How to Use a Belfast Sink in the Garden


Most gardeners recommend using a Belfast sink as a planter. Using a Belfast sink in the garden has many benefits. The Belfast sink’s ceramic construction is elegant and has a timeless charm.

The outdoor garden sink features a ready-made planter, especially since it has a built-in drain. Not only you can grow vegetables and flowers, but the sink also serves as a mini-pond. Most gardeners use it to grow alpines as well.

The sink has been around since time immemorial and is classified as a vintage sink. It has been around almost as long as Butler sinks, with one of the main differences being that Belfast sinks are deeper.

Alpines are native to locations that are both sunny and rocky. Also, they are tolerant to drought, making them ideal for planting in rock gardens, and cracks between walls or pavements. But most importantly, they are ideal for planting in Belfast sink garden planters.

Belfast sinks for planting:

How to Use a Belfast Sink in the Garden

How to Use a Belfast Sink in the Garden

Requirements:

  • Belfast sink
  • Compost
  • Horticultural grit
  • Shade netting piece/ rocks/terracotta pot pieces

Step 1: Positioning the sink

Position the Belfast sink, particularly because once it’s filled, it will be difficult to move around. Identify a spot that’s open and sunny.

Such conditions are ideal for most alpines, especially because they live on mountains at 14,000 feet. The designated area should be far from drips caused by trees.

Once you find the right area, prop the sink above the ground. Keep in mind that supports that are too high will give a perched effect.

A height is about 18-20 inches (45-50 cm) is ideal. Also, ensure the supports you use aren’t obviously visible.

Step 2: Seal the drainage hole

Cover up the hole of your Belfast sink. However, the items you use to seal the hole shouldn’t disallow water flow.

Wet feet are not a favorable condition for alpines, which might be the case if water cannot drain. You can opt for items such as a piece of shade netting (square cuts), stones, or broken pots. These items will ensure the water drains and keep the soil from flowing out at the same time.

Alpines are affected by Vine Weevils, which tend to invade their roots. Netting is preferred by most people because it keeps them from crawling into the trough and causing root damage.

To provide extra drainage, add a layer of lightweight clay balls or pebbles. You can add it to half the level of the sink.

Step 3: Prepare the compost

To prepare compost, use John Innes compost No. 2.

For effectiveness, combine compost with a substance that helps water percolate from the alpines’ roots.

This is because these plants require good drainage. Sand, horticultural grit, or perlite will drain well. 

Step 4: Process of planting

Fill the outdoor sink with compost and ensure to leave ¾ inch (2cm) gaps while you’re at it. The gaps will be used to accommodate dressing once you finish planting.

Also, you can add architectural rocks, which will be eye-catching. Place your plants starting at the center as you work outwards.

You may choose to include trailing plants such as the ivy to run over the sink’s edges.

Once you’re done planting, add the grit dressing. This will assist in conserving moisture, reducing the chances of stem rots, and protecting the flowers from muddy splashes when there is heavy rain.

Test your planter out by watering the plants until water flows out the drainage hole.

How to Plant on an old Belfast Sink

Planting on an old Belfast Sink

For one reason or the other, you might be unable to get a real stone trough for your garden herbs and flowers. An old Belfast sink will do just fine. You need to do the following.

Step 1. Collection and setup of materials

Disguise the sink as ordinary stoneware. To do this, mix one part each of cement powder, fine peat, and sharp sand.

Add water to it and mix to create a hypertufa coating. With it, cover the outside of the sink and leave it to dry into a rugged appearance.

Step 2. Belfast sink mounting

Mount it onto a platform or a ledge at an open, sunny spot. Ensure it is away from the drip of trees and that its supports are not conspicuously visible.

From the ground to the top of the sink, the height should be 45 – 50 cm.

Step 3. Fixing and sealing of sink

Seal the drainage hole with either small stones, pieces of a terracotta pot, or old shade netting.

Mix John Innes No. 2 and coarse grit in equal parts to create compost. For acid-inclined plants, replace John Innes 2 with John Innes Ericaceous.

Step 4. Assembling of composite

Deposit the compost into the sink, leaving a gap 2 cm wide. This will accommodate after-planting grit dressing.

Step 5. Arrangement of stones

Fetch some architectural rocks and arrange them to your scale and taste.

Step 6. Planting

Plant your selection of plants making sure to allow for the 2 cm – deep collar of decorative grit or other aggregate rock.

This has several benefits, including conserving moisture, preventing flashing on flowers due to heavy rain, and reducing the possibility of rotting stems. It also reduces weed growth as well as quick slumping of compost.

Step 7. Watering

With a watering can fit with a sprinkler rose, generously pour water into the sink to get the mixture soaked (Lifestyle, 2013) and (Kidd, 2019). Only stop when the water appears from the drainage hole.

Belfast sink planter ideas: Ideas for Belfast sink in the garden

Among the most common designs, you will encounter Butler and Belfast sink. Our cutie, the Belfast sink, only differs from Butler in two key aspects. It is deeper and has a conspicuously larger overflow allowance.

1. Outdoor accessory

A Belfast sink can give your garden a magic touch as an outdoor accessory. You can use it as a planter for various herbs and ornamental plants. These include Parsley, Lovage, Corriander, Mint for sunny spells, and succulents like hen, and chicks for poor, gritty soils.

To add a flash of color, you won’t go wrong with Begonias and Lobelia – two incredible annuals and trails.

2. Cleaning purposes

You can also place a Belfast sink beneath a water tap. This will help in washing off the dirt from garden tools and equipment. You can also find it handy in soaking and cleaning tubers like arrowroots and potatoes.

3. Mini pond

A Belfast sink can be converted into a mini pond (Lovely Greens, n. d.). This is especially true for old sinks, which can renew their lives by providing a home for aqueous wildlife like fish.

