Not a load of rubbish: The joys of upcycling in the garden

PUBLISHED: 09:31 11 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:07 11 August 2017

Kate created a show garden called The Wasteland at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show

Kate created a show garden called The Wasteland at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show


Recycling has really become such an important part of our lives here in the UK and hopefully we are finally catching up with some of our pioneering European counterparts.

Garden designer Kate GouldGarden designer Kate Gould

As humans we do love recycling, it makes us feel like better members of society. It can take significantly more effort and time to move beyond the boundaries of merely recycling our kitchen waste. We have to teach younger generations how important this is for our planet. 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 show garden was widely described as The show garden was widely described as "pretty" and "beautiful", says Kate

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.

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 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 broken item.

Half a roll top bath was transformed into a comfortable seatHalf a roll top bath was transformed into a comfortable seat

To find out more about Kate, visit

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