Mountain Gardener: Turn old junk into garden treasures
by Jan Nelson / For the Press-Banner
Jun 03, 2010 | 3388 views | 2 2 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A 1929 kerosene heater with a pot on top and a planter chair were seen on Sunlit Lane in Bonny Doon at the garden of Seba Walker and James Kent.  Courtesy photo
A 1929 kerosene heater with a pot on top and a planter chair were seen on Sunlit Lane in Bonny Doon at the garden of Seba Walker and James Kent. Courtesy photo
What really makes a garden? For one, it might be the comfortable reading chair tucked under a shade tree in the back of the garden. For another, it’s a cutting garden or vegetable garden that puts a smile on the face of its creator. But for many, a garden isn't a garden until it gets that personal touch.

Whether it’s a succulent collection in old spice tins or an ornamental pot placed among the perennials, the possibilities are endless when you turn your old junk into garden treasures.

Whenever I visit a garden, it’s the touch of whimsy that catches my eye. The “Snowball” viburnum and the fragrant roses covering the arbor might be spectacular, but the unexpected creations nestled here and there make me appreciate everything so much more.

There are many ways to inexpensively make a garden your own. Recent windy weather has resulted in lots of downed branches. The smaller, 3-inch-diameter branches would be perfect interwoven and tied together for a homemade arbor. While it wouldn’t be sturdy enough for a vine as vigorous as a wisteria, it would provide enough support for a climbing rose or star jasmine. Smaller branches can be used to make low fences to border a flower garden.

One garden I recently visited had a border around the flower beds made of small brightly glazed pots overturned on river cobbles. The effect was pure whimsy.

I never get tired of the chair-turned-planter whenever I see it in a garden. You can use either a wooden or an ornamental metal chair, as long as you can remove the center of the seat so a pot can rest on the frame. Fill with perennial Purple Wave petunias, red verbena and white geraniums for an Independence Day tribute. Shade lovers could use Get Me lilac campanula, Goldilocks lysimachia and dwarf fuchsias instead.

Over the years, I've accumulated a collection of commemorative metal canisters re-issued as a tribute to the various products’ anniversaries. From Quaker Oats to Hershey cocoa, Hill Brothers coffee and Sunshine saltine crackers, I have more than I can display. Now, I poke a drainage hole in the bottom, fill the can with an inch or two of gravel and plant it with succulents. I especially like those that tumble over the sides, like sedum Lemon Ball with golden foliage and yellow flowers. Echeveria Perivon Nurburg with pink opalescent rosettes in the red Hills Brothers can be a show stopper, too.

You could get lucky and find an old Radio Flyer wagon to plant in, but if not, look around your own basement or visit a thrift shop, garage sale or flea market for treasures for your own garden.

There’s still time

Summer’s not in full swing yet, and there's still plenty of time in the growing season to plant a crop of delicious bush beans. For something new, try Dragon Langerie, an open-pollinated type that is ivory colored with lavender stripes. At 50 days maturity, the plants bear tasty snap beans. Let them mature until 90 days for a soft shell bean. Lavender flowers are a beautiful added bonus.

Another fun addition to your vegetable garden is Stevia rebaudiana. You might have seen stevia on the grocery store shelves among the low-calorie sweeteners. Instead of buying it there, grow the plant for yourself. Dried leaves taste much sweeter than sugar. Put stevia plants in full sun 12 inches apart from each other. They grow a foot tall and would be great in that summer iced tea.

• Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Hugh Jass
June 17, 2010
Knox boxes suck. If you can't bend over then how you ever gonna go poo or pick up the paper, or do it doggiestyle,much less garden?

Bye folks!
john watson
June 16, 2010
Have you used a KNOX GARDEN BOX? I hear that they are great, I know that they are built out of redwood and you don't have to bend over. Sure they are not used up planters or chairs but they look pretty nice.

What do you think?

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