Rust to Riches

Garden and landscape designer Charlie Thigpen crafts a recycled chair planter, giving a salvaged find new purpose as a whimsical container for flowers and foliage

“My inspiration for this design was the desire to take a no-longer-wanted object and transform it into something both fun and functional for the garden. I’m often offered things that people were otherwise going to throw away, which has earned me the title of the ‘junkyard gardener.’ I love to give salvaged items a new lease on life, as many times these one-of-a-kind pieces display interesting layers of peeling paint, rusty patches, or a spattering of Mother Nature’s mossy-green patina. Why throw something away when you can reuse it in the garden? Now what once was a rusted old chair without a seat is a whimsical planter whose foliage can change with the seasons.”

Charlie Thigpen turns rust to riches with this recycled chair planter and a handful of plants.


  • ‘Rustic Orange’ coleus
  • ornamental pepper plant
  • shrimp plant
  • sweet alyssum

recycled chair planter

Tools & Supplies

  • hardware cloth
  • metal snips
  • gloves
  • zip ties
  • measuring tape
  • seatless chair frame
  • burlap
  • potting soil

1| Using hardware cloth and burlap, you will be making a planter box to go inside the chair’s empty seat frame. First, measure the area of the seat opening to determine how large the planter box needs to be. Once you have the dimensions, add an additional 4 inches to all four sides. These extra 4 inches will be the sides of the planter box.

2| Cut the hardware cloth to the necessary size. (My seat opening was 12 inches by 12 inches, so after adding the 4 inches on each side, my final measurement was 20 inches by 20 inches.) Then, cut a 4-inch square out of each corner. Note: While handling the hardware cloth, be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from the sharp metal edges.

3| Next, fold up each of the four sides to create the shape of the planter box. Use zip ties to secure the corners of the box together. Make sure to pull the ties snug and trim the excess of the ends.

4| Wrap a large piece of burlap around the exterior of the planter box and tightly fold the excess inside. Once the box is wrapped, insert a few zip ties through the burlap around the top perimeter of the box, but don’t fasten them yet. They will not only hold the burlap in place, but also be used to attach the box to the chair.

5| Position the burlap-covered planter box just underneath the seat frame, and attach it to the chair with the zip ties.

6| After attaching the box, fill the planter box with soil, and water it thoroughly. The soil should settle about one inch below the top of the box.

7| Massage the root ball of each plant. Add the tall shrimp plant first and toward the back. Its showy yellow flowers will attract hummingbirds all season long.

8| Continue filling in with the pepper, coleus, and alyssum. The ornamental pepper plant will produce small red and purple peppers well into the fall, while the coleus will frame the arrangement with colorful foliage. The alyssum will cascade over the edge of the chair with clusters of tiny, sweetly scented white blooms.

recycled chair planter

“I’m always searching for ‘rusty gold.’ I like incorporating salvaged items or architectural elements into my spaces. These once-forgotten relics can transform a garden and make it feel more personal.” —Charlie Thigpen

Visit Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery in Birmingham and follow them on Facebook.

Produced by Alexandra Schmitt

Photography by Becky Luigart-Stayner