Landscape your garden with recyclables

The Wasteland Kate Gould Chelsea

The Wasteland Kate Gould Chelsea - Credit: Archant

Everyone likes the idea of recycling but it can be tricky to know how we can move beyond the boundaries of merely recycling our kitchen waste.

Once for washing; now for reclining

Once for washing; now for reclining - Credit: Archant

Setting up a recycling infrastructure is a costly business here in the UK; and although we are recycling more and more household waste we are nowhere near meeting the quotas met by our northern European neighbours. Switzerland, Austria and Germany – who have been recycling far longer than us and consequently have a far better setup in terms of infrastructure, learning and teaching the younger generations – have enviable track records. Mending an item when it goes wrong is not the first thing that springs to mind now; when and where can a new one be bought is generally the first thought when your kettle stops working.

When it comes to landscaping the garden though, the amount of objects that can be recycled within the scheme is limited, not only in terms of the materials themselves but also in relation to budget. If we consider the things that are every day recycled (fridges, televisions, tin cans, plastic bottles to name but a few) there are few items that immediately spring to mind to be used within the garden scheme.

The most obvious items that have had a past life but will still work within the garden scheme both in terms of how they look but also in terms of their longevity are stone, sculptural pieces (stone or metal) and wood. A garden is not an inexpensive item to create and all aspects of it should last for years and not crumble into mulch in a short space of time. Therefore old stone, sculpture, metal items and timber are great examples of what can be reused successfully to form the backbone of a scheme.

Other simple ideas include reusing old cold water tanks for planters; stone horse troughs work well planted with alpines; and of course there are always half beer barrels for planters or, if upturned, as seating or tables.

The Wasteland Kate Gould Chelsea

The Wasteland Kate Gould Chelsea - Credit: Archant

At the 2013 Chelsea flower show we created a show garden called The Wasteland which transformed a perceived old water pumping station into a usable community space using the leftover infrastructure and items that we “imagined” would be found on the site.

Some of the more interesting items we reused included half a roll top bath which made an incredibly comfortable seat. These are available in large quantities at salvage yards and local authority tips. They are weighty items and require a couple of people to move them but even in a semi-rusted state with the addition of a foot at the back for stability and a weatherproof condition they make a wonderful statement in any scheme.

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Another unusual item we used was an old washing machine drum. In ‘drum’ form, a glass top and light can be added to make a simple and stylish table that glows at night. Un-rolled and flattened (as we used them) they formed a large vertical water feature which, when running, sounded like a washing machine. The little dimples within the drum push and guide the water in aesthetically pleasing rivulets. At Chelsea we had to explain that the washing machine drums were old. The metal in them is so good that they look shiny and new even after thousands of washes.

The garden was exceptionally well received by visitors and widely described as “pretty” or “beautiful” which just goes to prove that “rubbish” reused carefully can, with pretty planting and a good layout, create an attractive space that people will enjoy relaxing 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 a broken item.

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.