10 tips for using metals in the garden

10 tips for using metals in the garden

Shiny, lustrous, rusty or painted, metals can be used both structurally and decoratively in your garden. Here are some ideas on how to use and care for steel, aluminium, zinc and copper.

Aluminium slat raised garden bed

Aluminium slat raised garden bed

1. Metal mix
When two different metals touch and there is a liquid like water present, a slight current flows between the metals. Some, such as zinc, aluminium and carbon steel are ‘active’, becoming easily corroded when in contact with ‘noble’, or passive metals like titanium, nickel and copper. This hierarchy, called the Galvanic Series, means you must match any fastening screws and bolts with the main metal, avoiding combinations like aluminium rivets in steel, or water running off copper onto zinc-coated steel. Galvanised steel fastenings can corrode quickly in stainless steel.

Galvanised steel metal decking steps

Galvanised steel metal decking steps

2. Rust to trust

Cor-ten rusting steel Design Cycas Design

Cor-ten rusting steel Design Cycas Design

Weathering steel, often called cor-ten steel, is a steel alloy which develops a very attractive, rusty patina on its surface, but will not rust away like mild steel. Popular in sculpture and screens, it can also be used structurally, although it is more vulnerable in salt-laden winds or if water can collect in pockets. Rusty water runoff can stain surrounding paving.

rusting bed spring sculpture

Mild steel rusting bed spring sculpture Design Andrew Plymin

3. Think zinc
Zinc watering can, HidcoteZinc has much lower embodied energy that other metals (one quarter that of aluminium and one third of copper or stainless steel) and it can be easily recycled. Popular for centuries in Europe for roofing, it is protected from corrosion by a beautiful soft bluish-grey patina as it ages. Many beautiful French antique garden pieces such as tubs, house numbers and planters are made from zinc.

4. Recycled art

 rusted objects being reused for a sculpture

Reused found objects sculpture. Design Penny Button

Rolled wire balls. Arthur Lathouris

Rolled wire balls. Arthur Lathouris

You can use found metal objects to make your own fascinating garden sculptures, screens and quirky pots. Barbed wire rolled into balls, dangling windchimes of cutlery or a rusty old piece of farm machinery propped up against a tree bring appealing sculptural shapes and a rusty patina into a garden. Unwanted steel reinforcing mesh can be painted and used as a garden screen or trellis. Fill old teapots and saucepans with a mix of colourful succulents.

rusted Steel brazier

Steel brazier from hot water tank by Ian Tamme

5. Blacksmithing festivals
blacksmith at work at the St Ives medieval festivalObserve the ancient art of blacksmithing up close, by tracking down a local festival. In Australia, there’s the Waterside Blacksmithing and Metal Art Festival, and Ironfest in NSW; in the UK the National Blacksmith Festival in Godmanchester Cambridgeshire; in the USA you can contact the Northwest Blacksmith Association in Washington for their demonstration schedule.

6. Beat the heat

Dark steel furniture at Guestlands

Dark steel furniture

aluminium garden table and chairs

Aluminium garden furniture

Although metal furniture is long lasting, its ability to absorb or reflect heat can be a disadvantage. In summer, dark coloured steel can heat up to burning temperature, so make sure the furniture is well-shaded, including chair arms. Lightweight and highly reflective aluminium or polished stainless steel doesn’t heat up but, in the colder months, sitting on these seats can chill you to the bone, so provide thick cushions.

7. Good grades

Stainless steel water feature

Stainless steel water feature

Stainless steel comes in different grades of corrosion resistance. 304 grade with chromium and nickel is generally suitable for outdoor uses, while 316 grade with higher carbon, nickel and added molybdenum resists corrosion in maritime environments. Surface finishes include mill, brush and mirror. When working with stainless steel, use a sharp drill on a low speed and plenty of lubricant, and cut with a thin disk on your angle grinder, as heat build-up from a thicker disk hardens the steel.

stainless steel sculpture

Reflective stainless steel glows in a dark garden

Tubular steel planted garden screen designed by Brendan Moar

Tubular steel planted garden screen design Brendan Moar

8. Dream screens

cor-ten steel garden screen

Cor-ten steel screen by Lump Studios

Metal screens are an easy way to separate your garden into different rooms, or create a private nook while still maintaining a good airflow. Mounted in front of a coloured wall and back lit at night, they also make a dramatic statement. Regular geometric, or more elaborate decorative patterns or even one-off designs and pictures are laser cut into a range of metals, including weathering (cor-ten) steel, stainless steel, copper, aluminium and brass.

