Desk Garden: Minimal Care Required

The Idea

So as usual, I’m having difficultly sticking with an idea. Originally, I kind of wanted to build a living computer case. However, I don’t need another computer, and acquiring all the working computer parts I would need is going to be way too expensive for it to be worth it right now. I’m still going to stick with a plant theme, and I’d still like to have some sort of computerized aspect, but on a much smaller scale.

I think I’ll make a minimal care required desktop planter, or garden. I want it to be simple and clean looking, and also leak-proof so that it can live on my desk. I’m planning on using an Arduino to control a little light array and a pump that waters the plants. If you’ve heard of the Aerogarden, I guess what I want to do is like that, but mine is gonna look much nicer. Rather than a sort of bulky planter, I’m aiming for a compact piece with a modern aesthetic, but I’m hoping that the more I work on it, the more the aesthetic will evolve.

On a first impression, I want it to say ‘calming’ and ‘cute’, and hopefully ‘cool!’. It will for sure be functional, lighting and watering itself, but it won’t be bulky, and all the electronics and wires will be concealed, so it’ll look pretty nice.


'Bonkei Planter'.
‘Bonkei Planter’.

I want an object that I’ll keep around. No, I don’t really need a desktop planter, I have plenty of stuff already, especially little knick-knacks that I like to keep by my desk. Something that’s growing will really add to my space, and make it more inviting. It’s not something that I would consider being excess. It’ll be a centerpiece of sorts for my desk. I want it to be pretty small, no bigger than a cubic foot.

The planters to the left really caught my eye. They’re simple and very clean looking, but so cute. Even without the tiny animals, they’d still be cute; moss is an adorable plant. I want to make something that’s this charming, and about the size of one of these units. I’d also like to use moss, though that might have to be added later because it takes forever to grow the stuff, and I don’t think I can buy it locally in the winter for a reasonable price.

A Bulbasaur planter.
A Bulbasaur planter.

I think I’ll also use succulents. They’re supposedly very easy to care for, and they’re not very expensive, which is also a plus. I’ve been wanting to 3D print a little Bulbasaur planter, such as the one on the right, since I first saw them. I don’t think that the planter itself will make it into my final design, but I love the idea of using succulents. The planter below reminds me a bit of Zen, with the bonsai tree and the gravel. My favorite thing about it is the light. It’s a chunk of marble that the artist hand carved and put LEDs in. It’s very calming and relaxing to look at. Ideally, I will be able to capture that in my design.

Mokki Marble Desktop Lamp.
Mokki Marble Desktop Lamp.

Well, all these designs and plants are nice and all, but what could I possibly add? I want to use my favorite elements of each of these designs. That, and it will have an Arduino in itself to water the plants. My desk is in a somewhat dark spot, so it will also need to provide light to the plants during the day.




Critical Components

The hardest part of this project is going to be the coding and getting the pump working. I’ve worked a little bit with Arduino before, and with LEDs, so I have an idea of what this is going to take. At the very least, I’m going to have it light itself, if for some reason I can’t get the pump working.

The actual planter part is the the most important part, but I don’t think it will be too hard to make it.

Concept model.
Concept model.

I don’t currently have any materials, other than some 3D printer filament.

Cost Estimate and Schedule

Material List:

  1. 3 Succulents from Home Depot, $15
  2. Red Board from Sparkfun, $20
  3. 10 LEDs from Sparkfun, $7.50
  4. 10 Resistors from Sparkfun, $2.50
  5. Soil moisture sensor from Sparkfun, $5
  6. Breadboard from Sparkfun (because it’s about time I get one), $5
  7. Windshield wiper pump 12V, $10
  8. Acrylic from Home Depot, $10
  9. Dirt from my backyard, $0
  10. 3D printer filament, I can borrow other colors, $0
  11. Concrete, left over from a project, $0
  12. Wire, I have tons now, $0
  13. What I haven’t thought of yet, and shipping, $30

Estimated total: $105


Task Goal Deadline Is it Done?
Draw up Concepts 3/4/2016 3/7/2016
Source all Materials 3/4/2016 3/7/2016
Order Everything Online 3/9/2016 3/11/2016
Buy/Pickup Local Things 3/11/2016 3/14/2016
Concept Testing 3/14/2016 3/15/2016
Start Programming 3/14/2016 3/15/2016
Start Building 3/14/2016 3/16/2016
Finish Building 3/25/2016 3/28/2016
Integrate Electrical 3/28/2016 3/28/2016
Test the Watering System 3/29/2016 3/30/2016
Test the Lighting System 3/29/2016 3/30/2016
Plant the Plants in the Planter 4/8/2016 4/8/2016
Day in the Life Testing 4/10/2016 4/10/2016
“Last Minute” Fixes 4/15/2016 4/15/2016
Design Expo! 4/23/2016  

Presentation Video: Should be at the top of the page.

It’s a little quiet, and I know it cuts out, sorry. My phone ran out of space.

desk, desktop, green, modern, plant, planter, water
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6 Comments. Leave new

  • This looks cool, I can’t wait to see how you pull this off. This reminds me of a Japanese form of gardening, you may want to research Japanese gardening.

  • Kenzy O'neill
    March 7, 2016 12:42 pm

    The self watering system is a really cool idea! Maybe you could make the watering canopy out of bamboo so it looks more natural.

  • Chip Bollendonk
    March 7, 2016 12:31 pm

    Did you look into what types of LED’s you need? Looks like a kind of weird combination of colors is needed:

  • Kevin Martin
    March 7, 2016 12:10 am

    I really like the direction you’ve shifted this towards!

    I’ve seen a few different things online about recreating that “lit marble” look- either with LED’s and epoxy, or LED’s and fogged (laser textured?) acrylic. That might be a more cost effective alternative to a big chunk of marble for you!

    So in the rendering you have, the pump will carry the water to the top of the blue “shower head” type surface, and it will drip down from there? That’ll be awesome!

    In middle school, I had a super cool “zen garden” type fountain on my desk- it just cascaded down a few little steps, and maybe held a dixie cup of water at most. I’m pretty sure it was like a $15 at Walgreens type of thing… it might be worth getting one of those and adapting (canibalizing?) one of those to fit your project!

  • If you decide to go the terrarium direction, let me know. I built a terrarium earlier this year and I haven’t watered it since. It’s going strong.

  • Laura Bonney
    March 6, 2016 5:36 pm

    This is a fun idea Ashley. Succulents are easy to care for and many don’t require too much light. The mosses typically need a damp medium so consistent moisture levels will be more important. One thing that can help with that would be water beads – whether you want them visible or not they can help keep the sand/soil a fairly constant moisture. It sounds like the biggest challenge will be to automate the watering and lighting. Good luck!


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