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Landscaping Ideas: 8 Surprising Ways to Use Cor-ten Steel in a Garden

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Landscaping Ideas: 8 Surprising Ways to Use Cor-ten Steel in a Garden

May 19, 2017

The more we see of Cor-ten steel in the garden, the more it appeals to us. To everybody else too, apparently–we’re suddenly seeing the handsome weathered hardscape material everywhere we look.

We’re seeing Cor-ten steel’s natural rust finish on fences, raised garden beds, and retaining walls. (Cor-ten is actually the trade name of a material manufactured by U.S. Steel. But, like Kleenex, the copyrighted name is now commonly invoked to refer to a whole category of products. In Cor-ten’s case, that’s any steel that develops a protective layer of rust when exposed to weather.)

What sets Cor-ten apart from regular steel–and one of its biggest benefits in the garden–is that it becomes harder and stronger when exposed to weather over time. Note that it’s not always ideal: Cor-ten isn’t well-suited to hot, humid climates, and Cor-ten will leach rust-colored water and stain paths and patios. But in the right setting, Cor-ten is both durable and beautiful. Here are eight ways to embrace burnt orange in the garden:

1. Fire Pits

Sonoma fire pit with grasses and boulders designed by Terremoto.

Above: A 42-inch Cor-ten steel fire pit with fieldstone seating is the centerpiece of a back meadow in a Sonoma garden designed by landscape architecture firm Terremoto. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson.

For more of this project, see Landscape Architect Visit: Terremoto Creates Serenity in Sonoma.

2. Retaining Walls

Above: Nelson Byrd Woltz created a circular cascade of Cor-ten steel retaining walls for a contemporary Connecticut house. For more, see Playing Matchmaker Between a House and Its Site.

3. Raised Beds

A Cor-Ten steel planter box overflows with Korean boxwood in a Manhattan garden by designer Julie Farris. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: A Cor-Ten steel planter box overflows with Korean boxwood in a Manhattan garden by designer Julie Farris. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
In the Manhattan garden, &#8\2\20;we used materials that wouldn’t detract from the greenery of the plants,” says Farris. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: In the Manhattan garden, “we used materials that wouldn’t detract from the greenery of the plants,” says Farris. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

For more of this project, see Before & After: From “Fishbowl” Townhouse Garden to Private Oasis, in Manhattan.

4. Gates

In a Pacific Palisades, California landscape, Grow Outdoor Design used a combination of sliding wood gate, Cor-ten steel panel, and jasmine-covered hog-wire fencing, which “all harmonize to create privacy,” according to firm partner Joel Lichtenwalter.
Above: In a Pacific Palisades, California landscape, Grow Outdoor Design used a combination of sliding wood gate, Cor-ten steel panel, and jasmine-covered hog-wire fencing, which “all harmonize to create privacy,” according to firm partner Joel Lichtenwalter.

For more, see Architects’ Secrets: 10 Ideas to Create Privacy in a Garden.

5. Walls

Above: This ultra-modern Berkeley, CA garden by Mary Barensfeld Architecture was a finalist in the 2014 Gardenista Considered Design Awards. The Cor-ten steel screens provide privacy while allowing breezes and leafy bamboo into the space.

6. Fences

Cor-ten steel panels create a privacy fence in a small San Francisco garden by designer Daniel Nolan. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson.
Above: Cor-ten steel panels create a privacy fence in a small San Francisco garden by designer Daniel Nolan. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson.

For more of this garden, see Designer Visit: A Garden Hidden in SF’s Mission District, by Daniel Nolan.

7. Water Features

 “We designed this project to weather well,” says designer Jon Handley of Pulltab Design. Over time, the ipe decking will turn gray, the Corten steel water basin will continue to rust, and the oak block will blacken. Photograph by Bilyana Dimitrova.
“We designed this project to weather well,” says designer Jon Handley of Pulltab Design. Over time, the ipe decking will turn gray, the Corten steel water basin will continue to rust, and the oak block will blacken. Photograph by Bilyana Dimitrova.

For more of this project, see A Manhattan Roof Garden with a Panoramic View.

8. Snake Barriers

A 30-inch Cor-ten fence borders a Healdsburg, California backyard to keep snakes out. Photograph by Joe Fletcher, courtesy of Malcolm Davis Architecture.
Above: A 30-inch Cor-ten fence borders a Healdsburg, California backyard to keep snakes out. Photograph by Joe Fletcher, courtesy of Malcolm Davis Architecture.

For more of this project, see A Family Campground in California Wine Country, by Malcolm Davis Architecture.

Keep browsing garden inspiration in Gardenista Roundup: For Love of Boxwood;Architects’ Roundup: 10 Garden Stairways, and Garden Envy: 10 Dramatic Drainage Ideas to Steal.

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