Steven WellsCreative upcycling and reuse in your garden

Why do we throw so much out when we just need to tap into our creative thinking and we can make some bespoke items for the garden? I really enjoy upcycling, recycling and reusing and I think it is something that we can do more of in our gardens. Now I’ll admit that this style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a fan of it.

Intro photo - cement mixer pot

An old cement mixer reused and upcycled as a pot

I have spent many hours planning, creating and constructing new items for my garden from materials that were destined for landfill. I’ve literally saved things as they were on their way to the big hole in the ground and upcycled or repurposed them into interesting pieces for my garden. Some items I’ve simply reused like an old cement mixer as a pot plant and this excellent slide that sits on my embankment nestled amongst the plants, which is enjoyed by the children as well as some of the adults!

Photo 1 - Garden Slide

Reused children’s slide

I have an appreciation for older materials and just like “older” members of our society these materials still have much to offer. And in a similar way, if you make the effort and spend the time you can be rewarded with some real gems. Sometimes I come across items that I can almost hear them calling out to be re-purposed into something special. When I came across an old balustrade and front gate I was just a little excited and I had to make something for my garden with it. I was inspired by someone else’s creative use of an old wire screen and I wanted to do something similar with these pieces. I will be forever thankful for the generosity of that person gifting me those great pieces that I feel have so much character!

Balustrade Screen

Balustrade Screen

Gate Screen

Gate Screen

I also enjoy making things that look older than they actually are because to me this adds character to a garden and gives it a more established appearance. I enjoy the rustic look of weathered timber with its aged and textured appearance. So I was happy to get my hands on some old un-painted hardwood timber palings from a fencing contractor friend that would have otherwise gone to landfill. After being unceremoniously dropped off the sides of the truck I got to work pulling it all apart and sorting the timber into two piles – the good and the soon to be firewood!

Palings can be reused in many interesting ways and I’ve used them effectively in my garden for different screens, feature panels and frames providing a consistency with materials throughout the garden. I’ve used them like weatherboards to make a dividing screen between the vegetable patch and the lower fireplace entertaining area. The advantage of using un-painted clean palings meant that both sides could be features. For another project I used them to create a focal point screen at the end of a boardwalk.

Paling fence screen

Paling fence screen

Old fence paling reused in a focal point

Old fence palings reused as a textured focal point

They also look effective when stacked on top of each other. In this area I used them to make the bottom part of a semi-enclosed screen to provide privacy for a small sitting area.

Stacked palings

Stacked palings

Old palings have a tendency to split as a result of weathering which wasn’t good for the longer lengths required for my screens but this gave me the opportunity to salvage the left over smaller lengths to make some picture frames from both the palings and the thicker lengths of timber.

Picture frame made from old reused timber palings

Picture frame made from reused timber palings

Picture frame from reused timber

Picture frame from reused timber

When some items appear to come to the end of their effective use all is not lost. Some of my projects like the feature screens are about practical reuse of materials, however some are more decorative. For examples when one of my wine barrels rotted the metal rings were still perfect so I made an interesting artistic sphere.

Wine barrel sphere

Wine barrel sphere

Keeping with the sphere theme I joined two wire hanging baskets to create a hanging sphere to feature a pot of succulents in a different way.

Wire hanging basket

Wire hanging basket

Galvanised iron sheets that were sitting on a rubbish pile of a neighbourhood builder were perfect for repurposing. So after chatting with the builder to check if I could have them they were soon bundled up and thrown into the back of my trusty chariot and soon became cladding for my new treated pine retaining wall. The wall looks like its been there for ages and I love it!

Corrugated iron clad wall

Galvanised corrugated iron cladding on a treated-pine retaining wall

Now it’s not all about fabricated materials. I also like being creative with natural materials. Grape vine prunings, fallen sticks and dry ornamental grasses are great materials to reuse. I have reused grape vine canes to make vine spheres that I have hanging in the garden and also inside the house and it was actually quite therapeutic sitting down to weave these together.

