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What unwanted items have you found use for in the garden?

My mother was a notorious skinflint and I think I’ve inherited the gene. Why pay for a plantpot saucer when a plastic food container will do? Why buy plant ties when old tights do a much better job?

It seems I am not alone. Watch any home design TV show and it will doubtless feature a hipster with a beard making shelves out of old drawers while talking excitedly about ‘upcycling’.

But gardeners have always been inventive. You have to be when planning and developing a garden – reusing old stuff comes naturally to us.

We asked Which? Gardening and Which? members if they had ever reused household items in the garden – yes, came back the answer, loud and clear. 83% of Gardening members and a third of Which? members reuse items rather than send them to landfill.

And we were hugely impressed with how ingenious the suggestions were.

Kettles, loos and casseroles used for upcycling

No end of people reuse their old bathrooms in the garden. Loos are turned into planters, sinks become alpine troughs and baths are reused as ponds.

More leftovers from home makeovers include using rafters to create raised beds and old windows to make cold frames. Chimney pots are used as garden pots or for forcing rhubarb, while guttering can be used to sow peas in or to grow strawberries or herbs.

Kitchen rejects find their way into the garden. Small pots can be made from tea pots, kettles, saucepans, jugs and casseroles. All they need are some drainage holes drilled into the bottom.

Alternatively you can use a colander where the drainage holes come pre-made. Use these for plants that are happy in dry conditions, such as houseleeks.

I used to grow house leeks in a set of cutlery holders from Ikea that would be hung from a bar on the wall. It looked gorgeous against the brickwork next to the back door.

What are the most popular items to reuse?

Pots can be made from almost anything: car tyres are popular, but inventive members have used a tumble-drier bin, a coal scuttle and a Henry vacuum cleaner.

Every gardener loves their compost heap, and old pallets are a common material. I have been known to beg these off local builders. Members told us they’ve used fence panels, a kitchen table and even a child’s cot.

The most popular items to reuse were woody prunings as supports for climbing plants, plastic bottles for watering and bricks for making paths.

So are you a thrifty upcycler or would you rather splurge on new pots? Do you go for the boho look or sleek sophistication? And what’s the least likely object you’ve reused?


A friend of mine took the door off and dropped a fridge into a pit to create a pond. A journey along any railway line into a town or city will reveal a host of unhorticultural articles in use in the back gardens. Butler and Belfast sinks seem to be the commonest objects. Bakery trays, dustbin lids and old zinc baths or tubs, and broken wheelbarrows are also popular. I have a liking for old curtain poles as vertical features that will take a climber and they look quite ornamental standing either side of a pathway. The fat wooden ones give a Venetian appearance – just slightly off the upright looks best. The slender metal ones with ornate finials look more stylish and, remarkably, none of those I have used have rusted.

That’s rather creative John! I like the idea of making a pond from an old fridge 😀 I’m planning to grow a new herb/spice plant patch in my garden, so this story’s definitely inspired me to look around the house for some old bits that could be used as containers!

The only concerns I have is the possibility of chemical leaching if near food crops but maybe I am overly cautious. Tyres do have some intersting chemicals in them – see below

I do like the curtain pole idea which seems a definite goer as a lot of ornamental garden ironwork seems very cheaply produced

” Additional information on the use of recycled tire materials
After a review of the literature, the EPA identified a number of compounds or materials that may be found in tires, although not all are contained in every tire:
halogenated flame retardants

methyl ethyl ketone
methyl isobutyl ketone
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
styrene – butadiene

Whether these can leach into plants and into the edible parts I know not but why take a risk?

I have a problem with snails and slugs taking a liking to small plants in trays and pots before planting out. I have found a couple of heavy duty stainless steel grids – like fridge shelves but larger. I will support these off the ground on house bricks and hope that only the most energetic ghastlypods are successful in getting a meal.

Very small slugs seem to be one of offenders, and snails seem to be good mountaineers. Good luck with the bricks, but my gastropods get to the top of an 800mm high greenhouse bench with no apparent difficulty. Try sprinkling grit either on your trays and pots, or around where they are – that may repel them. I use sluggit pellets as there is no other wildlife that should suffer (except mice, perhaps, that dig up pea and sweetcorn seed, but no evidence of slaughter, I’m glad to say as I like field mice)

Thanks Malcolm. As you say, I may need a more sophisticated solution. I have some coarse sand, which might do the same job as grit.

The problem with slug pellets is that the slugs don’t die immediately and can be eaten by birds. One of my earliest memories as a child was losing the hedgehog that used to visit my father’s garden regularly. He thought it had probably eaten a poisoned slug. I use ferric phosphate slug pellets occasionally but I am not sure how safe they are. A safe biological control (nematodes) is available but is only really suitable for commercial use because of the short shelf life.

You could always go out after dark with a torch, deep bucket and some kitchen tongs to catch your slugs and snails.

Then pour boiling water over them, they will have a quick death and no other wildlife will come to harm. If you put the remains on your compost heap, they will disappear.

You could also make some hidey places for them near your plants using old tiles, stone slabs or planks of wood and these will be catchable in the daytime.

Boiling water is also good for killing weeds on paths instead of using weedkiller.

I’ve certainly used boiling water on weeds, Alfa. I tend to just stamp on snails and slugs, particularly ones on paths – regretting it if I don’t have my gardening shoes on. You are right about the hidey places. They seem to love the collection of used plant pots and trays waiting to be cleaned.