In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Visitors would never know that this potted holly hides the secret to secure footing on their way up our walk.

Form Follows Function

The high desert sun sparkles beautifully during our extended "January thaw," but winter is far from over. There will be lots of frozen stuff falling from the sky in the weeks ahead, and we need to be prepared.

One of the best ways to be prepared for icy walks is to hide a sack of sand right in plain view. I don't want to endanger my plants with salt or other melting chemicals. Don't think much of messy kitty litter. But clean sand sweeps right into the beds without a trace after its work is done.

Readily available at any building supply store, a sack of builder's sand – often used for children's sand boxes – is inexpensive but invaluable. As soon as the snow stops falling, we sweep what we can off the steps, then plunge a trowel into the sand and liberally sprinkle it along the pathway. Footing is improved dramatically.

Dressing it Up
But a sack of sand isn't very pretty to look at. While browsing through an antique store one day, I stumbled across an old nail barrel. It is the perfect size to hold a sack of sand inside. No matter how much a person likes antiques, though, a nail barrel just doesn't dress up a front porch. So we add a 10-inch nursery pot of whatever is in season to the top.

In the winter months it tends to be a potted holly. In summer we plop a hanging basket of annuals into the barrel and let the flowers spill over the sides. Cut the hanging wires off and it all looks stunning. Voila! Function and beauty in the same, uh, nail barrel.

To keep the sand from absorbing blowing rain and snow, it's a good idea to line the nail barrel – or your favorite container – with a plastic garbage bag before you put in the sack of sand. A hole in the bottom of the garbage bag lets any water that gets in drain away.

Rip open the top of the sand sack and plunge an old trowel – one you won't miss much – into the sand. Then top it off with a 10-inch pot of whatever.

Neither you nor your guests will slip on your walk, your front door will be welcoming, and you'll be a clever gardener.


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