Where Hocker’s approach is one of restraint, Sturgeon dominated the Chelsea Flower Show by constructing playful, see-through, person-high fences of Corten steel that subdivided and framed a collection of colorful Mediterranean plants.
For his own Napa Valley, California, garden, landscape architect Jack Chandler used steel plates for his gate, retaining walls, and staircase risers. The resulting look is functional and architectural, but its earthy tonality also links it to the grasses and grapevines of the wine country. Just like the earth, Corten is not at all monochromatic. Subtle shadings give it a depth and a sense of vitality — a reminder, perhaps, that it is a dynamic and not static material.
Corten Steel Vegetable Garden
In a Moraga, California, garden, Huettl’s firm carved sheets of 4- by 8-foot Corten into walls, dividers, and seating. It used three Corten panels, spaced a foot apart, to form a backdrop and privacy screen fronted by two floating L-shape ipe benches. To create a low wall at the edge of the lawn, 2-foot-high Corten panels alternated with low stucco walls — the rusty tones nicely offset the gray-green of the stucco, Huettl says.
For a steeply graded San Francisco garden that required earthquakeproof stability and a zigzagged stairway to ease the homeowner’s descent, landscape designers James A. Lord and Roderick Wyllie of Surface Design devised a series of trapezoidal steel boxes that edged the flights of stairs; distinguished play areas from entertaining areas; and had triangular planters set into their tops, meant to be viewed from the house above. Lord says the homeowners especially appreciate how the boxes’ bold shapes and strong colors reference the sculptures of Richard Serra.
Just as it’s impossible to identify the genius who first enlisted this railcar material in service to the garden, no one can say how many of its brilliant applications will show up in the future. We don’t know, but we can’t wait to see.