This past June, my neighbor Barbra waved me over one day and asked if I wanted a tomato plant. She had gotten a few for free, and apparently I somehow looked like the type of person who would be interested in doing so. I was not.
To avoid being rude I took the plant, which turned out to be the smallest most miserable looking twig I had ever seen. It had a few small brown leaves and was barely hanging on. Charlie Brown's Christmas tree looked like it belonged in Rockefeller plaza next to this little guy.
Over the next few weeks, my girlfriend Lexie and I nursed it back to health, and what failed to hold my interest at first now became the highlight of my day. Every day after work we'd immediately rush to see how Captain Jack Sparrow was doing (we had recently watched Pirates of the Caribbean and each read "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton), and every day it grew just a little bit taller. Soon there were five, ten, then twenty leaves as it shot up in front of our eyes. It became an integral part of our lives, routine, and almost our relationship. Before Lexie left for a trip she joked about how she'd miss Captain Jack more than me, and about how I had better keep it alive. My response was a mix of sarcasm and eye rolling as I joked about how incompetent I'd have to be to do such a thing.
Anyway, two days later, the thing was dead. Not just mostly dead, all dead. Either something had pulled it up by the roots or I am missing some very important pages in my mental book of "caring for living things." Either way, I knew Lexie would be disappointed so I needed a way to at least partially make it up to her.
Lexie's undergraduate degree is in Environmental science, and she is very passionate about water conservation. I had an idea to make a planter that would allow water to flow from one plant to the next; water would be soaked up by as many plant roots as possible before going back on to the ground. I started by brainstorming several sketches as can be seen below.
I should first note a few constraints and goals for this. First of all, I wanted to only use materials I had on hand. Second, I did not care about the actual mechanism or metric of water conservation -the idea of saving water- it's purely symbolic.
I began with the slat of wood you can see in the first picture below. It was a leftover from the CreatiCube prototype. I cut three slots with the table saw and painted them blue. I later sanded this off except for in the slots themselves. For the actual plant holders I had some leftover polycarbonate tubing from a project that wasn't ever going to get used. For the edges as you can see in the bottom middle picture I mixed latex paint with water and Xanthan gum to allow it to give a nice shiny surface- the surface tension from the water allows it to be dripped on like that with a syringe, and the gum keeps it from flattening out when it dries out. (I'm still working on the recipe)
I painted everything with more CreatiCube leftover paint and stained all the wood, coating everything with a water-based clear so it could survive the outdoors. You can see the final result in the picture at the bottom.
Lexie was understandably very disappointed at the fate of Captain Jack Sparrow, but I think the new planter and the idea of growing new plants from scratch helped