Creating Garden Art from the Cast-offs of Others

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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A few years ago a good friend—who knows my proclivities for repurposing the cast-offs of others well—called to see if I would be interested in a cut-up utility pole they were removing from a local park. It was no surprise to him that I said, “Of course! Bring it on over!”

Very quickly I realized these pieces might be useful in building a bed to help screen off my wildlife condominium—one of my treasured features that others in the community might not be so excited to have in plain sight. I hurriedly rolled the posts into place and propped them up with bark chips and concrete blocks knowing that I’d do a more permanent job sooner or later.

I soon realized that I had a rustic old piece of picket fence rescued along with some bricks (for free from an online group) that might work well as part of the scene. I then found some old window shutters to add from my father-in-law’s house. These shutters were original to the house—built in the early 1950s—that hadn’t been in use for years. I thought they would come in handy for backing the post pieces that weren’t quite tall enough for my screening purposes.

I set all these things in place and slowly built up a nice mound of arborist chips in front of them. I used bits and pieces that I didn’t want to use in the rest of my garden because of size—pieces that would take longer to break down since I wasn’t planning to plant right away.

Since I spend long hours keeping the beds I already have planted in shape, I didn’t want to pause to make this backdrop permanent. This delay also allowed me to live with the bed while deciding if it was my final choice. The muffler was added one day when I noticed it at the end of our driveway. I loved how the rusted circle mirrored the knots on the post pieces. For me it was a natural fit.

Aside from the screening for the wildlife habitat, I am also able to use this vignette to shield the trash bags (from the public) that I accrue during my weekly weeding. Our Village has regulations in place that forbid our refuse from being put out more than 24 hours in advance of pick-up so I can’t simply stash them at the curb.

I should point out here that the additions of both the muffler and the shutters—due to their age— may contain lead or other undesirables that could leach into the soil. For this reason, I will not be planting edibles in this area. You should keep this in mind if using older items in your vignette.

A couple of years ago, I added three coral bells plants (heuchera) that I scored at a local half-price sale. I put them in place with a promise that I’d make sure nothing blew over to squish them. Thankfully, I was able to follow through and they not only remained safe but also thrived in this new bed. This spring, because of a growing number of stronger winds, I decided to make the backdrop permanent. I also knew that it would save me from the occasional chore of repositioning all the pieces.

I bought some pipe strapping and gathered the rest of the supplies from my garage and basement stashes. Using wood cast off from a neighbor, I screwed the shutters together. I moved the t-bar posts and had my husband help me put the shutter group in place. I used strapping around the t-bars to hold the shutters upright then attached strapping to the shutters and around the post pieces to keep them sturdy. I loosely attached the fence post because it’s likely to wither on the sooner side and I want to be able to easily remove it.

This will be handy because I planted a viburnum dentatum, recently purchased from the Cincinnati Zoo Native Plant Sale, at that end of the bed. I figure it will grow well and eventually need the space to spread while it fills out that area. I also added some coreopsis behind the heuchera to help the eye flow upward as well as a couple of bleeding hearts (dicentra formosa) and false spirea (astilbe) to widen the group toward the viburnum.

When showing off the finalized version of my hard work to my husband, he asked what was going to go in the empty space between. I explained that the viburnum would need that space so I was planning on leaving it vacant. Since I’m calling this the Steve and Shirley Vignette (because my husband and our backdoor neighbor both like neat and pretty gardens) I might want to add something else. While I wait for the viburnum to grow, I can add interest with annuals if I want to.

Are there ways you can repurpose others’ cast-offs in your garden? How can you help delay stuff going to the dump?

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings andBeing Blytheand read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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