Garden sleepers and a clever design have made a huge impact in this small space

This sleepers planters garden makeover is proof that a clever simple design can make a big impact

sleeper planters with hammock
(Image credit: The Ealing Carpenter)

A spot of DIY in the garden is a great way to save money and upgrade your space. However, on some occasions, it is better to call in the professionals.

This small London garden was given a facelift thanks to clever garden landscaping ideas featuring raised planters and a built-in bench. The design was created by carpenter Nick Spellman The Ealing Carpenter out of sleepers. These large rectangular pieces of timber were traditionally used to lay rail tracks on, but have become a regular feature in many raised garden bed ideas

Nick created the planters and seating area for his friend's family garden to help create a defined area for eating and for the kids to play in. The space was originally home to a hammock which they wanted to keep, but give it a more sophisticated backdrop. 

raised planter made out of sleepers

Garden planter in progress

(Image credit: The Ealing Carpenter)

When it comes to small garden ideas it can often be tempting to scale down borders and plants, but it is actually better to go bold with big planting. The raised planters were created with this in mind.

Instead of planting directly along the back wall, they were designed to create two spaces, with the bench running between them. Another planter was installed across the garden for taller plants to slightly hide the area behind and further create the illusion of space.

raised planters being made out of sleepers

The seating area planters in progress

(Image credit: The Ealing Carpenter)

Tips for laying garden sleepers safely

If you are tempted to try your hand at making your own raised planters out of sleepers, Nick urges caution. 'Sleepers are extremely heavy and require at least two fit people to lift safely,' he explains. 'They’re also exceedingly difficult to cut by hand so it’s worth hiring a chainsaw. Use appropriate PPE and take your time.' 

Nick advises bedding the sleepers on a flatbed of soil, by building up and tampering down where the sleeper is going to lay. He also suggests thinking about what you are going to be putting in them when building the planter.

'When building consider the excessive pressure of what may go into the container you’re building,' he explains. 'Soil, compost, water and plants will add to the outward force of the wall of sleepers and may cause the wall to collapse. Securing the sleepers with brackets and pins will help keep them stable.'

planters made out of sleepers

The finished garden

(Image credit: The Ealing Carpenter)

As this planted-up seating area was designed as a family space it is crucial that any splinter potential is kept at bay. Nick's top tip for overcoming this is to smooth the wood down.

'It’s worth smoothing the top and the edges as water ingress will lift the grain and expose splinters over time,' he says. 'Adding oil to the sleepers will protect them and ensure years of splinter free gardening.'

The natural charm of sleepers makes them a wonderful material to use for planters and other rustic garden ideas. However, if you opt to do the project yourself over hiring a carpenter, heed Nick's advice, and take care.

sleeper planter

(Image credit: The Ealing Carpenter)

The finished result is a small space that is now bursting with character, thanks to the contrast between the wood and white-washed garden walls. The built-in seating is the perfect space for the family to perch between the planters. However, it still has posts built in to hang the family's favorite white hammock from. 

Simple but clever garden designs don't get much better than this.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca has worked as a homes and interiors journalist for over four years, and is currently the Deputy Editor on Ideal Home online. Previously, she was the News Editor across the Future homes and gardens brands, including She lives in a rented flat in South London where she makes the most of window boxes to create small container gardens. Inside she has a jungle of houseplants in nearly every room which she does her best to keep up with regular watering and repotting.