Desk Garden

Personal Project

February 2016 - Current

desk garden
Ashley and the first desk garden prototype at the Aesthetics of Design Expo Spring 2016.

Project Background

This project was originally created for my Aesthetics of Design course, Spring 2016. You can see the blog I used to document the project for the course here: Desk Garden Project. For the Aesthetics of Design course, each student chose a specific Aesthetic and created a dynamic project to embody it. I chose the 'Modern' aesthetic for my project, which incorporates geometric and interesting shapes, clean lines, and simple colors.

Minimal Care Desk Garden

I love plants, but haven't had much luck keeping them alive indoors. I wanted to create a solution that kept plants alive with little human intervention. In theory, this planter would be used on a desk in an office with few sources of natural light. To keep the plants alive, the planter would have a lighting system that would provide supplemental lighting if office lights turned off during the day. It would also have a built-in watering system with a water reservoir which would wet the soil when it dried too much.

Ongoing Work

I created an LED lighting system prototype I call the Halo Light. I am in the process of combining the best aspects of the prototype Desk Planter and the Halo Light. I like the aesthetic of the first prototype, though the planter is too tall and heavy. The Halo Light worked very well, though it's shape is not ideal to evenly light everything beneath it. I plan to add a watering system and timer to the light in my next prototype.


draw 1
My first concept was to have a square planter with a cantilevered LED array with a 'rain drip' system above the plants. The planter would be mostly made of plastic with a concrete insert that weighted the base, and added to the modern aesthetic.
draw 2
This exploded view shows the various layers of the planter. The electronics would be separated from the water reservoir, but contained within the base.
render 1
The design was very simple and modern, but I didn't like the cantilevered array system or the simple squares.

draw 3
I kept the layered arrangement, but changed the shape of the plater to a hexagon, and planned to route a drip tube around the plants rather than have water rain down from above. Light would be provided by an opaque, 3D printed "rock".
render 2
This prototype design consisted of two nested hexagons: the base would be made from concrete and be divided into two halves, one for water and the other for the electronics. The hole in the dividing wall has a hole for the pump intake. The larger hole in the side of the base would be used for the power cord. The smaller hole would hold a button to toggle the power. The green top half would be made of plastic and have a lowered half that drained into the water compartment below.


base mold
I created a cardboard mold with a cavity in the shape of the base. In SolidWorks, I constructed it in individual pieces around the base model, then laid each mold piece out in CorelDraw to be laser cut.
top mold
I created a mold for the top half of the planter in the same way as for the base mold. Once the pieces were laser cut, I used hot glue and tape to assemble them.
base pour
I poured fast-setting concrete into the base mold after soaking it with oil. The oil helped with the removal of the cardboard from the concrete.
top pour
I poured a two-part plastic resin into the top mold. This mold was lined with tape to prevent the plastic from adhering.
The parts turned out well for a first prototype. The holes were lined with 3D printed tubes to keep them from filling with material during casting.
The fit was perfect. Together, the parts look as modern as intended.
I drilled drainage holes in the plastic over the water reservoir. I sealed the reservoir with silicone to keep water from leaking through the concrete.


I routed power through from the electronics chamber to the surface of the dirt in the top of the planter. I created an LED ring that would shine through a 3D printed "rock" to light the plants and add visual interest.

The plastic "rock" was too thick for the LEDs to shine through, though it created a cool effect in the dark.
planted 1
I did plan to add the watering system, but was unable to complete this step for this prototype. The water basin worked well for holding the water that drained out of the top of the planter.
planted 2
The planter succeeded in the test of holding plants and having drainage. I liked the aesthetic of this prototype, though the planter was taller than I originally wanted. It did function as a good decorative planter with a neat night-time effect. I presented this planter at the Spring 2016 ITLL Project Expo for Aesthetics of Design.

Halo Light

After the Aesthetics of Design course, I decided to keep working on my concept of a minimal care desk garden. This planter is my succulent box. I wanted to keep the plants healthy over the winter, so I decided to create a simple, attractive light fixture for it.
halo sketch
I was dissatisfied with my lighting solution from the first prototype, so I decided to go back to the concept of overhead lighting. I called my design the Halo Light.
halo light render
I designed a modern aesthetic light array that matched the shape of the planter box. LEDs would sit in a groove in the wood rectangle, which would be supported by four thin, brushed aluminum rods. Powered would be connected to one of the back corners of the Halo Light.
halo draw
I used bright LEDs in red, white, and blue in an attempt to feed the plants their required spectrum of light.
wiring diagram
I wired the LEDs in two parts, each wrapping around half of the Halo Light.
halo light 1
The groove in the wood hides all the wiring, including the barrel-jack plug. The electronics are secured with hot glue.
halo light 2
I used a strip of hardwood for the Halo Light. I used a router to cut the groove in the bottom and round-off the top corners. Then I cut the strip into angled pieces and glued them together.
halo light 3
The LEDs are bright enough to supplement the natural light near my windows, and did a good job of keeping my plants alive over the winter.