Upcycling - pallet planter

Upcycling in the garden

We reveal how to upcycle common items to make decorative and stylish garden features.

‘Upcycling’ involves repurposing something so it has a greater value than it had originally. Many common and household items can be ‘upcycled’ for use in the garden, rather than be discarded at landfill or ‘downcycled’ into something of lower value. Be inspired by our selection of items that can be reused in the garden – what can you upcycle in yours?


Make a pallet planter

Upcycling - pallet planter
Upcycling – pallet planter

Repurpose a pallet into a mini, bespoke vertical garden. After washing it down and  painting it, simply wedge suitably sized plants in their existing containers between the slats. A frothy mix of spare bedding plugs and young salad plants makes a pretty and productive mid-summer combination.

Use oil drums to make seats

Upcycling - oil drum seats
Upcycling – oil drum seats

Don’t be put off by not having the right equipment to hand – there’s always somebody out there who can help. For this project you’ll need a local metal-worker to slice an old oil drum in two. Then cut two discs of reclaimed wood for the tops, to make your seat. Old oil drums also make great planters.

Plant up an old chair

Upcycling - planter chair
Upcycling – planter chair

An old painted chair with succulents tumbling over the edges looks stylish and raises the plants up so you can appreciate them. It can be achieved by removing the seat and creating a sort of planting hammock by firmly stapling landscaping fabric into the void. Fill with cactus compost and plant with sedums, succulents or other shallow-rooted, drought-resistant plants.

Grow veg in hessian bags

Upcycling - veg in hessian bags
Upcycling – veg in hessian bags

With the coffee shop boom comes a surfeit of used hessian coffee bean sacks. They have myriad of garden uses, from storing root veg and masking plastic growing bags, to growing seasonal crops such as leafy veg like kale and herbs. Roll down the sides neatly for an attractive finish.

Edge paths with old wine bottles

Upcycling - reusing wine bottles
Upcycling – reusing wine bottles

Used wine bottles can make a unique, jewel-like, yet tough, garden path edging. Using a bottle-cutting kit, cut the bottom 10cm or so off each bottle and set into building sand as if you are laying bricks. Alternatively, use your favourite colourful glass bottles as decorative garden cane toppers.

Make a water feature from old pipes

Upcycling - water pipes
Upcycling – water pipes

There is a pleasing visual frisson created when mixing old and new items. Reclaimed materials bring a unique twist, even if you have to ask a specialist to help implement your ideas. This imaginative water feature project reuses drainage pipes and is brought to life with a splash of green from the moisture-loving ferns. A water source and electricity for a pump would give the feature life.

Plant up old boxes, baskets or drawers

Upcycling - planting up boxes
Upcycling – planting up boxes

A set of similarly planted containers always looks smart, especially when set at eye level. This is a great way to breathe life into an old set of wooden boxes, baskets or drawers. Line with plastic, create drainage holes and plant up – make sure they’re fixed securely to the fence and can cope with the added weight of the soil.

Plant salads in old bowls and dishes

Upcycling - planting salads in old bowls
Upcycling – planting salads in old bowls

Fast-growing crops, such as rocket or salad leaves, can be planted in quite shallow bowls or trays, as long as they’re watered regularly. To keep things moist but not waterlogged, give your container drainage holes. Harvest regularly and sow more seeds when the crop is over.

Grow strawberries in old baskets

Upcycling - strawberry basket
Upcycling – strawberry basket

Almost any container can be modified for planting purposes, as long as it has adequate drainage. Even a wire basket will hold compost when lined with a perforated plastic bag. Disguise the bag with a length of vintage fabric. Then put the bag in, fill with compost and plant with dainty summer edibles like strawberries or dwarf runner beans that will tumble over the edges.

Use cans to create habitats

Upcycling - tin can bee habitats
Upcycling – tin can bee habitats

This multi-storey bug hotel will provide a place for solitary bees and wasps to lay their eggs. Fill cans with hollow reeds, stems or rolled-up cardboard tubes, all cut to the same length. Arrange them in a frame as shown, or slot into gaps between walls and fences. Ensure the cans are sloped slightly downwards to deflect rain.

Use guttering to make planters

Upcycling - guttering planters
Upcycling – guttering planters

Modern guttering can be transformed with vinyl dye or paint, so if you have some, it’s worth buying extra stops or brackets required to make wall planters. Shallow rooted plants, such as sedums, would grow happily. You could also sow herbs such as parsley, chives or thyme. Keep well watered, especially if under the shelter of an overhanging roof.

Grow plants in old polystyrene boxes

Upcycling - polystyrene planters
Upcycling – polystyrene planters

Polystyrene containers, of the kind found in markets and fishmongers, make handy vegetable planters as they are cheap (or even free) and easy to move around. Glaring white can look a bit functional, so give them a makeover by scrubbing clean with a stiff brush and transforming with colourful masonry paint. Cover existing large holes with newspaper, or punch out small holes if required.