Gardens: add a little vintage style to your garden
Architectural salvage yards are good hunting grounds for vintage garden pieces or ‘gardenalia’
A Victorian iron ‘Famine Pot’ used as as planter, with orange T. vvedenskyi ‘Henry Hudson’ in Angela Jupe’s Offaly garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Using architectural salvage and occasional vintage pieces in the garden in combination with up-cycled or unconventional building materials has always had its own special charm. A handful of lovingly chosen, genuinely vintage/antique pieces brings atmosphere, the patina of age and something of the stories of previous owners of previous eras. The result is a garden that feels personal rather than mass-produced. As for up-cycling, when done well, it’s not only thrifty, hugely pleasurable and rewarding, but appeals to a growing band of gardeners increasingly uncomfortable with our modern, consumerist age. But where and how do you start? Here’s a handy guide.
Up-cycle: Scrap yards, steelyards, car-boot sales, flea markets and charity shops are great hunting grounds for lots of interesting garden paraphernalia – the fashionable term is ‘gardenalia’– that can be put to creative, inventive use; it’s all about looking at objects and materials afresh. For example, old zinc or rusted metal water-tanks can make very handsome planters, as do old metal diesel tanks sliced in half. Even lengths of industrial angle iron – a structural building material widely available from steelyards – soon acquire the fashionably rusty look of corten steel when used outdoors as edging for garden paths, as seen in June Blake’s excitingly contemporary garden in west Wicklow. Other pieces that can be creatively up-cycled include old horticultural machinery, chandeliers, even giant disco balls – it’s all down to individual taste.
The Dublin-based garden designer and florist Mark Grehan of Powerscourt’s The Garden, often up-cycles objects for garden use. “Many pubs and restaurants are happy to give away old wooden champagne crates, which I paint and use as planters, while I also use empty catering-sized olive-oil or tomato tins donated from local restaurants.”
The Store Yard in Portlaoise is a favourite source of Grehan’s, while he up-cycles handsome old wooden stepladders sourced from Delvin Antiques in Balbriggan to use as decorative, space-saving, plant-pot stands.
Salvage yards have long been a traditional way of tracking down pieces of gardenalia along with lots of different kinds of architectural salvage materials, such as reclaimed brick, stone, paving and timber. But beware of cheap imitations and tat; faux-vintage rings a horribly false note in the garden. For the same reason, designer Tig Mays of Monkstown garden shop Howbert & Mays is very wary of the ‘vintage’ garden look. “Unless I’m very sure of something’s authenticity, I’ll steer clear. Too often it turns out to be a modern replica. But occasionally we’ve picked up great pieces; for example, the window of our shop was bought in ST Salvage on South Circular Road, a great Dublin salvage yard where we’ve also found other little gems such as cast-iron gate finials.”
Waterford garden designer Gerard Mullen recommends Kilkenny Architectural Salvage & Antiques. Both Mullen and Mark Grehan advise that to get the very best pickings, you need to visit regularly.
Traditional hunting grounds aside, the internet is increasingly one of the best ways to find inspiration as well as some beautiful garden vintage/antique pieces, from highly fashionable Victorian ‘coppers’ and Edwardian wirework plant stands to ornate metal jardinières and early 20th-century French garden furniture. Among the best websites is decorativecollective.com, an online marketplace for many of Europe’s professional dealers, with thousands of garden-related items for sale. Here you’ll find contemporary pieces, such as the engraved limestone panels that were part of UK-based garden designer Cleve West’s gold-medal-winning show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show last year, as well as many other covetable vintage pieces; old garden trugs, graceful Regency benches, antique lanterns, glass cloches and ornate garden gates, zinc French baths, elegant cast-iron bistro tables, quirky wirework chairs, champagne vasques (great as ornate vases), vintage graphite planters or ‘crucibles’, Victorian terrariums, even antique garden gnomes.
Decorative Collective’s less pricey sister website, thehoarde.com, also lists lots of great garden collectibles including 1920s-era wash tubs or dolly bins (perfect as large planters), vintage bird cages, retro furniture, galvanised baths and watering cans, cast iron pots, antique beehives and Edwardian wheelbarrows. Both sites facilitate online purchasing and delivery to Ireland. For more, including early 20th-century furniture designer pieces, also see 1stdibs.com.
Unique pieces of gardenalia can also be bought at auction, many of which are now also held online. Gerard Mullen is a great fan of thesalesroom.com, which describes itself as “Europe’s leading portal for fine art and antiques auctions”. Here, visitors can browse catalogues and place bids over the internet in real time, while watching live video feeds. Mullen is also a regular visitor to Mealy’s in Kilkenny, one of Ireland’s most respected auction houses where he handpicks items for himself and clients. Recent acquisitions include a pair of antique garden gates, and a copy of the exquisitely illustrated, limited-edition garden book Les Promenades de Paris which came from the famous Mount Congreve estate.
Useful tips Forget what’s fashionable/in good taste, and only buy what you love. Avoid cheap replicas, or pieces that have been sourced unethically. Don’t overcook it. A few good-quality vintage or up-cycled pieces is far better than a confusion of different styles Vintage garden pieces look best when they echo the vintage of the property Get inspiration from Pinterest, blogs such as theslugandthesquirrel and books such as Gardenalia by Sally Coulthard (sallycoulthard.co.uk Keep valuable pieces out of public view, to prevent them being stolen.
Useful websites: thestoreyard.ie; eurosalve.com; delvinfarmpine.com; decorativecollective.com; rfl.ie (steel); thehoarde.com; 1stdibs.com; the-saleroom.com; mealys.ie; thegarden.ie; howbertandmays.ie
THIS WEEK IN THE GARDEN
Start slowly hardening off tender and half-hardy plants for planting out at the end of the month by placing them outdoors in a sheltered position during the day. This will help them to get used to harsher, more variable growing conditions. Hardening off is a gradual process that should take place over several weeks. Dead head spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, but don’t cut back the foliage, which should be allowed to die back naturally. If you’d like to polish up your garden photography skills (below), then consider enrolling in an online course. Sarah Waldburg of Houses, Castles & Gardens (hcgi.ie) recommends Kathleen Clemens’ courses with The Picture Perfect School of Photography, ppsop.net, based in the US.
The next one, “Capturing the Beauty of Flowers”, starts on May 8th and costs $169.