In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
September, 2012
Regional Report

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If only we could age as gracefully as this indestructible, 15 year old cypress chair!

Old Garden Friends

My cypress chair has been with me longer than my husband and has weathered many storms without rot, rust, or splinters. Now, that is one fine wood, and my choice for garden furniture. Cypress furniture takes virtually no upkeep and ages elegantly.

Choosing Garden Materials
The materials you choose for garden ornaments and hardscape elements such as benches and paths make a statement as surely as your plants. Brick and mortar-edged beds send a formal message, regardless of the plants within them. Likewise, a garden done from end to end with similar metal benches may be intended to bring design unity, yet seems institutional, no matter what is planted nearby.

My plant collection is wild enough on its own, and I suppose that is why I limit other garden elements to a simple palette and materials. Gray concrete, rusty red iron, and shades of greenish blue suit my style, with a few primary colors thrown in, mostly from gifts of wind chimes and pots. I use a lot of recycled wood including a dog-eared fence painted deep green and adorned with rusty metal sculptures. The tans of exposed aggregate have a place as does plain and decorated concrete. I like straight edges more than curves in bed designs because they contribute to the sense of order I am always seeking with such a diversity of plants. Besides their big bold, curvaceous shapes, most of my pots are circular, so there is plenty of contrast to the square and rectangular beds. When things look right to my eye, the plants soar and spill everywhere, going beyond the edges and the pots, too.

Recycle Everything
If there is a theme to my kind of gardening, it is to make use of whatever comes; to ornament with repurposed leftovers. Dump fees are prohibitive, plastic lasts forever, and many materials age into ever more wonderful colors and textures. Concrete blocks, for example, start out light gray but soon darken and develop the character of old tombstones. Iron rusts to bring red tones, while gray metal pieces that have been cut by a welding torch develop orange highlights over time.

My latest acquisition is two bright red cattle feed tubs diverted from a school garden. With holes drilled in the bottom, they make excellent pots for fruit trees in my hoop house. Their red color will not fade, but I will get used to it. The hoop house itself is a recycled greenhouse purchased 20 years ago from a retired grower. After heating it proved prohibitive, I recycled black pots to line the inside of the west wall in a crude solar sink. A change to large pots full of edibles has made the space a working extension of my kitchen, rather like the beds outside the back door, but with a windbreak and more control over water.

Find Your Style
I use big decorative pots as accents with a diversity of colors, shapes, and heights and always have a group of clay pots with herbs in them at the back door. Those may have been purchased new because they are not especially durable, unlike the couch spring trellises that were probably made around 1950. Mesh metal doors became a pot rack supported by, of course, concrete blocks. Though I never took welding, I am good with wire and have lately taken to combining castoff tools into oddities to hang here and there. I never can bear to discard a tool, so the thin metal hoe head that my grandfather sharpened almost daily gets joined to a hubcap that rolled in off the street. None of these ideas may call out to you; primary colors and round flowerbeds might be your thing. The point is to choose the materials that do speak to you and use them to make a better place to grow and enjoy your plants.


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