Archive for 19/03/2014

Love Outdoor Play

Outdoor Play Week is a campaign being led by Re:Play and is now in its fifth year.  It is all about celebrating the play opportunities on offer in the fantastic green spaces across the South East. 

It is an annual celebration with events organised all over the region to help children and young people get out and play, encouraging and promoting outdoor play, whatever the weather.  Reminding play workers and families alike that outdoor play is not just for the summer, and that as long as you are dressed appropriately you can play out all year around.

Outdoor Play Week was started in the wake of research showing that children are spending less time playing outdoors than ever before.  A survey for Natural England found that as little as 10 per cent of their time is spent outdoors.  The attraction of TV and computer entertainment takes much of the blame…

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The finished 'Woodblockx' planter- soon to be home to an alpine collection

The finished ‘WoodblocX’ planter- soon to be home to an alpine collection

You may recall that two wooden planters in the courtyard here at Old School Garden, recently ‘bit the dust’. Not using pressure treated timber when I made these a few years ago was certainly a mistake. I was wondering what to do to replace them and a few weeks ago was approached by a Scottish company called WoodblocX to do a trial of their products- they make a range of raised planters, beds and ground support systems using an interlinking set of wooden bricks (or ‘blocX’).

Having looked at their comprehensive website, I decided to go for a raised planter (1350mm long by 450mm wide and 450mm high), and I’m hoping to use this both to replace the old planters and create a new feature – an alpine bed. This should be at the right height to be viewed from the nearby metal table and chairs in the courtyard and if suitably finished off will tie in nicely to the predominantly black and terracotta colouring of the many other planters and pots in this sheltered, sun trap setting.

Well, the planter was successfully delivered within a few days of ordering. Last week (having given the courtyard surfacing its yearly clean), I set about constructing it.

In with the new- my new 'Woodblockx' planter awaiting construction
In with the new- my new ‘Woodblockx’ planter awaiting construction

There was a pack of various leaflets and other material supplied with the pallet-load of parts and having checked these off against the list supplied, I wound myself through this material. Though comprehensive, the fact that there were bits of advice and information spread across more than one document initially threw me and I didn’t find any instructions specifically about how my planter should be built or look.

So I spent a few minutes working back from the diagram on the company website to see how each layer of the planter should be built up. I also began knocking in the various plastic dowels and wedges (which join each layer of ‘blocX’ together) to what I hoped was the correct configuration. Then I discovered that these didn’t match up to the next layer’s holes, as the next layer of blocX has to be laid like a brick course with no joints overlapping each other, so not all of the holes correlate. Still no problem, as I guessed that a couple of spare blocX had been sent and, as I discovered later, it is easy to just saw off the tops af any dowels that are in the wrong place! (there was also a good supply of plastic dowels sent so I could afford to waste a couple).

I decided to take another look at the literature I’d been sent and then – to my embarrassment – discovered a set of instruction diagrams for my planter showing which sized blocX should go where and which holes should have the dowels in! Though I hadn’t worked out the layout to exactly match that shown in these diagrams, I thought mine would work too, so I pressed on with the second and subsequent layers. Hammering in the dowels and then pushing home the next layer of blocX on top was very satisfying and I proceeded layer upon layer, to see my planter taking solid form before my eyes!

Using a rubber mallet, and green plastic tubing to hammer home the black plastic dowels was a doddle
Using a rubber mallet, and green plastic tubing to hammer home the black plastic dowels was a doddle

After the fourth and final layer of blocX then came the simple, but attractive capping, which really finished of the planter very tidily. This is knocked onto another set of dowels as well as four metal corner brackets which help the planter to hold its shape. The whole construction time- allowing for my careless beginning– took around an hour, was simple and good fun, giving ‘instant results’.

These planters can be used in open ground (they come with two long metal spikes which help anchor it into the ground), but in my situation, sat on clay paviours, the weight of the planter (especially once full of earth) will be sufficient to hold it in place. As advised by the Company I could have also fixed it in place with some angle brackets. I will add an inner lining of landscaping fabric to help protect the wood (though it is all pressure treated) and to avoid soil seeping out from underneath.

Though the rough-planed finish of the WoodblocX is attractive enough from a distance, I think I may sand it down a little and apply either some black wood stain or similar treatment to tie it into the rest of the courtyard planters. I’ll do a further article to show the finished item, planted up.

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So, what do I think of WoodblocX?

The planter is very solid and I think will last a long time- especially with the extra treatment I’m planning to give it. The solid construction does not look out of place in the ornamental setting of my courtyard and would also look smart in a more ‘kitchen garden’ context too. I should imagine that the construction system using the plastic dowels would be very effective in a ground retaining role too. The modular nature of the system opens up all sorts of design possibilities if you’re considering a multi/split level garden.

As someone who’s a bit of a DIYer (especially using reclaimed timber), I guess that I could have created a similar sort of planter for a fraction of the cost (the planter that I have would cost just under £200, including delivery). I doubt whether it would look as attractive or be as solid and long lasting though. So, if you’re after a smart look and solid construction, your time is limited or your skill level relatively low, WoodblocX offers an ideal ‘self assembly’ solution to your planter/walling needs. I have a friend who’s considering the system for edging a patio that’s surrounded by sloping ground, and I can imagine him setting this up relatively easily and so avoiding the need to engage a tradesman to install a (probably) more expensive brick or similar retaining wall. The company also offers telephone advice and support during your ‘build’ in case of queries (I didn’t take advantage of this).

So, all in all, I’m pleased with the result and enjoyed the construction process, though perhaps a ‘less is more’ approach to the literature the Company sends out would make the construction a little less daunting at the start. If you’d like to find out more, click on the link on the right hand side to go to the WoodblocX website.

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