paint for a more colourful look. Of course, you could just go out and buy one, if you can find the right type. Some are like stepladders, and others are more like A-frames with shelving or ‘steps’ that go from one side to the other – but why not make your own?
BUILDING A LADDER STAND FROM WOOD
Wood is the most versatile material to use for stands, and they will last if made from hardwood or treated softwood. Use recycled timber if possible, but you’ll also find what you need by making a trip to your local DIY store or timber merchant’s. The following guide will help you to make a stand with three steps, each having four slats. You may wish to play around with the dimensions to suit your own needs.
|Materials||4 × 1m lengths of 3 × 1 (64mm × 19mm) for the legs
1 × 1m length of 4 × 1 (89mm × 19mm) for the top rail
3 × 1m lengths of 2 × 1 (38mm × 19mm) for the middle and bottom rails
12 × 1m lengths of 2 × 1 (38mm × 19mm) decking slats for the steps
Galvanised woodscrews – 48 @ 28mm for the slats on the steps
Galvanised woodscrews – 24 @ 28mm for the legs
Galvanised woodscrews – 12 @ 28mm for the back rails
Wood preserver (optional)
Electric saw (e.g. drop saw), or handsaw (e.g. panel saw)
Electric drill and wood bit
Phillips bit (or Phillips screwdriver)
Sandpaper and block
If you are using non-treated timber, the first thing you’ll need to do is to paint it with a wood preserver and leave it for twenty-four hours to dry. Also, make sure you paint the ends after cutting.
1 Start by making the legs. The back leg on each side will be 700mm, and the inside length of the front leg will be 730mm. You’ll need to cut both ends of the front two legs to an angle of 17°. Smooth your cuts with sandpaper.
2 Measure for the position of the bottom rails. Drill two pilot holes into each leg, then use your countersink bit to make neat holes. Screw the bottom rails in place – you may find it easier to clamp them whilst doing this, otherwise lay them down on a flat surface. Make sure you leave a gap of 38mm behind each side rail for the back rail to fit in – this will keep it flush against the outside of the back legs.
3 Check that your two side rails are aligned using a spirit-level. Pre-drill and countersink the back rail, then secure it in place on each side with two screws into the side rails. To further reinforce it you can insert one screw at an angle through the back rail and into the back leg.
4 Position and install the top rails. Follow the same procedure as for the bottom rails and use your spirit-level to ensure everything is aligned.
5 Do the same for the middle rails. In order to make enough room for your two slats on the outside of the step, you may need to raise or lower the position slightly.
6 Cut your decking slats to size for the steps. We recommend four per step – two at 600mm will be on the outside of the bottom two shelves, with two shorter ones on the inside. You may want to adjust the width according to your preferences.
7 Pre-drill and countersink your slats for the steps, then put them in position and secure with woodscrews. Check your stand is strong enough by placing some pot plants on it. If necessary, add a wooden diagonal brace across the back from the bottom of one leg to the top of the other.
8 Finish off by smoothing any rough surfaces with fine sandpaper, then paint any areas which need preserver. Fill any drill holes with exterior wood filler and apply a wax, wood stain or primer and outdoor paint. Then, once dry, position your pots on it and enjoy!
If you don’t fancy building this plant stand, you could design your own. Perhaps you want something which can be easily transported or moved around the garden. If so, why not make something modular? You could build each step so that it could be stacked and secured, but quickly dismantled if needed. You could have more than one stand sitting adjacent to each other.
Another possibility would be to build one from timber planks set on stacks of bricks. This would require less skill to construct and, once again, could be disassembled if you no longer want it.
This is easy to use for DIY projects. It is a renewable resource, and is not particularly expensive unless you choose some of the rarer hardwoods.
This is not quite so easy to work with. You may be able to salvage pre-drilled and cut pieces. If buying new, cast iron and aluminium are expensive.
This is not ideal for ladder stands. It may scratch, is susceptible to UV damage outdoors, and is not easy to repair, but it is cheap.
MAINTENANCE AND DURABILITY
Outdoors, plant stands are exposed to the elements – even if they are protected by a veranda. What’s more, you’ll be watering your plants and splashing water around as you do so, therefore, you’re going to have to look after your stand.
To prevent rot, this will need to be hardwood or treated softwood. Tanalised timber is wood that has already been impregnated with preservative, making it fit for outdoor use. Untreated wood will need a couple of coats of preservative, even if you intend to paint it. Paint will last longer than stain but is more expensive and needs a couple of undercoats. Waxes and oils look more natural, but will need reapplying regularly.
Rust is the biggest problem, since it thrives on air and water, and if left untreated it will cause decay. Iron is most prone – stainless or galvanised steel and aluminium, much less so. Some may be constructed of powder-coated steel or plated with non-corrosive metals, which should last well. To prevent rust, metals will need to be oiled or greased, or painted with a suitable metal paint.
STRENGTH AND WEIGHT
How strong your stand needs to be will depend on what size plants you intend to put on it. A solid stand will be more stable and strong, but it will be harder to move about. If you’re going to make a very tall stand, then you may have to use thicker timber.
A smaller stand will be easier to manipulate for maintenance purposes. Similarly, if you fix the stand to a wall or other structure, it will be more difficult to carry out maintenance and repairs. Several small stands may offer more flexibility than one large one.