Modern Garden Materials

 In Garden Design, News


The Industrial Revolution helped to transform manufacturing from small workshops to large factories. This in turn created jobs. More people moved from rural areas to big cities. It made goods that were once only available to the wealthy, reachable to the masses. It also changed construction from having to use chunky heavy timbers to lighter weight steels that were stronger more robust and had longer life expectancy.

Often, these industrial materials were deemed ugly and were used as support materials in construction. They were rarely left exposed. Then in the early 1970s three British architects created the design for the Pompidou Centre. This was a revolution in itself. A building with its internals exposed. Since then interior design has gone through the same trends with copper pipework and brick walls exposed.

As the trends in architecture and interiors change so have styles in garden design to sit cohesively with the properties. Materials for creating stylish contemporary gardens have come a long way in recent years. Architects, interior and garden designers are working very creatively to fuse old with new and this is not just through materials but finishes and using them in different ways.

Photograph Credit: Helen Fickling Design Credit: Kate Gould

Chelsea Flower Show 2017 the designer has created an industrial and contemporary style roof terrace using corten steel panels. The soft furnishings and the orange lamp pick up on the orange tones coming through in the corten.

Corten Steel also is known as weathering steel has been the choice material for garden designers and landscape architects. Corten is developed from a combination of steel alloys that have specific enduring properties. Corten, instead of corroding completely is subject only to surface oxidation which developes into a protective layer that resembles rust. This layer only penetrates 5% of the surface and does not damage the layer underneath.

Designers are using their creativity and the skills of metal fabricators to develope some stunning features for outdoor spaces. Corten can be fabricated into containers, water features, fire pits, steps and beautiful decorative screens. It can also be used as a cladding on walls.

Copper is a seductive material. Whether it is used for function or ornament it adds opulence to a garden. I love the way it adds time to a garden as it weathers to verdigris. This is an oxidisation process however if you prefer the pinky-orange tone of copper then it can be lacquered to prevent it from oxidising. Copper is an expensive metal, but it can be used as a trim around containers, benches, shelves or tabletops. Copper pipes can be fashioned into spouts for water features or used as handles on black charred timber outdoor cabinets. With the blurring of lines between indoor and outdoor, there are copper wire light shades that can be used outside hanging underneath a pergola. Copper wire can also be bent, twisted and moulded into sculptures. If you are feeling very extravagant then how about a copper water feature.

Photo Credit: Manoj Malde Design Credit: Nick Bailey

In the Beauty of Mathematics garden, Nick Bailey had used copper for some stunning features. Here he has designed a copper water feature inspired by a pine cone.

Bronze is an alloy that is primarily made of copper but mixed with various other types of metals. It is often seen in gardens in the form of sculpture or birdbaths. One just has to look at the work of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. My personal favourite use of bronze is the beautiful containers created by Bronzino.

Concrete some would argue is not good for the environment, but it is widely used in most construction. A shuttered retaining wall can give a brutalist look to a garden. However, if combined with the right materials such as corten and cedar it can blend in seamlessly creating a very contemporary feel to a garden. Cement sheets can also be moulded to create outdoor furniture. For an industrial look how about using pre-cast concrete manhole pipes as containers.

Photo Credit: Manoj Malde

The café section of the Garden Museum has been clad in bronze tiles cleverly merges the new building with the old but still makes a strong statement of the entrance.

Micro-Cement was a method used to create the large platforms that were cantilevered over the water feature in my garden ‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’ at the Chelsea Flower Show 2017. Micro-cementing is a form of liquid cement that is applied in thin layers. It can also be used in different colours by mixing in a dye. Recent innovation is to mix in liquid metals such is zinc or copper to give micro-cement the colour and shimmer of these metals. Micro-cement can be applied to walls, used to line water features and pools. It can even be used in shower cubicles.

Credit: Jim Fogarty Design Pty Ltd

Flinders Coastal Garden designed by Jim Fogarty set on the edge of a very scenic coastal golf course on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, this garden was designed to be a low maintenance garden for the owners of this architect-designed Beach House. Pre-caste concrete pipes have been installed to give height and rhythm to the planting borders.

Porcelain although not that new there are some great advances in porcelain. Porcelain tiles are now available to resemble various types of stone, wood and even concrete.

Metal Mesh is a product that is often forgotten for use in a private garden. It is mainly seen used in commercial capacity. It makes great treads for steps that can then be underplanted. Bridges crossing over a water feature also work well. Mesh can be forged in corten too.

Powder Coated Aluminium allows us to use metal in whatever colour we want. Powder-coated aluminium comes as outdoor furniture, water features and planting containers. I have used orange cube plant containers as a focal point in a client’s garden. Like the decorative corten screens, Powder-coated aluminium could be used in the same way.

Metalized Coatings are fairly new on the market. These come in golds, silvers, bronze, copper, pewter, etc and can be used on various types of surface. In other words, you could paint the posts of a wooden pergola to make it look like it is constructed from metal.

Credit: Earth Designs

Orange transparent perspex has been used in a very simple way in this garden but yet it creates a great effect by blurring lines between one part of the garden to the next. One still wants to go and seek out what is on the other side. The orange also adds a strong burst of colour to the garden.

Acrylic is like Corian. Acrylics are combined with minerals and natural pigments to create a smooth, non-porous finish. Its thermoforming capabilities allow acrylics to be moulded into three-dimensional shapes. This also allows a visually seamless finish which enables it to be constructed into large areas without visible joints. There is a large colour spectrum to choose from. Some resemble terrazzo and granite other colours have a translucency to them. The non-porous finish makes it clinically safer, so it does not absorb and spread bacteria. Acrylics can be used as work surfaces for outdoor kitchens, table surfaces, moulded into furniture, constructed into pots or used as wall panels. The possibilities are endless.

Perspex is rarely seen in gardens, but it is a great material to give instant coverage. Like acrylic, it is available in numerous colours. It also comes as both opaque and transparent so great effects can be created with it. Imagine using panels of a translucent colour on a pergola so you see the silhouettes of through it. Perspex is reflective. Planting in front can create some stunning effects.

Image Credit: Morley Von Sternberg Design Credit: Stuart Charles Towner

Slats of bronze have been used to great effect here creating a pergola to give screening and shade. There is a seamless transition where the pergola merges into the planting border and the plants become part of the seating area.

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search