Need Help?

Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in recycling household items (1)


Recycling Junk in the Garden.

Photo credit:- The porcelain of houshold fixtures does not blend well with nature, no matter how beautiful the flowers. I would rather see a battered, rusting tractor on a lawn. Somehow, it seems to belong better.I received an email from the Montreal based journalist, Wendy Helfenbaum, who inquired if I would agree to an interview. Wendy asked for my input because she was planning to write a piece for our Montreal newspaper, The Gazette, about recycling household objects, to give them a second life in the garden. The article titled Finders, keepers… appeared in the Thursday, May 24, 2012 edition, in the Outdoor Living section.

I have mixed feeling on this subject. A recycled item in the garden brings a smile to some gardeners’ faces and a frown to others. Not everyone is comfortable with junk repurposed as garden art, even when it is used to make a humorous statement.

When I was asked to comment on using old steel bed frames as a lattice for climbing vines, at first I balked. Then I realized that for some, this sort of repurposing is a necessity. Where the homeowner‘s garden is used to grow crops to feed a family or to generate income, any inexpensive or no-cost object can be useful.

In such an environment, no one cares what a productive object looks like, as long as it reduces operating costs. Under these circumstances, the appearance of the garden is based upon utilitarian needs; here the fundamentals of design are not a major concern. In this agricultural space, a bed frame used as a lattice will not seem as out of place as it might be, when seen leaning against the front wall of a city home.

In the journalist's article, she also reported on a homeowner who used discarded window shutters to camouflage an ugly wire lattice fence. All the shutters were painted black and, when attached randomly along the fence, the varying heights of each shutter gave the visitor the impressions that they were looking at a city skyline. Furthermore, we learned about another homeowner who used discarded windows to build a greenhouse and a gardener who used old window doors to create an arbor.

Recycling found objects, such as old birdbaths, an institutional bench, or statuary from demolished churches, to create a focal point in the garden, is an effective design element. These unusual items draw the eye of the visitor into smaller gardens to create a feeling of depth and mystery; in larger spaces, they provide an opportunity for one’s eyes to rest.

Boulders culled from excavation sites, and broken marble objects are useful because they act as an effective foil for the texture of foliage growing nearby. I envy those who live in proximity to ancient ruins or crumbling heritage homes. I presume that such venues offer an abundance of weathered and worn relics to innovative homeowners. Such items add charm, texture, form, and visual interest to a garden.

The brick walls of abutting buildings that one sometimes finds in the back yards of urban homes are a serious aesthetic challenge. Trying to temper the appearance of these brick canvases can challenge anyone’s creativity. I have seen such walls effectively camouflaged with collections of antique license plates or vintage auto hub caps.

Another ingenious use of recycled objects is the placement of large antique mirrors inside tiny gardens. While leaning against the brick walls to create the illusion of a larger outdoor space, their hard edges are softened by the plants that frame them.

On the subject of quirky items in general, I tend to be cautious with my advice. I don’t appreciate recycled objects in my non-productive garden but I recognize that many people do. Some will design with found objects while tapping into their artistic flare and others will use them with a sense of humor or because of a need to be outrageous.

City dwellers do not have the same flexibility to repurpose items in the way that rural folk do. First, most urban gardens are not as expansive and therefore can’t accommodate unusual objects as easily as rural settings can. Second, an urban neighbor is more likely to become miffed upon seeing a quirky item displayed on someone else’s lawn. There’s a relaxed chaos found in nature that surrounds a rural property and it allows homeowners to boldly reuse products that would create visual dissonance anywhere else.

In my travel through the countryside, I have seen many objects turned into flower containers: oak barrels, tractor tires, old kiddy wagons and the front basket on the handlebars of a tricycle, wringer washing machines, large cafeteria stockpots, laundry sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. However, as outlandish but acceptable that these objects may appear in a bucolic setting, they are anathema to the urban dweller because they upset the delicate balance associated with the mood of a neighborhood. That is what I call visual dissonance.