How to create a pretty garden with waste metal

Bath tub chair in Kate Gould garden

Bath tub chair in Kate Gould garden - Credit: Archant

Recycle, renovate, renew, These words trip very easily off the tongue but perhaps are not so easy to put into action. We are all used to recycling our kitchen waste now, but perhaps it’s time to start thinking about how we can reuse old items in the garden.

The Wasteland garden by Kate Gould

The Wasteland garden by Kate Gould - Credit: Archant

At the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show we created a show garden called The Wasteland, which transformed an old water pumping station into a usable community space using the leftover infrastructure and items that we imagined might be found on the site.

These ubiquitous items of rubbish were those that we see on a regular basis lying by the side of the road or in skips and they were transformed into interesting and attractive pieces that could have a viable second life in a garden. We reused several items in the garden but two of the most striking reuses were the shopping trolley and the sheet steel.

Supermarket shopping trolley

These are incredibly expensive to make and are almost indestructible. They are chromed to make them shiny and when this begins to wear off it is too costly for the supermarkets to have them re-chromed so they go back to the manufacturer where they are smelted down and re-made. They can be bought or salvaged for very small amounts of money.

The metal in supermarket trolleys can be cut and reformed into screening, walkways or tree guards. At Chelsea we created a large screen of trolley sides that help to divide up the garden. Interestingly everyone who saw it recognised it as trolleys but was amazed that an everyday object that they considered had only one purpose could be used for something entirely different.

This was the first of many surprises in the garden, which was created to open people’s eyes to the possibility of reusing everyday items in a totally different yet practical way.

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Galvanised sheet steel

These panels will rust in time but there are hundreds of thousands left lying around from old roofs that can be reused.

We used them as a vertical boundary treatment behind trees and evergreen shrubs. This softened their hard visual effect and the galvanised surface caught and reflected the light, which against the concrete in the garden was warming and even on dull days the garden was never gloomy, harsh or uninviting.

Local reclamation yards or scrap yards have second-hand galvanised panels available and are usually happy for you to pick through and select the best out of the pile. They must be screwed together with rubber washers in between and overlapped by at least one third to ensure that wind cannot whip behind and bend them free of their fixings.

The garden for all of its “rubbish” as one person called it was exceptionally well received and the overall comment “pretty” or “beautiful,” which just goes to prove that rubbish reused with thought and care can, with careful planting and a good layout, create an attractive space that people want to spend time in.

It will never be possible to recycle everything into a garden but if we are more careful with how we think about our waste and consider whether something can have a second life then we will be much farther towards a world where we no longer turn to landfill as the first and only option for broken items.

Kate Gould is an award winning garden designer with more than a decade’s hands-on experience transforming gardens of all sizes and a regular exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show where she has been awarded three Gold medals.