Category Archives: Garden and landscape products

Fire bowls, bonfires, garden waste and health hazards

Garden bonfires are one of the pleasures of country life and, if the fire is in a bowl or pit, you can use garden waste instead of barbecue fuels. In towns, outdoor fires can be a nuisance but the advice given by municipal authorities is variable. Some say little more than ‘be considerate and don’t inhale the smoke’. Others, of which Milton Keynes is a notable example, appear to have been written by people suffering from severe asmatha, tinged with pyrophobia and boosted by bossiness. They have my sympathy – but not my support. Those who live in cold climates love fire.
But if I lived in Australia I would probably be violently opposed to garden fires. To look at the tourist photos, you would think all of Australia was always warm and always sunny. Yet I heard that Sydney had a temperature of 42°C two days ago and 21°C one day ago. Every aspect of garden design and management needs to be context-sensitive, more so than architecture or interior design.

Corten steel garden planters

Corten steel garden planters

Corten steel garden planters

Iron is the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust and, by mass, the most common element. It is a wonderful material, famed for its strength and mystery. Iron oxides give soils their red and yellow hues. They are nature’s foil to the often-garish colours of flowers and vivid greens of foliage. But gardeners associate iron with one of their enemies (rust) and coat it with expensive paints. Instead, they should learn to love the rich colours of iron oxide on Corten Steel.

Wrought iron has a low carbon content. Mild steel has a higher carbon content. Cast iron has an even higher carbon content (above 2.1%). Corten steel (patented as Cor-Ten) is an alloy of mild steel with copper and chromium. It oxidises to create a protective outer layer which stops corosion: it rusts a little and rusts no more. One can therefore enjoy the beauty of the iron oxide without worrying about the rusting destroying the steel. Having all the tensile strengh of steel, Corten garden planters are completely frost resistent and impact resistent. Since they are not mass produced, they can be supplied to order (eg by in the UK).
See also: corten steel in garden and landscape design

Panda pandemonium

China’s number one mascot the giant panda (ailuropoda melanoleuca) are only found in the bamboo forests of south western China. “They occupy 6 small forest fragments in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi. (5,400 square miles).”

The panda is well travelled in popular culture, as well as being a local hero. With the recent release of Kung Fu Panda, the panda Po looks set to win over another generation of children to panda love.

Habitat fragmentation (by roads and railroads) and destruction and poaching (for their pelts) are still major threats to the Giant Panda, even though poachers and smugglers have received death penalties or long prison terms. Pandas are often injured in traps and snares set for other animals.

Emerging threats to the panda populations are mining, hydropower and tourism. A giant panda may consume 26-83 pounds of bamboo a day to meet its energy requirements.

In search of Sustainable Gardens…

So what is the sustainable aesthetic about? I suggest a few characteristics might be common to the sustainable garden aesthetic:

*  mimicking nature 

* minimal interference with the landscape

* native plant selection

* eco-material selection ie timber and stone

* bushland settings

* curved lines

* low water, low chemical and low maintenance

* absence of paths, boundary fences and made roads

For a garden see: 

For a plant aesthetic see: 

For an idea of how art & sustainability (green design) might have a more dramatic relationship also see the El Molino garden, a blend of formalism and naturalism which possibly focuses on reduced resource use (water and energy) and plant selection , rather than a strictly natural aesthetic in the form, layout and background to the scheme.

Seeing the wood for the trees

The Forest of Dean certainly makes you wonder what the Garden of Eden looked like before Adam set about tending it. What elements would it have possessed? And once Adam got to work, I wonder what he would have done to keep the Garden of Eden the way God wanted it to be?

Did the Garden of Eden have animals within it? Perhaps Adam was vegetarian? Was Eve, as Adam’s helpmate, also a keen gardener? In 2004 the Tate gallery explored some of the themes and artistic representations of Eden through the history of art to contemporary times. The Glue Society using google earth produced their version of Eden in 2007. Of course, Adam and Eve need not live in a garden anymore – as they can stay in a luxury hotel in Turkey….

