February 9, 2021 by IG

Garden Trends: Metal is Everywhere

An old cattle feeder turned into a planter by Jenny Williams of @thelaundrygarden. It has been planted with ‘Waltzing Mathilda’ dahlias, panicum ‘Rehbraun’, salvia ‘Amistad’, Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and Antirrhinum majus ‘Black Prince.’ Silver birch branches are used as plant supports. Photo courtesy of Jenny Williams.

In June of last summer, B&B proprietor and Gardener Jenny Williams turned an old cattle feeder into a planter to spectacular effect. The long trough was elevated on breeze blocks, holes were drilled for drainage and a dense combination of dahlias, salvias, and other plants made up the summer display. In the fall, Jenny planted tulip bulbs and erysimum in the trough and filled antique dolly tubs with more bulbs. These once pedestrian zinc wash tubs are widely available online from ebay, Chairish, antique and home decor stores and are given a second life in some of the most exquisite gardens. Elliott of Elliott’s Organic Garden Diary has two such planters flanking the front door of his home. He has planted them with braided bay tree topiaries and frothy Erigeron karvinskianus.

Left: Dolly tub (also called posser) and possticks at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire, England. Photo by Snapshooter46 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Right: topiarized bay trees in vintage dolly tubs at Warrick Garden in Oxfordshire, England. Photo courtesy of @warrickgarden.

The Impatient Gardener, Erin, turned a large round galvanized feed tank into a water lily pond with solar powered fountain — the centerpiece of her vegetable garden. Laura of Garden Answer turned stock tanks into planters for colorful annuals and strawberries, cascading off the sides. Capitalizing on the use of their feed tanks for edible gardens, manufacturers like Tarter and Behlen have started offering “bottomless” stock tanks for use as raised beds. Other options for raised beds like the Birdies brand popularized by Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening are made from corrugated steel. For a cheaper DIY option, landscape architect Bunny Guinness suggests using corrugated iron sheeting attached to pressure treated posts.

Top: an oval raised bed planter from Tarter. Bottom: a modular Birdies raised bed from Epic Gardening.

For those looking for a more streamlined, modern aesthetic, corten steel is another popular option for raised beds, planters, water features, and edging. The material has been used in construction since the 1930s and for outdoor sculptures since the 1950s and 60s. One notable example is a 50 ft cubist sculpture by Picasso in Chicago, Illinois. Corten steel products start their life in a soft grey color but quickly develop a protective oxide film that is rust-like in appearance, which (in theory) slows down future corrosion. Garden designer Nick McCullough is a big fan of this material and uses it for client projects and in his own garden. Slick corten hoops contrast with billowy bronze fennel in one of his meadow-like planting schemes, trailing junipers spill down the sides of his custom made corten “G&T” planters, and reflective chrome spheres float in a corten pond.

Varied applications of corten steel in landscape designer Nick McCullough’s garden. Photos courtesy of Nick McCullough @nickmccland.

A large selection of metal pieces, from planters to fire pits, is available from retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company, West Elm, and Wayfair. Some are smaller and more affordable like corten steel wall planters, galvanized watering cans, compost pails, and a set of four inch planters with tray that’s just right for a windowsill.

Shop corten steel and galvanized metal for the garden: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.