A Cheap and Cheerful Versailles Case

A Versailles case is a wooden box that was used at the Palace of Versailles, in France, in the 17th century for growing exotics such as oranges, lemons, and palms, which could then be easily moved into the orangerie or the greenhouses during the winter. A Versailles case can be unscrewed when the plants need repotting, or used as a decorative exterior for housing plants in plastic boxes or pots.

Materials and Equipment

Rough-sawn lumber
4 finials, balls or pyramids with ½ in (10mm) dowels
1 piece of exterior grade plywood ½ in x 13 ¼ z 13 ¼ (10 x 375 x 375mm)
No. 8 screws 2 in (50mm) and 1 ½ in (40mm) long
Waterproof carpenter’s glue
1 quart (1 liter) exterior-grade wood preservative
Wood stain or exterior-grade latex paint
Pot shards
50 quarts (50 liters) potting soil (approximately)
New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium)

1) Cut the following in rough-sawn lumber:
6 side boards ¾ x 5 ½ x 15 in [1 x 6] (25 x 150 x 380 mm)
6 side boards ¾ x 5 ½ x 16 ½ in [1×6] (25 x 150 x 430 mm)
4 side supports 1 ½ x 1 ½ x 19 ½ in [2 x 2] (5O x 50 x 525 mm)
4 base supports 1 ½ x 1 ½ x 12 in [2×2] (25 x 25 x 280 mm)

2) Drill pilot holes in each corner of the six shorter side boards about ¾ in (20 mm) from the edge. The holes should be made to fit the 2 in (50 mm) screws. Do the same with the six longer side boards.

3) Using 2 in (50 mm) screws, attach the shorter boards to the side supports, flush to the edge, with a 2 in (50 mm) projection at the bottom and a 1 in (25 mm) projection at the top.

4) Using 2 in (50 mm) screws, attach the longer boards to the outside face of each of the side supports, creating a square-ended butt joint.

5) Prepare the base supports for 1 ½ in (40 mm) screws by drilling a hole about 1 in (25 mm) from each end. Place one support between each of the four side supports inside the box, positioning them at the base, flush with the bottom board. Screw into place.

6) To fit the base, cut a 1 ¾ in (45 mm) square from each corner of the piece of plywood.

7) Using a power drill with a 1 in (25 mm) spade bit, make 5 drainage holes, positioning them as shown. Drop the base into the case from the top; it should rest on the base supports secured in step 5.

8) To attach the finials, drill in the top of each upright a ½ in (10 mm) hole for the dowel, positioning it in the center. Use waterproof glue to secure the finial in the hole.

9) Alternatively, make your own finials, fixing them in place as shown on a separate 2 in (50 mm) dowel. Suitable designs for this size of case include a 2 in (50 mm) wooden ball and a 5 in (130 mm) high pyramid cut from a 2 x 2 in (50 x 50 mm) rod. Place the pyramid atop a slightly smaller block.

10) To protect the case. Coat it in wood preservative inside and out. Then apply a wood stain or paint. Make sure the paint is thoroughly dry before planting.

11) Line the base of the case with pot shards. Take the plant from its pot and tease out the roots. Center the tree in the case and add moistened potting soil until the tree and surrounding soil are about 1 ½ in (40 mm) from the top of the case.

A flowering tea tree has been used here, but Versailles cases are also suitable for large shrubs, topiary, and masses of summer annuals.

10) After the tree has flowered, trim the outer leaves to keep the ball shape.