Grape vine spheres

Grape vine spheres (and therapeutic weaving)

With a large spotted gum in my garden I tend to have a regular supply of small branches dropping into my garden. So rather than just using them to start my fire I’ve had some fun making a bird nest and used my dry ornamental grass prunings to line the nest for the large ceramic eggs I bought from a talented potter friend of mine.

Birds nest made from dropped twigs

Birds nest made from dropped twigs

Even the roots of pot-bound plants make great nests too! Anyone who has re-potted an Agave attenuata will know they have vigorous intertwined roots. Having come out of a rounded pot they were the perfect shape and size for a nest and trust me they take years to break down!

Small bird nest made from pot-bound Agave roots

Small bird nest made from pot-bound Agave roots

So next time you’re about to throw something into the rubbish bin stop and think whether with a bit of creativity it can be reused or repurposed into something bespoke for your garden.

[You can read more about Steven’s own upcycled garden in this story by the Herald Sun Home]

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Steven Wells

About Steven Wells

Steven has successfully combined his nursing and horticulture careers to be working as a nurse, a horticultural therapist and the gardens and grounds project officer at Austin Health in Melbourne. He studied horticulture at The University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus and is the 2012 ABC Gardening Australia ‘Gardener of the Year’. Having grown up on a market garden and orange orchard he has ‘green blood’ and is a keen gardener. He is passionate about sharing the benefits of gardening, horticultural therapy and people-plant connections.

11 thoughts on “Creative upcycling and reuse in your garden

  1. Very inspiring. Love the look of old things in your garden, the birds nest are a fantastic idea. Hope you don’t get wild ducks trying to hatch those fake eggs for you! 🙂

  2. Reuse is so appealing from a sense of place direction in any garden Steven … you’re so talented to see these tastefully considered inclusions that fit and belong in each setting so well. Never stop, its a breath of fresh air across the garden making landscape 🙂

  3. Thanks Adele. I must admit that it is quite fun making these nests and the response by children and adults who come across them in the garden is really enjoyable! Yes, I’ll have to keep an eye out for any eager (perhaps confused) ducks! 🙂

  4. HI Candice. Thanks so much for your comments. My mind is continually thinking of little projects for my garden so there are no thoughts of stopping 🙂 … although the only limitation may be the availability of space for these projects … but then that just means I need to get more creative to still achieve in the space that I have!!

  5. Hi Steve I love your work and also get very excited about upcycling . I have a question I hope you can answer for me. I want to use old hardwood fences to clad a granny flat because I love the way they have weather. Lots of people are saying I cannot use them because of CCA I know it’s in pine fencing but what about hardwood fencing . What do you think I have a lot lying around and think it will look nicer than weather board but will it be safe to work with and. To live with as a cladding ?? Thank you Katy

    • Hi Victor. Thanks. I certainly enjoy creatively repurposing, I just can’t let interesting items go to waste!! And the process certainly keeps my creative brain ticking along!! I hope you have fun repurposing in your garden too.

  6. Lovely article. I’m in the process of making over a side garden area. It has a raised bluestone wall with a very old and decrepit older style timber paling fence behind it. I love the fence, and want to keep it as a feature but as it is old, a bit flimsy and rotten in patches I don’t want to hang or grow anything on it, but I want to create a pretty and different space there. I like the idea of art works, or screens, but again loath to hang anything on this fence. I wonder about painting it in some vibrant and unusual colour. Ideas? Plus, love to know more new garden therapy.

    • Hi Kat. Thanks. Yes I agree, painting the fence, installing art pieces/feature pots in front of the fence or even building independent screens that don’t attach to the fence are great ideas to avoid issues with aging fences. Personally I minimise fixing things permanently to any of my fences. I know that fences will need replacing at some stage so not fixing anything to it avoids any issues when that time comes.

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