metal laser cut screen

Privacy behind a metal laser-cut screen Design Hunter Black

Moroccan-inspired garden screen

Moroccan-inspired garden screen. Design Rick Eckersley

9. Fine line

Using metal edging to sculpt gravel areas in a roof garden. Design Daniel Bafsky

Using metal edging to sculpt gravel areas in a roof garden. Design Daniel Bafsky

Continuous metal edging gives a crisp line in a garden, and its narrow width means you’re not losing valuable planting space. Made from aluminium, weathering steel or galvanised steel, it’s very flexible for tight or sinuous curves, or it can be pegged straight for a formal, geometric look. Good quality edging has a rolled top for extra strength and safety and some join with an easy clip-together system. Depths of 75mm (3 inches) to 150mm (6 inches) mean it can be used to make slightly raised beds, or just to hold in mulch.

Metal garden edging with laser-cut panels

Metal garden edging and laser-cut panels Design Paal Grant

10. Rust conversion
You can save rusty steel garden furniture or artwork from further damage. Rust converters work by using tannic or phosphoric acid (the tannic acid often works better) to change iron oxide (rust) to a more stable blackish compound, which can then be painted over. Although useful on decorative items, it cannot be used for salvaging structural steel, which must have the rust mechanically removed for proper priming.

Catherine Stewart editor of Garden Drum Article supplied by Catherine Stewart, award-winning creator/curator/editor at GardenDrum.com

No More Plastic Labels

No More Plastic Labels

cheap wooden plant labelsI hate plastic labels, but I haven’t been able to find an affordable wooden alternative –  until now. Trawling the internet I scrolled past the lovely but pricey handcrafted wooden labels and came to a website offering packs of wooden tongue depressors (do you remember when the doctor would say ‘stick out your tongue and say aah’) costing a mere £1.55 for 100, including postage. They are  15cm long by 2cm wide, so there is plenty of room to write on them – and if they inadvertently end up in the compost heap, they will eventually compost down, unlike  the plastic labels.

Tickle your Roots

Tickle your Roots

It’s the time of year when it’s tempting to introduce some colour into the borders while waiting for the late summer blooms to get going. We all do it – and provided you prepare the ground well, water thoroughly and mulch, the plants should settle in well.  But when you buy large plants at this time of year they often have a mass of roots on the margins of the root ball even when they aren’t pot bound. It’s a good idea to gently scuff them up so that when you plant, the roots travel out into the surrounding soil rather than continuing to travel round in circles, following the shape of their previous home.  I’ve found that Sophie Conran’s hand rake is the perfect tool for the job –  at the end of each of its tines there’s a little kick in the opposite direction and these are ideal for gently loosening the roots. My new plants have all been given this treatment and look very happy in their new home.the root ball of a pot plantplant with root ball that has been tickled out.

Buying the right lawnmower

by Daniel Carruthers

Where to start ? A search on google for the term ‘lawnmowers’ brings up 6,550,000 results so there’s plenty of choice. There’s cylinder, rotary, hover, ride on and even robot mowers. I rather like the red ones but I’m not sure that is the right way to go about choosing one fit for purpose.

A good place to start is to take a look at your lawn. Take account of whether it sloping or level ? Does it undulate or is it flat ? How big is it ? Armed with this information you are in a better place to make an informed decision. Like many lawns ours is fairly flat and of the sort of size that you might associate with village living. So how did we go about choosing the right mower ?

The Spring Flower shows are as good a place as any to go to see a range of mowers from some of the big names. That’s where we purchased our first mower. After doing the rounds we settled on the stylish, environmentally friendly Honda Izy mower. It’s a petrol rotary mower which cuts through the grass using a high speed spinning horizontal rotating blade. Rotary mowers are competitively priced and consequently are the best selling type of mower in the UK.honday izy being used to mow lawn

About the Honda Izy

When we bought our mower, around ten years ago, one of the factors that led us to choosing the Izy was the fact that it copes well with most types of lawns. So when we moved house it was not necessary to purchase a new mower. Let’s take a look at some of the other advantages :

Advantages of the Honda Izi

front view of honda izi

  • Adjustable front and rear wheels – choose a suitable cutting height anywhere between 20-74mm. Quite handy if your lawn undulates. On a high setting it’s good at coping with long, damp or rough grass.
  • Easy to start – one pull of the cord is usually all it takes.
  • Simple to set up and maintain – within ten minutes of opening the box you can be mowing your lawn.
  • Quiet (for a petrol rotary mower) – as petrol mowers go this has to be one of the quietest on the market.
  • The Izy is available as self drive or propelled. Rear wheel drive is optional and for larger areas of grass this would be recommended.


