29 Aug 2019

15 Practical and beautiful ideas from The Skip Garden

While writing about the imminent closure of The Skip Garden in Kings Cross, I felt a twang of nostalgia looking back through the seven years of photos that I'd taken during my visits.  It's a garden that I'm familiar with, and it hasn't changed much over the past four years, but I still get a buzz of excitement as I head towards the gates.

There's always something new to see, small or large - whether it's bird boxes made during a workshop, different crops in the skips, fresh ceramics, or a parquet floor patio made from scaffolding boards. Totally inspiring, unexpectedly beautiful.

This year the chicken house/coop had gone, in its place stood an intriguing incomplete new structure and newly built empty wooden planters waiting to be filled. I assume the planters were destined for a local business as the gardeners are hands on in the local community. There were also several planters of herbs by the kitchen patio - I love a herb patch and looked to see what was thriving in the sunshine. And immediately added it to my list of practical and beautiful ideas from The Skip Garden that I'm sharing below.

Polyculture of herbs

I can never understand why people buy packets of herbs when the plants are so easy to grow and can be picked as needed.
In the long term, there are too many herbs in this planter - the thugs (lavender, thyme, rosemary) will crowd out the others eventually. 
Until then, this planter hosts a good selection of sun loving herbs for cooking, teas, and pollinators. 
I spotted thyme, salad burnet, calendula, violets, rosemary, nasturtiums, lavender, lemon verbena, sorrel and hyssop. 

Hidden surprises

Renaissance gardens had water features, country house gardens have moss covered ancient stones, and the fifties had garden gnomes. I have weathered pots filled with flowers in between the greenery in borders - here at the Skip Garden, organic ceramic sculptures make you stop and look more closely.

Any hidden surprises will draw the viewers interest; this works in any garden!

Clever crates and planters

Two things here:

The rammed earth wall at the far end of the polytunnel holds onto any warmth long after the evening chill has set in. As will a south facing house wall, creating the perfect spot for a mini greenhouse for growing anything needing extra warmth. (Tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, chillies - and winter salad leaves.)

The way the Sunblest bread crates have been repurposed is a brilliant example of creative and practical thinking.  The sides are strengthened with pieces of wood and a strong liner holding the soil is secured by screws into a top wooden frame.
The planters on the other side of the polytunnel are made from discarded scaffold planks screwed into a corner post.
Salad leaves don't need much root room and the planters/crates can be easily moved to another site.

Scaffold plank seats

As you can see, scaffold planks and other bits of wood are in plentiful supply on a building site!  The simple stools and benches are easy to recreate and sturdy enough to withstand years of visitors taking the weight off their feet - a perfect solution for an allotment or community garden on a budget.
I'm so taken with this idea that I'm tempted to have a go myself.

Flowers in assorted containers

It's a good idea to keep a jam jar or tin in the shed, ready to receive a little posy of cut flowers or dried seedheads.  The bouquet can brighten up a wall or table, and act as a living sculpture in the garden.
I often end up with pruned seedheads and flowers that go on the compost heap for the lack of a jar to put them in so this is an idea I'll be copying.  (Jam jars can also hold tealights for summer evenings.)

Easy willow weaving

If you look closely at this photo, you'll see that there are holes drilled into the box underneath the weaving. These are to hold the posts steady while the willow stems are woven around them.  Once finished, the 'basket' can be lined and filled with soil or popped over a plastic pot to beautify it. It's also a pretty neat way of weaving virginia creeper stems  into a circle for a winter wreath or natural plant supports for your borders.
Definitely one to remember!

Upcycled fire pit

This idea of rescuing the drum from a discarded washing machine and using it to contain a fire is not new but worth highlighting.  Note the dual purpose bricks underneath which allow air to circulate under the drum as well as keeping people safely at arms length.
I'm thinking one of these could be a good way of burning autumn garden prunings, with the bonus of ash to tickle over the borders.