What is the difference between a Belfast sink and a Butler sink?

Butler sinks, and Belfast sinks have a lot in common. However, they are still some significant differences between the two. Some of the most common differences include;

Butler SinksBelfast Sinks
Wider and relatively shallowSmaller and heavier
Have their drain in the middle of the sinkHave their drain close to the tap
Usually fits in an 800mm unitUsually fits in a 600mm unit
Fit for washing larger objects like a dogSuitable for washing smaller objects
Designed to conserve water in 18th century LondonIt wasn’t designed to conserve water
It has a weir overflowUsually has no weir overflow

Butler sinks are wide, relatively shallow, and sometimes have a small overflow. Butler sinks usually fit into an 800mm unit, making them better for washing large objects,

while Belfast sinks are smaller and heavier. They typically fit into a 600mm unit and mostly come with a weir overflow. Butler sinks have their drain in the middle of the bowl, while Belfast sinks have their drain located close to the tap.

Butler sinks were first designed in 18th century London when fresh water was scarce. For that reason, Butler sinks were designed to conserve water. That’s why you sometimes see a butler sink without overflows.

Belfast sinks, on the other hand, were adapted from Butler sinks. They were designed in Belfast for use in the butler’s pantry.

Because Belfast didn’t have a similar problem obtaining water, Belfast sinks weren’t designed to conserve water like their counterparts. And that’s why Belfast sinks feature a different design from butler sinks.

After many years since butler and Belfast sinks were first designed, they have gone through many changes. You will find Butler sinks that are just as wide as Belfast sinks. You’ll also find butler sinks that come with an overflow.

One standard difference that remains is that most sinks with a weir overflow are Belfast sinks.

How to secure a Belfast sink

Things You’ll need;

  • Belfast sink           
  • Waste and overflow           
  • Pencil / Marker           
  • Saw           
  • Silicone sealant           
  • Ruler or Tape Measure

Step 1: Taking measurements

Belfast sinks are under-mount. Sinks, which means they hang underneath the worktop counter. The first step is to take the worktop and use the sink’s measurement to select where you will cut the hole for the sink.

Use a marker or a pencil to mark out the space to be cut. Add 7 – 10 mm to the measurement to create space for the worktop overhang. An overhang will prevent water from running down the sides of the sink into the cabinet.

Step 2: Cutting the hole

After marking the hole, take a saw and cut a hole. Be careful with this step to avoid injuries or damage to the worktop. You can call a professional if you are having trouble with this area.

Step 3: Fix your sink

The next step is to fix the sink into the hole you just cut, ensuring that the plumbing and waster pipes fit perfectly.

After fixing your sink, put the worktop on top of it, ensuring under-mount that the hole lines up well with the sink space. This step is helpful. Make sure that everything fits in place smoothly before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Tighten the sink

Next up is to tighten the sink. Start by removing the countertop while leaving the pipes and the sink in place.

Apply a layer of sealant around the edges and the back wall of the sink. This will keep it tight and secure. Once done with this, put the worktop counter back over the sink.

Turning a Belfast Sink into a Water Feature

For best results, you will need to gather the following items:

  • a small adjustable pump
  • silicon aquarium sealer
  • a plug
  • some decorative stones
  • and a wood plank

Additionally, make sure an outdoor socket is within reach. You can now begin with the first step below.

Step 1. Laying of wood plank

Lay the wood plank on the floor or some platform of your choice. You can also create a ledge with the wood plank. 

Step 2. Installation of the sink

Place the Belfast sink on it and make sure both the wood and the sink are evenly level. Failure to do this will make the water unintentionally spilled and create an unsightly mess. 

Step 3. Drainage setup

Locate the drainage hole and affix the plug to shut out the hole. Apply the aquarium sealer to ensure it is water-tight.

Step 4. Pump installation

Place the adjustable pump at the bottom of the sink. The center of the sink is preferred for symmetry. Cover it with a plastic crate.

Step 5. Cable connection

Take the pump’s power cable and plug it onto the outdoor socket. Do not switch it on yet.

Step 6. Assembling of decoration items

Get the decorative stones and drop them into the sink. It should be filled to the overflow level. Now fetch the water-hose or bucket and fill the sink with clean water. The water level should be such that it covers the stones.  

Step 7. Confirmation of the setup and lighting up

Check to make sure everything has been done to your satisfaction. Now switch on the socket and watch your creation (RHS, n. d.). Please keep it clean and well maintained. 

Maintenance of the Belfast Garden Sink

  1. The sink shouldn’t be allowed to dry out, particularly during the plants’ first growing season.
  2. Take out leaves that fall off from the surface of the container. Also, if you notice yellowing or dead foliage, snip them off.
  3. Avoid letting it get extremely drenched by heavy rainfall (persistent). If you’re capable of moving it to a shelter, do so. If this is not possible, build a temporary shelter. Use a sheet of plastic or glass and place them over the sink. Also, use bricks to prop them so that there can be air circulation.

Final Thoughts

Stoneware sinks like Belfast sinks are perfect for growing flowers and vegetables in the garden. Their thickness ensures the roots and bulbs are kept safe from extremely high temperatures.

Other than that, they are extremely durable. This means not only do Belfast sinks give your garden a chic feature, but they also outlive your other planters. You can use the sinks in your kitchen as the sinks are extra deep. When it comes down to it, the choice of using a Belfast sink as a planter or a mini-pond is yours.

Whatever you decide, you will be glad you choose to let it serve you for more years instead of disposing of the sink.

Lisa Burks

Hi, I'm Lisa Burks, founder of the Sink Formula blog, and plumber of 5 years experience.

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