Got pipe dreams? Try a culvert pipe planter


I have a thing for using galvanized steel containers in the garden, as you may know from my collection of stock-tank planters and ponds of various sizes. So naturally, when I first saw galvanized culvert pipes put to use as planters, I knew I’d have to have one. And now I have three! Here are my new culvert-pipe planters, with three wavy squid agaves (A. bracteosa) topping them off like a crazy hairdo.


Culvert-pipe planters are fairly common around Austin, but I spotted this one, containing bamboo, in the Munsterman garden on a Dallas tour last spring.


Here’s another look. The owner, a landscape designer, used leftover drainage pipe from another project to make his garage-framing planters. I was smitten. But where to find these short pieces?


I already had a spot picked out for raised planters of some type. This shady bed, matted with live oak sprouts, has troubled me for three years, and last winter’s hard freezes and this summer’s extreme heat and drought didn’t help.


Also, I am trying to get some height in this bed to make up for a lower elevation, as it occupies the downhill side of my 8-foot stock-tank pond’s circle garden. Height is needed for visual balance with the garden on the other side of the pond (not visible in this picture).


Every so often I’d peruse Craigslist for steel pipe or culvert pipe remnants, but the pipes were always too long, too expensive, and way out in the country. But a couple of weeks ago I found a listing for short remnants available in nearby Round Rock. Jackpot! I snapped up three 2-foot sections of 18-inch diameter pipe, plus a taller section that I plan to use in the future.


After carefully measuring to make sure they were equidistant from each other and level (you can’t move these once they’re planted because there’s no bottom to hold the soil), I planted them up with a trio of squid agaves mulched in decomposed granite. Squid agave can handle some shade, it’s evergreen and withstands (zone 8b) freezing weather, and it won’t be too thirsty in summer.


This fall I plan to add more ‘Sparkler’ sedge, lamb’s ear, and ‘Katie’ ruellia to the foreground to soften the base of the planters. A little rain would be nice. Is that a pipe dream? I don’t know. But until then I’m enjoying the swirling, shiny, culvert-pipe planters I’ve made.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

29 Responses

  1. Meredith says:

    They turned out great! Well done, Pam.

    Thanks, Meredith. It was a fun little project, and unhampered by our ongoing drought. —Pam

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    These look great across from your stock tank. I would imagine the county or tilling companies would have oodles of these pieces. What a way to recycle.

    It was hard not to buy more pieces, Lisa. But I stopped before I ended up with culvert pipes all over my garden. ;-) —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    P.S. I hope the fires are far away from you and yours.

    Thanks, Lisa. My neighborhood is not in the danger zone from these fires, but it’s a wake-up call for all Austin. We are so dry here that fires are still popping up every day, and few neighborhoods near greenbelts, like mine, are safe from fire-risk. —Pam

  4. Jackie says:

    Love these. Beautiful job Pam.

    Thanks, Jackie. I had fun with it. —Pam

  5. Caroline says:

    Love this! And love that you planted squid agaves in them. Now your garden has a new twist!

    Good one, Caroline! —Pam

  6. I like the use of such durable materials – I also think use of durable (like steel culverts, stock tanks, etc) shows one’s acknowledgement and respect for their place, as well as design skill incorporating them. Nice overview!

    David, using stock tanks has always felt like a nod to Texas’s rural heritage. With drainage pipes, it feels a little more industrial, but the galvanized steel ties it all together. Add in the galvanized roofing on the shed, and there’s a definite silver theme going on in my garden. It works with all my drought-tolerant, silvery plants! —Pam

  7. You had to know I’d be envious of your latest creations! Love them, I want!!! Craigslist huh? I’m going there right now…

    I thought you might like these, Loree. I remember your stock tank addiction and cool silver bucket you use as a planter. Hope you can find some in Portland. It took me a while, but they turned up eventually. —Pam

  8. Christina says:

    they look great, I don’t think they use anything so lovely here- probably concrete. But I will look out for them. Christina

    I think concrete pipes make fabulous planters too, Christina. I noticed quite a few in the gardens at the Seattle Fling. Use what you have at hand! —Pam

  9. Jenny says:

    What a keen eye you have for designing with leftovers. Perfect location for the trio and squid agaves are a great match. What kind of soil did you put in the planters?

    Jenny, I filled up the bottoms with rock and then added my usual mix of one part Hill Country Garden Soil (Ladybug brand) to one part chunky decomposed granite. —Pam

  10. Darla says:

    these are AWESOME!!

    Thanks, Darla. Easy too. —Pam

  11. S. Fox says:

    Great find for your garden, persistence pays off. Squid Agave works beautifully there.

