Organize your potting bench and give it character at the same time with flea market finds and repurposed treasures.
Start with a rustic piece like this weather-beaten (and character-rich) old workbench, or opt for a new ready-to-assemble potting station. Then, up the storage ante with functional add-ons that keep your gear efficiently organized: hooks to hang a hose and garden tools, baskets, tins, and jars to contain soil, mulch, seed packets, plant markers, and bird seed, buckets for picking flowers and produce. Put a boot tray or mat nearby for muddy footwear and tuck a tall stool nearby for a quick perch while puttering at your bench.
Now that your potting bench is ready for work, it’s time to make the space uniquely yours. Lay down a patterned outdoor rug to brighten up the space. Hang something eye-catching (bonus points for something that’s also practical) on the wall above the bench. We gave a rusty iron headboard new life as a memo board, using clip clothespins to attach seed packets, planting plans, and reminders. Find room for a few collectibles to add character. Timeworn license plates line the back of our bench top, while a grouping of old brass hose nozzles, a toy windmill, and an antique railway lantern inject charm. A vintage scale offers both functionality and sculptural interest.
Bring sensible storage from your kitchen pantry to your potting bench. Vintage canning jars with zinc lids make attractive and airtight containers for birdseed on the upper shelf of the bench. The jars are also useful for holding small implements, flower-arranging supplies, and soil additives such as bone meal or soluble plant food. We propped up an old artist’s palette behind the clear jars for a jolt of pure color.
Create a surface for labeling your herb pots with chalkboard spray paint. Using painter’s tape, mask off the bottom of a terracotta pot and the inside of the rim. Spray the rim with several light coats of paint until fully covered. Let dry completely. Rub chalk over the painted surface to season the chalkboard and erase. Plant herbs in the pots and write the name of the plant on the rim with a stick of chalk.
Fashion a combination soap dish and utensil holder from an old garden rake head. Screw the head to the side of your bench and hang frequently-used tools from the tines. Place a bar of shea butter-infused soap on the rake to soften garden-roughened hands.
Keep soil mixes easily accessible when potting up containers. Line a vintage bushel basket with a plastic trash bag and fold the edges of the bag down. Fill the basket with potting mix and add a handy galvanized tin scoop. It’s so much easier to take soil from a wide-mouth basket than to pour or scoop from a bag of potting mix. When you’re finished with your chores, pull the sides of the trash bag up and secure with a twist-tie so that your mix stays fresh and dry.
On the lower shelf of the potting bench we created a second tier of storage with a vintage child’s metal motel chair. Any small storage unit—an old wood beverage crate turned on its side, for example—can be adapted to create multiple levels for stashing stuff. Keep often-used tools and gardening gloves gathered for pickup-and-go convenience in a vintage produce basket. Leave fertilizers in original packaging for safety or label them appropriately if dispensing into more decorative containers. Always keep instructions for use handy to refer to when needed.
Set a musical tone with wind chimes made from old metal household utensils.
Gather your materials
- Small tart pan
- Small silverplate pedestal bowl
- Four silverplate or stainless forks
- One silverplate or stainless soup spoon
- Two threaded eyehooks
- Four hex nuts
- Light chain
- Measuring tape or ruler
- Drill and drill bits to match sizes of eye hook thread and chain links
- Hacksaw or oscillating multi-tool with cutting blade attachment
- Needlenose pliers
- String or monofilament for hanging
Drill holes with your smaller bit through the rim of the tart pan at four equidistant points around the pan. With needlenose pliers, open the ends of four 2 ½- to 2 ¾-inch pieces of chain. Slide the end link of one length of chain through one of the holes in the pan rim. Close the link with the pliers. Repeat for the other three pieces of chain.
Drill a hole with your larger bit through the center of the pan bottom. Drill a small hole through the thread at the bottom of the eyehook. Screw a hex nut onto the eyehook, all the way to the top. Push the thread of the hook through the bottom of the overturned pan. Thread another hex nut onto the hook to hold the pan tightly in place. Open the end link of a 6-inch piece of chain with the pliers and slide it through the hole drilled in the thread. Close the link with the pliers.
Drill a large hole through the center of the pedestal bowl bottom. With the hacksaw or multi-tool, cut off the hook end of the eyehook. Drill small holes at each end of the remaining threaded piece. Screw a hex nut onto one end of the piece just below the drilled hole. Insert thread through the bottom of the overturned bowl and secure with a second hex nut screwed tightly against the inside of the bowl. Open the end link of the 6-inch chain and slide through the outside end of the threaded piece. Close the link with pliers. Open the end of a 4-inch piece of chain and slide through the hole in the threaded piece on the inside of the bowl. Close with pliers.
With your small bit, drill holes in the handle ends of your forks and spoon. Open the end links of your four 2 ó-inch chains and slide through holes in the fork handles. Close with pliers. Open the end link of the 4-inch chain and slide through the hole in the spoon. Close with pliers.
Tie a piece of string or monofilament through the eyehook at the top of your chimes and hang outdoors where it can catch a breeze and make its music.
To keep a pair of muddy wellies or garden clogs off the floor, fashion an improvised boot tray from a kitchen cooling rack inserted into a baking sheet. The cooling rack allows the footwear to dry, while the tray catches the muck and moisture below.
If you have a cutting garden, or even a lot of flowering plants, flower buckets and watering cans are a necessity. Vintage versions made from galvanized tin develop a beautiful patina over the years. Unlike most gardening tools, the more you use them, the better they look.
Flowers like these delphiniums, liatris, alstroemeria, bells of Ireland, and snapdragons are best when cut in the early morning. Do yourself a favor and arrange a selection of flower buckets by the bench so you don’t have to fumble around first thing in the morning looking for your tools. Keep buckets of different heights on hand for longer-stemmed flowers.
Create weatherproof storage for seed packets with a decorated tin.
Gather your materials
- Tin box
- Vintage seed packet
- Cardstock scrapbook paper
- Mod Podge
- Foam brush
- Credit card
Remove the lid from the tin and measure the top surface. Cut a piece of scrapbook paper in a contrasting color that is one inch smaller than your tin on all sides. Cut a piece of cardstock in a color that coordinates with both your scrapbook paper and your seed packet one quarter-inch smaller than your scrapbook paper on all sides. Applying Mod Podge with your foam brush, glue your cardstock to the scrapbook paper and the scrapbook paper to the tin. Run a credit card over the papers to remove any air bubbles.
Photocopy your original vintage seed packet and cut out with scissors. Glue the seed packet copy in the center of your cardstock, remove air bubbles as before and let dry. Brush Mod Podge over the entire lid and let dry. Add a second coat as a sealer and let dry.
Gloves, garden twine, garden scissors, soil scoop, garden knife, plant markers, marking pen, lightweight hose, dragonfly shoes, flower fertilizer, organic container mix, seed-starting mix, Liquid Fence—Gardener’s Supply Company; 888/833-1412.
Photography by Sarah Norton
© Caruth Studio