Upcycle, Recycle, Repurpose
- (Almost) Free Decor For Your Garden

Photography© Mary Hyland 2020 all rights reserved

Very bright and pretty vintage enamel bowl. It's approximately 18-20 inches in diameter. I have a few,
and as pretty as they are, I get tired of looking at, but not really using them for serving food.
I repurposed it and added realistic-looking, weatherproof,  high quality floating foam water lilies and a 
solar floating pond fountain with several different fountain heads and battery backup, and I now have
 something pretty special. Battery backup is nice because the fountain will work for a while with 
stored power, so I can enjoy it  a little longer when the sun goes home. You can see the solar power 
collection strips on the top. It's portable, and it sits near a walkway of my Japanese Garden. 
The bowl is metal enamelware, so weather doesn't bother it at all, and you don't have to store it  
for the winter. Plus, you can easily put the bowl back to work as a bowl, if you need to. The cost of this 
fountain was less than $25. And the parts can be re-used for any small water feature you come up with.
The birds like to use it as a pool and shower. The water just recirculates over and over. No water Usage.

Repurpose, recycle, upcycle..... there are many names for re-using throwaways and damaged things for the garden.
There are so many things that we throw away that can find new life in the garden. I've seen many good ideas that turned into bad ideas once I figured out the cost of the other stuff used to create something else besides the upcycled item, and the time involved. I can, but I won't upcycle everything into garden pieces. I know I'm not making a planter out of an old tire and displaying it, just because I can. 

I would be a much more enthusiastic, creative and prolific garden designer if I had a carpenter, metalworker and stonemason handy. I have plenty of ideas. But practicality always rears its ugly head to nip some ideas in the bud.

I'm not as much about how a handmade upcycled something looks, as much as I am about how I feel when I sit with it in the garden, and what it does for me as a gardening hack. There are some things that I just don't like, as lovely as they might be when recreated. I do better with finding pieces meant for one thing, then used in the garden as something else, without re-doing or "building" something from them. For instance, the vintage 8 ft. trellis I found at the curb, great big courtyard-sized resin planters neighbors toss out, old metal tables, chairs, etc. These are recycled for garden use, not usually changed into another something. I like surfing the curbs the night before trash pickup. I've found some astonishing and awesome pieces for the garden. I know who the neighbors are who suffer with frequent cases of "buyer's remorse", and people who don't like antiques or old stuff. And my neighbors know I might want to adopt just about anything that can be used outside. And inside.... for my houseplant displays.

There are things that will and will not find an appropriate home in my garden. Because whatever it was might not be something I would decorate my garden with anyway, even when it's re-born. I suggest you use as much of your throwaways as possible, but think about where you'll use it and if it helps with the flow of your gardens or just sticks out because it's not the same style or doesn't evoke the right atmosphere. I like a surprising far-out piece here or there. But usually not in a space where my relaxing nooks and Zen garden are located. If I place a funky chicken, my garden fairies or country-style pieces in my Asian-themed garden, I lose my serenity and flow. But it can be achieved by careful placement and color, between or at the ends of areas to start another flow, and fit in with certain plantings near another theme. And container trees and shrubs are a decorating blessing, due to their portability. You can always move these in and out of your design. Let's not forget mixing good quality artificial vines, plants and flowers into bare spots as bookmarks or to temporarily fill a newly bare area until you find something living to plop into it.
Have A Plan.

My front garden displays a lot of mixed-theme stuff you don't always expect to find in a garden, and some that you do. Because that garden is  not really themed except for angels and water features, and it's designed for passersby to say ooh, look at that, more than it's designed for my atmosphere. It's also one on-ramp for birds and butterflies inhabiting the pollinator garden and bird habitat in the backyard. My backyard has a few different, but distinct, themes. Lots of leeway, but thought must be given to those areas so that your designs fit the atmosphere you're trying to achieve. I don't bother much with planter tricks. I've turned almost everything with a hole or groove in it into a planter or plant holder. Although I do want an old claw foot tub as my next main centerpiece in the garden. I just have to figure out where I can find room. And an old tub.

Photography© Mary Hyland 2020 all rights reserved

Sedum groundcover and fescue growing in the cracked top of a birdbath. I planted it, then I could forget it. 
It returns every year. Sedum does not need any care except thinning the plants, and you don't have to do that, either. 
The crack is big enough to make the birdbath useless, but small enough to hold shallow-rooted and low-growing 
plants  and hold soil. It is mostly covered by soil that is sitting on a few stones that are sitting on the crack.. 
Succulents store water, so the faster drainage and dry weather doesn't bother them.

I repurpose, rather than upcycle, much more now with a clear goal. Repurposing allows me to unpack boxes of  rarely used kitchenware, like enamel bowls, and turn the forgotten or ignored  items into something functional. The half-gallon and smaller jugs  I use to create drip irrigation during a drought to plant roots is a re- purpose. There's a way to upcycle and design to incorporate or work for a garden or backyard. There's a fine line between "Wow, that's cool!" and "Did your little girl make that in pre-school?". So personalize what you repurpose, have a spot for it where it's a surprise that  fits your garden themes, and always reflect your personality and gardening self. Upcycling and recycling are fun, useful and good for the planet. But.......
Have A Plan. 
Keep It Simple. 
This should be your mantra.

Upcycled gaudy iron candle stand throwaway, and attached birdhouses to the candle holder.. 
The metal lotus in the center candle holder was an oil lantern.
Now it holds a few seeds, straw for nesting, and berries. The thing is super-heavy wrought iron.

When choosing what to upcycle, and it looks like it's just not gonna be what you want where you want it, or do what you think it will do, you can re-designate it as a throwaway. My favorite bad idea was planning on turning an antique Singer sewing machine table I adopted, into a standing planter. Nice big well in the top because the machine was missing.... with clay pots of plants around the edges..It didn't take long for me to realize that I wasn't really going to make that happen. And the cast iron bottom made the piece weigh a ton.. Adding the weight of soil or pots made it an immoveable object. So I don't adopt or keep heavy pieces that I'm pretty sure will have to be dragged through the yard again with help and out the back gate. I won't even get into the hole in the seat of the chair planter craze I almost partook of. Those popped up everywhere, and you wanted to keep an eye on your wooden outdoor chairs that could go missing because of that purpose. I prefer to personalize a cast-off and give it new life in the garden, more than I like being the Martha Stewart of landscaping. The chairs will be nice if I get down to creating a cottage-style or wildflower garden.

The same thing happened when the outdated "make everything from wood pallets" craze was upon us. I used one piece as a vertical planter, but it was just so cumbersome and not worth dragging around because I do keep moving things in the garden. It was a great artistic upcycling item and kept junk out of the landfill. But it just wasn't me.
There's no shame in upcycled garden decor failures that do a full circle to the curb. 
There are Only "What was I thinking?" bad ideas.

Oh.... and I'll take that claw foot tub you're throwing away.

You can see some more garden crafting here---->

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