Our gardens are coming into their own; like dewy teens, each daisy, rose, and azalea blossom reveals its fresh face to the spring sunshine. Sometimes, like me, you may be amazed at how that tiny plant you carefully tended last fall has emerged, glowing green with the promise of more beauty yet to be revealed. And then, occasionally, there’s a withered twig or stalk, all that remains of an old favorite plant that didn’t survive last winter’s winds. But, never mind. We’ll revel in the new and renewed life that’s ours to enjoy.
Now that we’ve finished cleaning out winter’s detritus—made sure the garden is tidy, the plants are fed and mulched, trimmed and staked, it may be fun to consider another aspect of gardening, one that almost seems too obvious to mention. That aspect is ecology. Just for fun, let’s consider how effectively we are using the assets and agencies of the garden, and how we may do even more to lessen our ecological footprint and expand the positive impact our gardens can have in our ecosystem.
I’m not suggesting you scan your property for stray aluminum cans or those nasty, ubiquitous plastic shopping bags. Rather, take a little time to consider how you harness your gardening to the needs of the planet, not in grand ways, but in small, incremental changes that please you and the earth.
Think of this as “The Four Rs”: reimagining, reclaiming, rejuvenating, recycling.
Reimagining: Let’s begin with your imagination. Take a few minutes to review the items that have piled up in your basement, garage, and attic. Why not have some fun? Can some of that “stuff” be repurposed for the garden? How?
You don’t have to be Marcel Duchamp planting porcelain bathroom fixtures in the flower bed. Instead, consider what you might do with that old, wooden storm window. Could you remove the broken panes of glass and set up that window frame among your clematis vines? It might be lovely to see your lacy clematis weaving itself around the frame, with those plate-size purple and pink blossoms spilling out of the panes.
Or, what about that old tricycle in the garage? If it’s past its useful life, why not plant it under that holly or oak tree? Is there a flowerpot or bike basket that might be strapped to the bicycle seat or onto the handlebars? Fill that pot or basket with moss, some potting soil, and a couple bright geraniums or impatiens. Not only will the tricycle add a quaint charm to your garden, but it may also amuse your children with memories of their riding days.
If you’re very clever with tools, as some lucky folks among us are, you may find some interesting old metal pieces—a section of wrought iron fence, an iron wheel, an old wash tub. Those odds-and-ends from the dump pile in the garage could be coerced—cut, bent, and soldered, into “junk art.” There’s an artist in Virginia, Sam Hundley, who has been creating “junk art” for a decade. His work is sought after, and he’s gotten very clever at visualizing what a rusty saw or an auto headlight might become. “Make someone feel something. That’s what I’m going for in my art work,” Hundley says. You can see his work at samhundley.com or look for him on the PBS website under “Artworks.” Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for your own found art and garage-items makeovers too.
Reclaiming: A second dimension of tuning up your garden to make it even more ecologically responsible is repurposed material. There’s a useful, free brochure, “Bay-Friendly Guide to Recycled Content and Salvaged Materials.” It’s prepared for the San Francisco Bay area, but the recommendations are interesting and many suggestions could work as well in our Chesapeake Bay region. Did you know there is recycled paint, formulated from paints collected from commercial sources and recycle centers? The brochure even shares a “how-to.” It shows you how to select a few chunks of concrete and construct a handsome garden bench; virtually free and really quite impressive. You can download the short brochure at stopwaste.org/resource/brochures.
Recycling: A third amusing recycling project you might consider to diminish your eco-friendly garden’s footprint is to expand your “up-cycling.” (Up-cycling means repurposing recycled material so it is more useful and desirable.) Consider raising edible plants in unusual spots in your garden. British gardener and author Benedict Vanheems acknowledges the clever old-boot planter and the herb garden in a repurposed chest of drawers. But, he also goes a bit further, with vertical gardening—to the roof. You might have a small potting shed or unused playhouse that would work well. Attach to the roof, wooden pallets with sheet plastic between the roof shingles and the pallets. Secure small planters of vining veggies or flowers between the slats, and watch your bean and gourd vines turn the roof of your potting shed into a flowing mane with dangling bean pods and small gourds spilling down the walls.
Rejuvenating: Finally, before you slip into that hammock or chaise lounge, let’s review a few ways you can use your recyclables to rejuvenate your garden during the busy summer months ahead. These aren’t new suggestions, you may be applying them already, but they may bear repeating:
– Save your dryer lint and mix some into your potting soil or drop some lint into the hole when you transplant. The lint helps the soil retain water around the plants’ roots.
– Save, shred, and mix newsprint into your compost or lay newsprint beneath the mulch to deter weeds.
– Tea leaves, banana peels, and coffee grinds around the base of your flowers, such as those daisies, zinnias, and roses, will give you more vibrant and profuse displays of flowers. (Of course, deadheading or pinching off dead blossoms helps too.)
– After boiling vegetables, let the water cool, then poor it among your plants to get one more good use of the nutrients from those veggies. Or, if you don’t want to wait for the water to cool before you pop that pan in the dishwasher, just poor the hot water on any of the sneaky weeds that are popping up around your deck or between the bricks in your walkway. They’ll wilt and you won’t. (No need to get down on your knees and pull out those weeds.)
Whatever you do to enhance the ecological benefits of your garden, just remember that you have created a beautiful space where people, plants, insects, and birds can live in harmony. That’s an accomplishment to be savored!