Steel has become a popular gardening material in recent years, as for instance gardenvisit.com noted during the 2010 Chelsea Flower Show. Sculptures, seats, anything can be done in steel (a few months ago I saw an original early 20th century agave-in-pot, completely made of zinc).
In Chelsea corten steel (also known as weathering – or COR-TEN steel) was also used for sculptures, but the material has been around for a while in gardens -with a different use. Many parterres de broderie have in recent years been (re)created within the curves of narrow strips of corten steel, dividing the planted areas from the ones containing gravel. Plant box hedges within the boundaries, pour gravel in the remaining areas and hey presto: we can still see the steel.
Corten Steel edging in Het Park, Rotterdam. Photo by HvdE.
The fact that the steel strips are often clearly visible irritates me, because it is ugly and unnecessary. The only funcions of the steel in these layouts are: divide the areas and contain materials. Skilled gardeners should be able to mask the divider by keeping it hidden, just under ground level. And thus create the illusion that what we see is the result of meticulous maintenance.
I do not need to be shown how the parterre was created, I just want to see and enjoy the combined materials this garden element is supposed to be made of: plants and gravel.
Corten Steel edging at Het Loo, Apeldoorn. Photo by HvdE.
The parterres at Het Loo show that it is possible to use corten steel and achieve an aesthetically acceptable picture -although they probably could clip the hedges a bit less harsh. The high edges of steel that are clearly visible in the parterres of the ‘Dutch Garden’ in Het Park in Rotterdam (created in 1960, restored in 2009) again show how bad execution can ruin a good idea.