Gardens made from recycled materials seem to have featured a lot at Chelsea in recent years, suggesting that it's a very fashionable approach. Obviously that's why I've used some recycled items in my garden, as I'm very fashionable and follow all the trends . . . no, not really.

As far as I can tell, gardeners have always been avid recyclers, and have known how to 'make do and mend'. Necessity, as the old saying has it, is the mother of invention. Now we tend to recycle things from a sense of environmental responsibility. In the past, it was because we were poor.

Many of us - including this gardener - don't have thousands of pounds available to spend on our garden landscaping, and if we did, we'd probably rather spend it on plants. So, much recycling of old materials goes on, in various home-made garden structures. And it's always been that way.

Back in the mists of time, in my 1970s childhood, I don't recall any of my gardening elders leaning on their spades saying "It's important to remember, young Lisa, that we have to be aware of our impact on the planet. Natural resources are dwindling, we're cutting down too many trees and dumping too much rubbish in landfill, and one day we'll run out of oil reserves".

Neither do I remember anyone saying, 'I think I'll go to the car breakers yard and find some old broken up headlights to use as a mulch, like I saw in one of those Chelsea show gardens. That looked smart'.

No one has rags these days

Some of the recycling ideas presented in Chelsea show gardens are probably rather too avant garde for most gardeners, but some forms of recycling are so simple, it's surprising to learn that they're not as commonplace as you thought they would be. I've an abiding memory of one edition of Gardeners' World, from some years back, when Alan Titchmarsh had to clean a pot or something in a demonstration, and produced a few sheets of paper kitchen towel for this purpose, explaining that we used to use old rags for this kind of task, 'but no one has rags these days'.

I found myself yelling at the TV, 'Some of us are wearing them, Titchmarsh!'

This wasn't strictly true, and I wouldn't want you to think that your webmaster looks like a Victorian urchin, but I was disturbed by the assumption that somehow we were all too affluent to know what a bit of rag looked like.

What, I wonder, do people do with old cotton t-shirts, boxer shorts, or any other piece of sizeable fabric that is too old and worn to give to a charity shop (which obviously wouldn't want your knickers anyway, whatever their condition)? Does everyone just throw them in the bin and then go and buy a packet of cleaning cloths (or kitchen towels) from the supermarket? So it is in TV gardening world, apparently.

For a few pence

So, back in my world, which seems to be, in some respects, more the era of Geoff Hamilton on Gardeners' World. Where, memorably, sometime in the 1980s I think, Geoff had a garden sculpture made from an old immersion heater. And often made things 'for a few pence'. I think there was also some kind of plumbing accoutrement involved at some point - possibly a ballcock from a toilet cistern. I can't imagine that happening on Gardeners' World nowadays.

A nice bit of oak

When we moved the plants from the old house to this one, my other half laughed at my wish to bring the remains of a collapsed oak barrel - basically just lots of flat thin pieces of wood. I laughed at myself when I found myself saying 'But it's a nice bit of oak' - as I wouldn't know a nice bit of oak from a crummy nasty bit of oak. But the pieces of wood did come in useful in the garden as I hoped they might, as the edging to one of the raised beds in Woodland Corner.

Baths, bricks, and broken crockery

Other materials have also been 'reclaimed' for garden use. A bathroom refurbishment meant a discarded iron bathtub, which no one I knew wanted to reuse, and which would have been smashed to bits by the plumber before being taken away as scrap metal. It's now a garden planter, housing clematis and other plants, in Kitchen Corner.

The garden paths were made from reclaimed bricks - some from the demolished wall of Millennium Shed. Millennium Shed's benches were made from the old shed door and some breeze blocks that used to support our old floor-standing boiler, before the central heating system was updated.

More recently, my hoard of broken crockery was used to make a mosaic floor for part of Millennium Shed.

Mean Yorkshire folk

Perhaps it's because I'm from Yorkshire, where - the stereotype has it - we're all really mean with our money. I've probably created a picture of myself sitting with arms folded, watching TV gardening programmes all disapprovingly, saying 'How much?! I could make one of those for 50p from an old cardboard box and a reclaimed sink plunger!'

This isn't quite true, but . . . our garden arbour (a word I never use about the thing itself, though I guess it is one) is an arched construction made from copper pipe - the type used for central heating. My partner made it, as a copy of the metal arched supports in black-painted steel that you can buy, after I looked at an advert for one and said 'Could we make one of those from copper pipe? It would be much cheaper.'

I'm also thinking, as I don't understand the fascination with tree ferns, that you could probably put together something very tree-fern-like, much more cost-effectively, by amalgamating an old tree trunk and one of our fine native ferns, with the fern stuck in the top, and possibly boosted with high nitrogen feed (though many of the tree ferns I've seen are rather sad-looking things, so this latter bit might not be necessary). Perhaps someone out there has tried this. I would, but I haven't got a spare tree trunk at present.

Environmental conscience

When I first wrote this page, before I edited it to its current state, I kept banging on about landfill sites and how we throw too much away, and how we buy too much for our gardens that has an enviromental impact elsewhere, etc. But you all know all this already. And anyway, I have on my conscience the limestone chippings, which cover the areas around the reclaimed brick paths.

There's presumably a great big hole in the landscape somewhere where huge machines excavate materials for me to put down as a decorative surfacing to make my garden look nice. (Okay, I don't really think there's a whole quarry out there with my name on it, but my feeling of environmental responsibility is so large it makes me feel like there could be.) So I don't claim to be all worthy and perfect.

Just that I do feel a bit smug when I think about reusing something in the garden and the project works, and doesn't look totally ridiculous. It might look a little ridiculous, but then a sense of fun in gardening is a good thing.

And one more idea

An idea I saw recently requires very little effort. Rubber protectors are recommended for the ends of garden canes to prevent inadvertent eye injury - but an article I read suggested using old wine corks instead. We may have to act quickly on this one, as wine corks of the traditional variety seem to be being phased out in favour of plastic corks and screw tops, but for now there's certainly a regular supply available for recycling in this garden.

Reclaimed bathtub

the old iron bathtub, used as a planter.
(See Any old iron?)

Top left: detail from home-made mosaic.

Path made from reclaimed bricks

Above: paths made from reclaimed bricks

Copper arch plant support made from copper pipe

Above: detail of copper arch 'arbour', made from copper central heating pipe

Millennium shed - many recycled materials

Above: Millennium Shed, made almost entirely from recycled materials.
(For more information, see Millennium Shed.)

Water bowl - washing up bowl covered in concrete

Above: Water bowl, used as a bird bath, made from an old plastic washing up bowl covered in concrete.