When it comes to awards the Izy has performed well over the years and in 2011 it won the award for being the Best Buy Petrol Mower. Certainly in our experience the Izy has provided years of reliable service. For £324 you can buy a Honda Izy directly online from honda.co.uk.

5 Essential Greenhouse Accessories

by Daniel Carruthers

When it comes to kitting out your greenhouse you can end up spending a small fortune.  Let’s take a look at the essential bits of equipment to help you set up your greenhouse in the right way.

Greenhouse Staging

Every greenhouse should have a bench from which to work. When choosing staging there’s primarily three types available :

slatted greenhouse stagingSlatted staging - Perhaps the most popular as it is both lightweight and cheap to make as it uses less material than other staging types. Slatted staging allows free drainage and also permits air to pass between the slats which helps keep the greenhouse cool on warm days. Ventilation is crucial in not only keeping the greenhouse cool but also reducing pests and diseases.

solid stagingSolid staging – As the name suggests such staging will have a solid surface. This is often in the form of a tray which can be filled with pea gravel. Consequently solid staging can be useful for retaining a level of moisture which helps to cool the greenhouse as well as providing a moist environment favoured by a number of plant types.

alpine house with plunge stagingPlunge staging is most commonly used for growing alpines. In this instance the staging usually has a 9 inch deep tray which is filled with sand. Since Alpine plants grow best in conditions where their roots are kept cool the plunge staging help simulate this environment in that the pots can be partially or fully buried in the sand so as to keep them cool.


When measuring up for staging first consider it’s position within the greenhouse. Usually staging runs down the length of the structure. You should opt for as wide as you can and in this regard there are two points to consider :

  • How far across it can you reach ? For example will you be able to reach across it to open the side vents of the greenhouse ?
  • The staging should not extend so far into the greenhouse that it goes beyond the width of the door.

In the instance you can set the height of the staging you should aim to put it so that staging surface is 500mm above the floor. To put this in context a typical kitchen worktop is 600mm high. Why so low ?
When your staging is in use it should be full of pots and seedtrays – the top of these will likely be nearer a standard worktop height. Bare in mind that you’ll have to water these regularly and holding a watering can high up for any length of time may prove difficult.


slatted greenhouse shelvingLike staging, greenhouse shelving is particularly useful. It is most commonly placed directly above the staging below the eaves of the greenhouse. This usually gets warmer that the staging due to its proximity to the roof glass and is consequently often used to germinate seeds in seed trays. If you plan to use your greenhouse shelving for pots then you should allow ample space between the top surface of the shelf and the eaves. Shelving is often slatted and most widths can accommodate a seed tray which is 34cm wide.


vine leaves provide natural shade in this greenhouse

Photo courtesy of Hartley Botanic

There are a number of options for shading your greenhouse which range in price. At the cheaper end you could opt to whitewash your greenhouse during the warmest months of the year. Equally inexpensive but requiring patience and ongoing maintenance is to plant a vine which can be trained to provide some natural shade (with the advantage that it also provides grapes).

Then there’s the option of retractable roller blinds. These are usually fitted internally and can be utilised when hot and sunny and retracted on cooler cloudier days. Whilst such blinds provide important shade they do not stop the warmth from the sun penetrating the greenhouse. Consequently the greenhouse can get very hot. In the instance that you want to cool as well as shade the greenhouse then consider external shading. A number of suppliers provide external blinds that are either permanently fixed during the summer months or retractable. In either instance if you’re expecting windy weather you should perhaps consider taking them down until the wind dissipates. As you might expect external blinds will deteriorate over time.


Keeping your greenhouse ventilated is vitally important. A well ventilated greenhouse will help keep your plants cool (or alive!) on warm days but it will also assist in reducing plant disease. If you are not around on a daily basis then autovents are a godsend. Relatively cheap and extremely effective an autovent can be fitted to almost any vent.

bayliss greenhouse autoventThe autovents respond to changes in temperature, the warmer the temperature the wider they open. They require no electricity. A cylinder filled with mineral wax is the key to how they work. As the wax warms it expands which in turn pushes out a piston. In the evening as the temperature cools the wax contracts, the piston retracts, and the window closes. Genius !


Greenhouse Heaters

Depending on how you intend to use your greenhouse a heater can be invaluable. Most commonly they are used to keep the temperature of the greenhouse above freezing throughout winter. There are two types of greenhouse heaters :

paraffin greenhouse heaterParafin – cheap and effective but requiring careful maintenance and attention.




electric greenhouse heaterElectric Fan heaters – most come with a thermostat which allows them to start up when a certain minimum temperature is breached. These have the added advantage of being used as a fan to circulate the air in the summer. As you might expect these are more usually more expensive to run and will require a power source within the greenhouse.