    Thanks, S. Fox. Patience is not one of my strong suits, but persistence is. ;-) —Pam

  12. I like your use of galvanized materials and the squid agaves are perfect! I’ve always wanted to use salvaged English chimney pots the same way, only to drive all the way to Blowing Rock to find that they were out of my price range.

    Hope you get some rain. Those fires are scary!

    Tell me about it! Those English antique remnants ARE expensive. Better, to my mind, to find local materials and reuse them in creative ways. Thanks for your concern about the fires and ongoing drought too. I’m glad to hear that you got some rain in N.C. —Pam

  13. jenn says:

    Looking forward to see the ground plantings with this installation. Nice.

    Thanks, Jenn. Hopefully we’ll get some rain this fall, and then I’ll plant. —Pam

  14. Diana says:

    Is that a pipe dream??? Bwahhahhhaaaaaa. Those squids look great in there and the planned plants in the foreground will be perfect. I wondered what you were going to do with the pipes.

    Thanks, Diana. I have another pipe that I’m still musing about how to use it. I love reuse of construction materials. —Pam

  15. Frances says:

    That is a perfect combination, Pam, the swirly metal and swirly Agave. Well done! It bring the vertical you wanted and looks appropriate to the site. Love your shed, too. The addition of the groundcovers will complete the picture just so!

    I do hope so, Frances. Now I just need some cooler weather and rain in order to get them in the ground. —Pam

  16. Gail says:

    Very nice Pam~it looks fab near the stock tank. gail

    Thanks, Gail! —Pam

  17. Abbey says:

    It looks really good Pam. As always, I’m impressed. Keep it up.

    Why thanks, Abbey. You know me—always looking for a new project. —Pam

  18. Jeanette says:

    Dear Pam,
    Clever and awesome! Nice with your tanks. I like the optical effects of the twist.

    Thanks, Jeanette. Aren’t the spirals fun? I just love ’em. —Pam

  19. Greggo says:

    Like it. I too am working on a corner of my property with galvanized elements. Haven’t found any culverts however. I have been given 30 pieces of semi-rusty tin which are being incorporated. I love the patina. ha.
    Nice design and I wish I could get DG here.

    No, DG, Greggo? I can’t imagine such a thing. We sure do rely on it in Austin. —Pam

  20. These are so cool, Pam! I also have a penchant for all things metal and would love to have one of these in my own garden. They really look nice next to your stock tank pond (and glad to know about Squid Agave – that’s a new one to me!)

    Rebecca, you’ll LOVE squid agave. It is so versatile for an agave, able to take some shade or, in your milder climate, probably full sun as well. It has those wavy squid arms, and it pups although not so much as to be a nuisance. It’s a great agave. —Pam

  21. laguna dirt says:

    those are perfection, especially in your garden! the steel color ties so nicely to your stock tank pond, and the swirly pipe planters add such a nice textural quality!! love love love!!

    Thanks, Laguna Dirt! They are just too much fun with those swirls, aren’t they? —Pam

  22. You have an amazing eye Pam! I love how they turned out.

    Thanks, Christine. I’m pleased with them too, and contemplating more for the garden. —Pam

  23. Holleygarden says:

    I have not seen these used before. They look fabulous across from your stock tank, and that was the perfect plant to add on top. I like the plants you’re choosing for the rest of the area, too. Isn’t it wonderful when our dreams become a reality? Good going on being persistent and finding these at a good price!

    Thanks. It was a lucky find, that’s for sure. I should check Craigslist more often. —Pam

  24. ricki says:

    These are brilliant! Craig’s List, here I come. Loree and I may have to duke it out over them if they are scarce.

    Ha! Good luck with the hunt, Ricki. —Pam

  25. I love them! What an inspiring idea for the summer with no end!

    Agaves and other dry-loving plants are the way to go this summer, aren’t they? That’s all I’ve planted for a while now. —Pam

  26. Amy says:

    I have never seen these used before as planters. Love it!! You picked a perfect spot for them. I would love to figure out a place for these containers. :)

    Amy, you should go get a few before they sell out; they are clearing all their inventory. You can figure out where to put them later. —Pam

  27. Fran Sorin says:

    Pam….
    They not only utilitarian but add such wonderful texture and an architectural element to the landscape. Great, great idea! Fran

    Thanks, Fran! —Pam

  28. How ingenious! I love the architectural contrast of the lines on the planter with the circular form. And thanks for the planting suggestion.

    You’re an inspiration.

    Why, thanks, Kathleen! —Pam

  29. […] anchors the end of the long boulder bed.  Inspired by Pam Penick’s Digging post about culvert pipe planters.    The dense sago palm and tall pipe shield the afternoon sun from a saucer of […]

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