Copper in the Arts

June 2012

Bringing Beauty and Style to Backyard Gardens

By Anney Ryan

Custom copper arch Custom arch with tower

Photograph courtesy of Carol Smillie

Carol Smillie has been running Sycamore Creek Copper Garden Furnishings for nearly fifteen years. This past May, she received her MS in Environmental Policy from Bard College, New York. It is all part of her master plan. Smillie is a woman on a crusade - to encourage biodiversity and sustainable design through working with the land.

Trained as a gardener and landscape designer, Smillie first worked with copper in the 90s. She built a couple of tables out of copper and realized how well they would function outside.

"Copper has a high percentage of renewed material and can continue to be recycled," she told me in an interview. "It turns green and is perfect for outside."

With Sycamore Creek, Smillie's love of nature merges with her love of sustainable materials. She uses plain copper piping to create arbors, trellises, stakes, torches, towers and outdoor furniture. Plants and flowers grow up the arbors and trellises, creating a beautiful eco-friendly habitat in any backyard.

Each fixture holds a simple but inspired design. Some arbors utilize the classic romantic arch, while others are reminiscent of Monet's garden structures. Trellises range from triangular to rectangular to arched; some appear art deco, others, like massive mathematical grids.

"Some look like cattails and trees," Smillie says. "It doesn't make a huge statement architecturally, as opposed to something built out of lumber. It has a lighter presence; it's elegant, subtle, delicate."

Copper Tree Trellis Freestanding copper trellis Wye Oak tree

Photograph courtesy of Carol Smillie

Smillie designed the trellises so they can be set up individually, or as a collection - what she calls, companion trellises. Trellises can be freestanding or mounted to the side of a house.

"From a gardening standpoint," says Smillie. "Copper doesn't get hot. It doesn't conduct in that manner. It doesn't decompose. It doesn't leave a horrible residue. Plants grow well on it. It has antifungal properties that have made it popular with organic gardeners. It's the only material I use."

The best thing about copper, to Smillie, is that copper can be reused. Copper doesn't have to be replaced and it's not going to fall apart. With its durability and upcycled qualities, there's a strong market for used copper.

Smillie's process for working with copper is simple.

"We get copper pipe," she told me. "And that's it." Sometimes she uses chemicals to start the process of aging. But typically, she says, customers like copper to be new and shiny at first, and enjoy watching it "patina on its own."

Smillie believes that her pieces help bring customers into nature. They take store of what they have by bringing nature into their backyards. They have the opportunity to improve air and water quality, human health, habitat---this is Smillie's crusade. And, like most things crafted out of copper, the work of Sycamore Creek is designed to age beautifully and last forever.


Sycamore Creek Copper Garden Furnishings, Ancram, NY, (518) 398-6393

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