Framed views

I've always loved a surprise peek through a hedge, fence or wall into another aspect of the garden.
At a recent garden visit, a doorway framed views out into the countryside beyond the garden; here reclaimed windows in the glass house frame layers of interest - pots of aloes, comfrey planters outside, the greenhouse and then Kings Cross beyond that.
Think about framing a view with plants or shrubs; it will lead the eye where you want it to go.

Repurposed planters

They may not be the most glamorous but polystyrene fish or veg boxes (washed, of course!) make excellent planters for a doorstep or balcony in rented accommodation.
Lightweight, temporary, cheap or free, and moveable. Just don't forget to punch some drainage holes in the bottom!

These colanders are perfect for a windowsill garden growing herbs or micro leaves; and can be found at car boot sales or charity shops.
If/when I buy supermarket herbs (needs must, sometimes), the first thing I do when I get home is to repot them in a larger pot of compost. That way the roots have room to grow and I keep my herbs growing all summer, while waiting for seed sown herbs to catch up. These colanders would be perfect for repotting and look nice to boot!

Big crops in small spaces

Even if you have only a balcony, front step or small outside border, it's very possible to grow a few edibles.
Here, pear and apple trees have been planted in a partitioned area of the skip and espaliered to an arch of building wire mesh with herbs and salad leaves growing underneath.
These days, it's very possible to grow columnar fruit trees in large pots - I grow Cape Gooseberries in pots so that I can bring them in over winter as they're not hardy.

Right plant, right place

Comfrey is not a particularly pretty plant but has value to the gardener. Planted in a moveable container (note the rope handles), it won't become invasive. Or you could get hold of the Bocking 14 strain which behaves itself.
We all know Comfrey makes a good (but smelly) plant fertiliser when brewed for a few weeks; it also attracts slugs when the leaves are laid on a path and the flowers attract pollinators, especially bees. Win:win all round.

Somewhere to sit (with a cup of coffee)

Whether it's a bench, a stool, a log or a chair, always have a space to sit and admire your work, or to stop and have a brew with friends.

(And, yes, that was a flimsy excuse to post this photo which reminds me of happy times in the Skip Garden kitchen/café!)

Wildflowers for good pollination

Over the years I've sown wildflower seeds in large pots, in old veg boxes and in tree pits - every little helps, as they say!

By every Skip Garden skip is a small clump of wildflowers growing in scaffold board planters; some are edible, all are attractive to pollinators - so useful for the nearby crops - but also show visitors what can be achieved to help the declining bee population.  Nectar bars!

Bee logs to encourage pollinators

Such a simple idea - a log, a ribbon, a tree, a happy bee. (And a drill.)

At this time of year, keep an eye out for logs at your recycling centre.  I filled a large bag with birch logs last year by skip diving at the recycling centre. (Always ask permission first, you never know when the bulldozers are about to push the garden waste down!) My reclaimed logs have become bee homes and an area for wildlife in my small woodland border.

Every weed a wanted weed!

Well, maybe not quite every weed but a lot of what we gardeners call weeds are, in fact, useful medicinally or edible.  In this case, I think plantain looks very happy growing next to that ceramic objet.

Find instructions for using plantain to make a soothing skin salve over on Tanya's Lovely Greens blog.  It's effective at treating cuts, stings and skin inflammations.

Plantain leaves and seeds are edible when cooked - probably only when you're desperate for food though!  Young leaves are less fibrous and the seeds can be ground and added to flour for baking where presumably they help with all manner of gastric problems.
One last good reason for not digging it up - the plant is great at attracting pollinators and, I think, rather beautiful in sunlight.

 How many of these ideas are you already using in your garden or allotment?


  1. Absolutely wonderful. Love the variety of ideas and uses for items that would usually end in landfill.xxx

    1. My favourite is the willow weaving, Dina. I love the look of 'baskets' in the garden - such a good idea for disguising black plastic pots and an easy make for the home gardener. ... at least that's what I hope as I'll be having a go this autumn! :D xxx

  2. Interesting post and good pictures. xx

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Flighty! As, indeed, I did when writing it. :D xx


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