Recycling, upcycling and life-cycling – transformation acts

by Drucilla James

Recycled products used with flair and imagination have been a leitmotif of this year’s flower shows. Kate Gould’s award-winning Chelsea garden, ‘The Wasteland’, featured a chair made from an old steel bath tub, and screens devised from shopping trolleys and mattress springs – materials that would otherwise have gone to land fill.

The Best Show Garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live, Jade Goto and Armando Raish’s Austerity Garden, also demonstrated the versatility of reused materials, including wood and polypropylene, to achieve high design on a low budget.

Bathtub chair by £1850

Bathtub chair by £1850

At the same time, the new BBC Metamorphosis competition set by Cleve West focussed on conceptual recycling whilst the Chelsea Cloudy Bay Discovery Garden is currently undergoing successive re-mixing at Oxo Tower Wharf.

In these days of economic and environmental constraints, we need to be sustainable gardeners -managing water effectively, encouraging wildlife, growing our own, avoiding the use of chemicals and reducing consumption of natural resources. Seeking out recycled and ethically sourced products has a part to play in this.

And recycling doesn’t require sacrificing style in pursuit of noble ends – designers are now creating better and more sophisticated products from waste materials than we had ever dreamed possible – mechanical and domestic detritus has even become part of a prevailing industrial chic.

Act 1: Frogs into princes -recycled materials into garden furniture


Old houses, boats and tarpaulins amongst other things have been turned into modish garden furniture.

  1. CAS bench from John Reeves part of a range made from recycled aluminium and sustainably sourced teak £499 from Out & Out Original,
  2. Teak conservatory lounge set made from teak from old Indonesian houses £399 from Out & Out Original,
  3. Navy chair hand-made from 80% recycled aluminium £450 from Folklore,
  4. Thames garden bench part of a range of products made from recycled plastic £263 from Kedel Limited,
  5. Ortensia bench made from disused industrial waste – a reclaimed wooden structure covered with petals handmade from tarpaulin production materials £800 from e-side,
  6. Santa Maria bench created from boat timbers and recycled fortress doors £325 from Little Tree Furniture,

Act 2: Ugly ducklings into swans -recycled materials into garden accessories


Old tyres, plastic plant pots, oil drums, plastic bottles and unwanted records have been transmogrified into must-have garden accessories:

  1. Kamira recycled glass lanterns from The Orchard Home and Gifts,
  2. Recycled Kadai fire bowl made from recycled oil drums £164 from Cast in Style,
  3. Recycled wool picnic rug £15 from RHS Books and Gifts,   
  4. Bird feeder made from recycled plant pots £9.99 from RHS Books and Gifts,
  5. Recycled Acapulco picnic mat £19.95 from Dotcomgiftshop,
  6. Orchid pot recycled glass £8 from The Eden Project Shop,
  7. Folded vinyl record plant pot by Oakdene Designs £12.40 from,
  8. Tyre plant pot holder made from old tyres £9 from Hen & Hammock,
  9. Eco rice scoop bird feeder from a range of products made from recycled plant pots £4.95 from ashortwalk,
  10. Jumbo storage bag Suki made from recycled plastic bottles £4.95 from Dotcomgiftshop,

Act 3: Loathly ladies into beautiful princesses – vintage items re-imagined

vintage products (1 amended crate

Garden collectibles or simple everyday items from the past have been made into decorative or utilitarian items or both:

  1. Vintage French apple crate  as storage container £25 from ALSO Home,
  2. Vintage dolly tub once used for laundering, now good as container for olive tree, £95 from Nixey and Godfrey,
  3. Tractor seat garden stool  £56 from Cast in Style,
  4. Vintage oyster baskets make sturdy storage containers £45 from Whippet Grey,
  5. Two gallon vintage watering can – can be used for watering or as a planter, £30 from Magpie Living,
  6. Two vintage plant pots – can be used for plants or as candle holders, £12 from Magpie Living,
  7. Vintage trug tray £36 by ALSO Home from,   
  8. Vintage silver-plated spoon and fork ends make veggie markers from La de da! Living

Act 4:  Into something rich and strange – Fair Trade

fair tradepx

An increasingly diverse range of skilfully crafted or recycled products is available to choose from:

  1. Malawi Chair from People of the Sun Homeware Collection, a non-profit enterprise based in Malawi creating opportunities for local artisans to build sustainable businesses. For details  contact
  2. Hand-painted bird homes from Kashmir £16 from Fairwind,
  3. Metal flower pots with birds £8.50 from Fairwind,
  4. Potato planter by Recycle-Recycle produced in Asia from recycled rice or cement bags £24 from,
  5. Fairtrade recycled rice bag window box by Recycle-Recycle produced in Cambodia £15 (larger sizes can be used as planters) at,
  6. Recycled herb planter by Turtle Bags £4.95 for balcony or patio made by the Women’s Uplift Programme in Bangladesh from What You Sow,

Act 5: Disappearing acts – biodegradeable

biodegradeable 2

Functional items can usefully decompose when no longer needed rather than adding to the waste mountain.

  1. Retro-compostable bin liner £5.50 from Freshly Forked,
  2. Biodegradeable plant pots made from Carnauba palm leaves £1.75 – see also their coir plant pots- from The Eden Project Shop,
  3. Love ‘em and leave ‘em sacks biodegradeable leaf sacks £2.49 from RHS Books and Gifts,    
  4. Compostable watering can £5 from The Eden Project Shop,

Apply in practice:


We can look for products that enable us to become recyclers  including:

  1. Seed pot maker £12.99 from Who’s it For?
  2. Eco soda bottle bird feeder adaptor £20 from The Balcony Gardener, – see also eco watering can bottle adaptor
  3. Organic plant food maker £36 from Freshly Forked,

    malawi chair

    Making the Malawi Chairs including using scrap car parts

One Response to “Recycling, upcycling and life-cycling – transformation acts”

  1. Lyndsey

    What an great selection of recycled and upcycled goodies.

    Thanks for featuring our fairtrade planter, we are giving one away in our trugful of goodies as part of our Pinterest competition to celebrate What You Sow turning 1!

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