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)