Some light industry adds authenticity to the back garden

Kya deLongchamps goes for the full hipster look in the back garden, using found objects, industrial excess and good old baked-bean tins to evoke a careless beauty. 

Wandering aisles heaving with gargantuan resin outdoor lounge furniture makes me long for an old-fashioned garden.

What happened to that relaxed companion of the kitchen? Is it now a rather gentrified version of the livingroom?

If you are not all gnomes and wishing wells but not a streamlined modernist, there’s plenty off-beat nostalgia for the soul and the garden in the more recent, machine age from the early 20th century. This is not add water and stir styling carried home in the back of the car, it’s an accumulated, creative experience.

Combine industrial accessorising with the same implied rusticity, traditional planting and faded relaxation of the classic cottage garden. Keep in mind that taking an authentic trip over an uneven limestone slab face down onto a splintered deck gripping a cocktail served in a jagged edged, enamel mug, is no-one’s idea of charm in the outdoors.

Stage diverse ingredients with practicality and safety first. Pedestrian areas, including steps, should be carefully constructed and off-beat materials should always be made safe to the touch, and secured if there’s the least chance they could flatten or otherwise injure a child.

In terms of materials think wood, stone, brick and metals — steer clear of plastics. Concrete, including the humble paving slab in its unfussed grey square modesty is completely acceptable for the light industrial garden. If you use natural and interior grade materials outside, they won’t last forever — but I would argue that’s part of the pleasing tension.

Look out for pieces of commercial salvage with a good line, an even greater story, and the muscle to live outdoors. Idiosyncratic trellis, fencing, seating, ornaments and focal points can be delivered with factory floor, boat and builders yard survivals — zinc containers, anvils, high tensile steel rods (great for climbing plants), and disparate bits of redundant, massive cast iron machinery with a rusty patina.

Reclaimed steel trusses have a range of uses from uprights supports for shelter to border edging. Get help. They are a nightmare to move, even in reduced sections. Cable reels, beloved in the 1980s for bar height tables and raised display, will live longer than you will. Use them for planting or, as a table, sticking your parasol into the centre hole, or use as a stage for a pot plants.

Swivel-mounted machinist chairs, tables and potting benches using welded pipe frames and scaffolding plank tops, have retro simplicity rather than antique quaintness. Choose some indoor/outdoor seating to match — the market is heaving with mid-century inspired pieces. 

Real painter’s tables in a rough couple of metres of OSB or chipboard with the ghost of contracts past are a great find. Preserve the spatters of paint and over-spray under a layer of external grade, clear varnish.

Old office and school desks with their square metal frame base, are a good starting point for a DIY project for a patio arrangement. Have your local carpenter put together some scaffoldboard benches on this base.

Homemade poured concrete counters with inclusions of shells, semi-precious stones and found materials are lighting up the internet. Be prepared for some misfires, plenty of laughs and ensure you can lift and support the results.

Keep extra tiles from indoor projects for a colourful edging to rustic benches, risers and borders, applying with an exterior grade adhesive/grout.

Some light industry adds authenticity to the back garden 

You might find one attention-getting piece of gnarly salvage is enough to satisfy, but the truly brave can push the industrial look outdoors towards the eccentricity of ‘steam-punk’. This cult classic is gaining ground indoors, and mixes up the dials, cogs and levers of heavy industry into other objects — like lighting.

It has a collector’s cabinet feel of the late 19th century, and can be wildly imaginative. Heavy marine-inspired lighting pieces for mains wiring with their caged prismatic lenses are a good introduction to off-the-shelf styling. Nautical bulkheads and swan neck pendants with metal housing are excellent for wall mounting.

For an easier transition, wire baskets hung flat on a timber clad wall, can act as supports for pots or as slender shelving. Let them rust out a bit. Suspend unusual, secondhand finds such as chipped enamel colanders and cooking pots in place of traditional hanging baskets, and have a go at making a wind-chime from old base metal cutlery. Penney’s is doing hangable ceramic pots at the moment for a couple of euro and they are a perfect way to start a small-scale vertical garden.

Coloured bottles have a forgotten loveliness and corrugated iron roofing has the symmetry and narrative for a vintage style potting shed, framed with hefty timber into fence panels. Let decking silver out rather than finishing with a determined colour, and try partition panels in horizontal and vertical planking.

Zinc-style buckets and bins, can take the place of formal planters. Chimney pots and ceramic water pipes can support vertical planting too. Mixing up edibles with ornamentals has been beloved in gardens of aristocrats and cottagers since the 17th century. Rain bouncing off the furred leaves of a courgette plant, and the jewelling of autumn fruits among the last of the tea roses is soul-stroking stuff.

Combine a little sand and compost seeded with ground hugging mint, or leafy lettuce or rocket, and poke it into gaps in stone walling, between flags and around the edge of rugged steps. This decorative mixed salad, will visually soften the ruder lines of your hard landscaping. Treading on the mint is a sensory experience too.

Wood pallets can cost €1 a piece, and can be used for a number of vertical planting designs near the house (line the reverse with plastic ‘troughs’ and fill with potting material).

Succulents mixed with smoky herbs, (or hedgerow ferns placed in the darkest and wettest part of a courtyard), look beautiful this way. Set up against a wall, a palette outfitted with simple S- shaped butchers hooks can simply support a grid of plant pots.

Paint up the palette in a gentle chalky colour if you prefer a colour block to all bare wood. Cheap square or diamond-fence panels can also carry rows of tender plants. 

Try silver planters or even stripped food tins in a pleasing symmetry. Runs of cast iron or even PVC guttering offer interesting wall- mounted beds, a great success seen against old or reclaimed red brick which has an easy, industrial style. 

Take a look through the community at Etsy and Pinterest for more sustainable ideas using cheap, found and salvaged materials. Give the arrangement of cheaper, off-the-grid materials attention and intent — we’re going for raggedy gorgeous, but not Steptoe and Son.


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