Recycling in the Garden

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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Recycled materials can create a stunning garden entry. Photo by Ron Wynn.

We’re big on gardening around here. These days there are just the two of us; still, we have about 5400 square feet of gardening space, and we fill it up with veggies and fruits.

After spending a staggering amount of money and time building a protective deer fence (after all, who wants to put all that effort into gardening only to have wildlife get to its reward before you do?), we wanted our garden to be as visually stunning as it is productive.

But after the fence expenses, we needed frugal decorative gardening options. Here’s how we found a new home in our garden for objects that might otherwise have been discarded and a few tips for finding free or inexpensive décor for your own garden.

Recycled Raised Beds and Paths

Our garden is on the side of a mountain, so we terraced it with raised beds. We think raised beds are best for lots of reasons, including easy access for aging bodies. We had lots of old pine siding sitting around from a recent home renovation and decided to use them for temporary terraced raised beds, at least temporarily. They’ve held up just fine for several years now.

With raised beds, we needed pathways. Our electric cooperative kindly dumped shredded material from clearing under our power lines. No cost and an excellent foundation for our formerly muddy paths. We saved something from the landfill in the process.

Garden Gate

Our deer fence needed a gate. If it wasn’t a tall one, deer and raccoons would have an open invitation. We had an old storm door we thought would be just perfect—and it was. After removing the glass and screening, we built a lattice panel, attached it with screws, stained it to match the frame, and added a lock. Done!

The lattice was a nice touch, but our unique gate still looked bland. We lucked out when we found an inexpensive ‘Grow’ sign made from copper tubing and an old spigot in a nearby consignment shop. It was the perfect touch. 

Turn an unused storm door into a deer-proof garden gate. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Growing Vertically on the Cheap

We transformed discarded wire fence and some extra PVC pipe into an arch for beans and flowering vines. Just inside our gate, this flower-covered arch is a welcoming focal point for visitors.

By saving a few pruned tree branches, we created a no-cost bean tepee. You can’t beat vertical for pole beans and vining plants like cucumbers and winter squash. We had a couple of discarded A-frame metal store displays lying around. We set them in the ground and voilà!

You can find all kinds of interesting things for vertical growing. Photo by Carole Coates

Growing vertically is not only saves space; it’s another back saver. We began spotting potential trellises in all sorts of places. A country auction house near here is a terrific place for interesting finds. We bought wrought iron door shutters for five dollars apiece—an upscale trellis for gourds and nasturtiums. 

Wrought-iron decorative door shutters add a touch of elegance as a garden trellis. Photo by Ron Wynn.

More Finds

We used T-posts from our former backyard fence to stake tall, gangly plants. Left over concrete blocks from a building project served double duty as a raised bed frame and planting pockets for marigolds, an important companion plant.

We found an iron bed for only twenty dollars at our favorite auction site. Purely decorative for the flower ‘bed’ we wanted to encourage pollinators, but a nice whimsical touch.

Scrounging Decorative Items

When my mother downsized, she left a couple of shepherd staffs and some yard art, elements that added more whimsy in our garden. That inspired me to scour our home for decorative items that might add pleasant surprises to the garden, like the six-inch-long painted metal butterfly I attached to the rail of the iron bed. It looks so real that it catches unsuspecting visitors off guard every time. 

Flower ‘bed’ with whimsical grasshopper is ready for planting. Photo by Carole Coates


With all that savings, we felt justified splurging on a perfect-for-us garden-themed bench that came up for auction one lucky night. Even so, it only set us back thirty-five dollars. One day we’ll spiff it up, but just as it is, it’s an ideal place to sit and survey our gorgeous garden.

Something for Everyone

Everyone’s garden finds will be different. It’s all a matter of what’s available, what interests you, and how much imagination you bring to the project. Perhaps our experience can get your creative juices flowing.

What have you done to improve your garden through frugality? How about sharing your tips to give readers even more ideas?

Carole Coatesis a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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