Green Design

Green Design

In the Spirit of Green Design


Mike Rickhoff

April 2021

Recently I was pondering the whole brouhaha of eco-friendly design and it is, perhaps, a simple truth that if someone mentions ‘green design’, notions like symbiosis, ecosystem, wildlife, reduced-carbon-footprint, waterwise, indigenous, bucolic, endemic and a whole host of other ecological thoughts spring immediately to mind.

Personally, I find myself thinking of plant choices and planting combinations as a point of departure; but I must immediately concede that what we use as choices of hard landscaping materials and how we go about using these elements holds equal sway in the quest for a greener life.

Hard landscaping in the form of new and exciting products and elements remain the backbone of the way we imagine and construct our dream outdoor spaces, but there is one specific range of possibilities that somehow carries unexpected weight in green terms and that we need to explore in much broader terms.

Cycle of Life:

What has received an increasingly prominent influence on the way we go about our gardening and landscaping lives is the ability to somehow “give back” to the green universe instead of haphazardly – and sometimes unthinkingly – discarding that which we no longer find fit for purpose. Yes, I am talking about the world of what we loosely call recycling, but that actually goes far beyond this somewhat generic term.

To be more specific, and when we really think about it, materials and elements can either be recycled, upcycled or repurposed.

To my mind, recycling is basically re-using the article for the purpose for which it was designed – like using a plant container again as a planting container. Or a cooldrink bottle – in its original form – as a water container.

Upcycling, on the other hand, takes this article and uses it for the intended purpose but adds to the character of the article – like taking a standard planter and decorating it or suspending it whilst still using it as a planter.

Repurposing – to me the really sexy thing to do – is to completely change the purpose of an object in ingenious ways. There are so many examples to see and so many more rest in the imagination. So, here we take the same planting pot, as a simple and well-used example, turn it upside down, place an upturned drip-tray over it and paint it like a mushroom – a new feature springs from an everyday object – the use is materially altered.

The main watchword here has got to be innovation and the trick is to see an object, not for what it has been or what it is, but for what it can become. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

The reason this approach to landscape design is so thrilling, is not only the positive ecological contribution we make, but the extent to which we can embark on a creative voyage of discovery.

Discarded or salvaged materials have a history to them – they have been places and their presence in a design carries with them a rich aura. Patina, distress, rust and age add a character to a garden space that simply cannot emanate from new elements or materials.

“Squeaky clean” newly installed gardens often lack that special something, that spirit of age and it takes time for the space to mature and assume a feeling of comfortable maturity.

Including some history in the garden introduces a seasoned ambience and personality to the space.

These materials can be used, among other things, for:

  • Backdrop
  • Connection and movement
  • Focal points
  • Garden, Fun and Wall Art
  • Structure and garden height
  • Overhead garden ceilings
  • Practical garden use
  • Texture, synergy, blending and contrast
  • Atmosphere

So what materials and innovations can we look for?

Well, as we know the list is virtually endless, but we can take a look at some of the more familiar and hope that these can act as examples as well as triggers for further innovative contemplation.


Old discarded bricks – especially old red bricks, whether whole or broken are rich in possibilities.

Bricks make excellent pavers, but they make even better inlays or edging when used in conjunction with purpose-made pavers. Brick and stone form wonderful partnerships for features and low retaining walls made from old brick introduce a wonderful play on textures that delivers spectacular interest. Old brick used as a feature in a new, even contemporary space, lends unexpected contrast and gives the design the spirit for which we strive.

Old pavers have age that only time can lend an object. There are some beautiful examples of old reclaimed pavers that carry the scars of usage, moss and lichens. Rather than looking tired and worn, these pavers look wise and worldly when re-laid in a designer space.


Offering even more possibilities is the wide array of old timber that lies discarded in virtually every nook and cranny. From old decking and planking, railway sleepers and furniture to gumpoles, old wood is one of the easiest materials to find and certainly one the most versatile to use.

Old decking can be retreated and used for its original purpose – perhaps in a different guise or look, or it can be used as a textural inlay in a wall or as part of a patterned brick pathway. Mixing materials in this way is a sure way to create interest and appeal and inner spirit.

Gum poles offer a rich array of design possibilities and can create a garden feature out of the most mundane items. Planting a swathe of gumpoles vertically inside designer beds is a sure way to instilling visual movement through the space – painted with bright colours, these can make a garden area pop – or in muted colours will soften the mood whilst creating a connection through the garden.

Gumpoles or decking painted in layers of grey and white and then lightly sanded are beautifully presented as distressed or wind-blown marine wood.

Old wooden doors too make wonderful features in a garden setting – especially as wall art.

So versatile are these materials that they can serve as supports, frames backdrops or even features on their own. All that is required is a bit of imagination.

Metal and metal items

Here too, all that is needed is to see an object not for what it has been or what it is, but for what it can be. Old wheelbarrows are great features in a garden be – tipped at an angle and planted up to allow plants to spill into the surrounding bed. We recently welded two old barrows together in a double decker configuration. Visually supported by a backdrop of vertically planted distressed gumpoles and planted up this became a truly stunning feature and focal point in a show garden.

Old gates, steel wheels, posts, discarded tin watering cans and pails are a few of the many items that get the creative juices pumping through the veins – the older, the better. Similar objects repeated in the design introduce harmony and rhythm.

Scrapped metal garden furniture and old garden implements make beautiful wall art or sculptures in the garden.

Other Prospects:

As is now evident, the mouth-watering possibilities simply go on and on, and the more we think about it, the more triggers there are.

Discarded or reclaimed materials can be simple old shoes or gumboots used as planters, bamboo poles turned into mobiles or wind-chimes, Pebbles playfully painted as bugs or other creatures – even just as bright baubles.

Old broken pots and shards, bamboo, coir, roughly hewn wood and reeds and thatch bundles make for great bug hotels.

Reeds and thatch can also be used to make lovely rustic enclosures or suspended between trees or poles as shade sails.

So, when passing by some abandoned materials or salvage yards – take time to pause and consider the possibilities – just a moment’s pause and a smidgen of reflection will almost always show the way to give the landscape something special and distinctive- a personality -perhaps even unique and spiritual.