Reconstituted stone garden ornament

Reconstituted stone garden ornaments develop a patina which depends on where they are placed

Reconstituted stone garden ornaments develop a patina which depends on where they are placed

Most of the ‘concrete ornaments’ in garden stores are vile, some more reminiscent of a stained WC pan than of a stone garden ornament. But there are some notable exceptions and the best quality products we know of are made by Chilstone. The company explains that each ornament ‘is handmade in reconstituted stone by a special process, developed over our long history to ensure a finished texture virtually indistinghishable from natural stone’. They specialize in making accurate copies of antique originals. Mosses and lichens grow well on the products and the species which flourish depend entirely on the local environmental conditions (shade, sun, moisture etc) so that they become INDISTINGHISHABLE from natural stone ornaments. The ingredients are crushed stone and a binder – with no use of the sand or aggregate normally used in making concrete. The ornaments are not very cheap but they are very good, so that many Chilstone items have been sold at Sotheby’s for many times their original retail price. You can think of them as an investment!

Reconstituted stone: freshly cast (left) and in the early stages of developing a patina (right)

Reconstituted stone: freshly cast (left) and in the early stages of developing a patina (right)

Fiberglass garden planters

Warwick Vase re-created in fiberglass

Warwick Vase re-created in fiberglass

We were pleased to discover that the owners of Warwick Castle agree with us about the high quality which can be achieved by using fiberglass to make garden planters. Since the original of the famous Warwick Vase is now in Glasgow, they sensibly commissioned a substitute made in fiber glass, as in the photograph above.

The fiber glass planter supplied by, below, is also in a public place. Compared to terracotta, it is much stronger, much lighter, frost-resistant and better at retaining water.

Terracotta coloured fiberglass planter in winter

Terracotta coloured fiberglass planter in winter

A landscape of ambiguity


Here is an approach to creating a space. This is just the first post…so watch the design develop in this blog space… I am not able to visit the site, so I may be using considerable creative license! (Anyone who knows the site is welcome to assist me.)


The initial idea was to acknowledge the bleak surroundings [See Tom’s post ‘Barking Town Square’s Elder Brother‘] and compliment them with fine elements: crystallized glass and an enclosing wall of screens. The colour accent is an iridescent blue. This is to illuminate the night sky and to connect with colours in the deepest ocean. Warmer tones of apricot and honey-wood are used to balance the cool colours. At present they will be used to theme the day time appearance of the space with naturals and neutrals. Planting is used to soften the space and to define different sections, giving privacy and a sense of ambiguity as to whether the space is inside or out. The furniture is comfortable and modern. The sound mood is set by the music of the string quartet – a leisurely evening pace for sipping wine and conversation.


The space is a moonlight garden or Moon Garden. All planting is white. At present the screens may be 1) actual visual screens in which case they can display any scenery or create any mood OR they may be 2) a projective surface OR 3) merely a textured surface. Conceptual elements further define the space.

1. A water curtain on the side of the building suggests a water fall over a cliff face – and can be used for visual screenings.

2. Vertical signage on a building identifies the space.

3. Vertical planting also provides perimeter lighting. [This element is inspired by the Great Beech Hedge at Miekleour – height – and Stefan’s blog.] The aesthetic is not literal… I am aiming for ‘ultra contemporary’…so we have a way to go! [I was thinking Stefan might help here.]

4. A central water feature, with a black base [see Ethel Anderson’s article on Moon Gardens], has an active inner pool and and a passive outer pool with planting. The outer pool is a flat rim; and the inner pool has with a wide but shallow V-sloped basin in solid stone.

5. There is perimeter bench seating – possibly white.


Outdoor spaces have a long existence – which is a preferred as a sustainability strategy. The design is conceived as a semi-public semi-park. It functions at night as a wine bar and during the lunch hour as a formal cafe space. The park elements need to be considered as permanent. While the cafe elements are temporary.

There can for example be:

1. Exterior paving AND a removable wooden platform with rubber inlay for wine bars etc.

2. Permanent public lighting and seating for a Moon Garden.

3. Removable task specific lighting for the wine bar and seating islands.

4. Removable commercial seating islands for wine bar patrons.

5. Permanent planting for the Moon Garden.

6. Removable planting for lunch venues/wine bars.

The space should be ambiguous: is it landscape or architecture; is it interior or exterior? Is it for day or night? Is it a park to be in or a space to eat in?