Up-cycling: how to add grandeur to even the smallest gardens

Every hidden corner has potential for fun - jazz up your garden using everyday objects.
Be open to inspiration from any quarter, for sometimes what might appear too kitsch or too ordinary may have hidden potential.

This is the message from garden designer George Carter who, with just a little work and a lot of imagination, makes the ordinary extraordinary, transforming everyday objects from DIY stores, car boot sales and builders’ merchants into glorious garden features that bring a touch of grandeur to even the smallest spaces.

In his book Garden Magic he shows how we can do likewise, using his own Norfolk plot, a green theatre packed with witty ideas, as a template. For instance, on either side of the driveway, a pair of outsize agaves in terracotta pots make grand statements when enclosed in open-sided sentry posts with lead roofs; a simpler effect could be achieved with a scaled-down pergola kit.

The garden gate is decorated with long-handled vintage garden tools set in different directions within the frame, while the modest garden shed is camouflaged with a large diamond trellis, painted air force blue and swagged beneath the eaves with festoons of fake bay leaves.

Carter frames worthwhile views with a pair of fence posts stained with Sadolin’s Slate Grey and tops them with finials, which might be large pine cones or gilded Amish barn stars (find them at attheark.co.uk). 

Areas for seating are whipped up from woven heather screening, stapled to four round tree support posts. “This could be done with trellis, or screening from bamboo, hazel or willow, and you could do it in a short time, like putting up beach wind screens,” he says.
 
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Somewhere to sit: vintage garden tools embellish this beach

Passionate about formal 17th-century garden design, Carter loves vertical elements that elevate the plot in both senses of the word. His contemporary take on a classic column is a fat plastic drainage pipe from a plumbers’ supplier, painted with Farrow & Ball’s Green Smoke and capped with a beach ball painted cannonball slate.

Gardencentre trellis obelisks become worthy of Versailles when Carter paints them with Farrow & Ball’s French Grey, and tops each off with a gold-leafed plastic ball. A pair of such obelisks placed on either side of an entrance to the house each conceal a spotlight so that at night, dramatic shadows are cast on the walls.

Lighting, as you might imagine, is a forte of Carter’s, and he recommends with Farrow & Ball’s French Grey, and tops each off with a gold-leafed plastic ball. A pair of such obelisks placed on either side of an entrance to the house each conceal a spotlight so that at night, dramatic shadows are cast on the walls.

Lighting, as you might imagine, is a forte of Carter’s, and he recommends Christmas decoration catalogues as a good source. He uses a starburst decoration as an outdoor chandelier, drapes nets of pea lights over topiary to add year-round night-time sparkle and ties together two hanging baskets to make a wire globe, winding solar pea lights through them to create a 3D ball of twinkling light. From a DIY store he buys packs of LED ice cube lights,

Designed to use in drinks and to light up on contact with water, and scatters them on his garden pool. Carter is equally inventive with containers. Ordinary moulded terracotta pots are given gravitas with a coat of deepest green paint, while large plastic pots are camouflaged with a wrap of ready-wired, half-log timber bed edging from B&Q, stained grey. 
 
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New look: a terracotta cherub sits on a timber post looking down

Cubic containers that you can buy from any garden centre are ideal, he says, for awkward spaces. On a balcony, push them together to make instant raised beds. In a dark basement, turn one upside down to use as a pedestal for fake ivy twirled around a tall topiary frame.

In his own garden, wooden Versailles cases holding bay lollipops are gussied up with faux trellis squares of lead sheeting strips secured with roofing nails, to give the effect of antique cast-lead cisterns.

He has also used lead sheeting strips to create a saw-tooth trim around the edges of a brick fountain, like outdoor passementerie. The gilded globe on top of the fountain is a plastic ball more usually seen floating in a lavatory cistern. Proof, surely, of Carter’s belief that there is potential for posh from every quarter.



BOOK OFFER George Carter: Garden Magic (Double-Barrelled Books) costs £25, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £20 including p&p by calling 01903 828503 and quoting ref HP/GM.

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