Monday, October 15

Blog Action Day: An "R" in the Garden

Even before the calendar flipped to 10/15/07, Blog Action Day had a positive effect on me. Obviously, it prompted me--along with the 15,860 other bloggers who signed up to participate--to think about the environment. I had felt compelled to put up a post explaining my reasons for joining Blog Action Day once the banner ad appeared here, and was surprised by the positive reaction it received. Many people left thoughtful comments that sent my mind swirling.

I honestly had no idea what I was going to write about here until Sunday morning, 77 hours into a crazy 85 hour work week. As I drove in to the office, my mind raced back and forth between finishing my latest garden project and finding a subject for my Blog Action Day post... until finally I realized that maybe my tired brain was trying to tell me something: My latest garden project is actually a great illustration of how the burden we put on our natural resources can be lightened just by rethinking your day-to-day approach.

Allow me to start with an explanation: When I find myself stuck in one of the conundrums of modern life I often fall back on the "Three R's" that we learned in grade school: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reuse is my favorite "R," for several reasons. It does not involve sacrifice, and it's much more creatively challenging than tossing an item in the proper bin to be picked up, melted and reformed. Instead, I can help it be reborn as something else entirely... and I like to think that these items are as happy as I would be to have my useful life extended in such a way.

And so it is that I have an old radio cabinet in my garage, serving as my potting bench. And my wheelbarrow is an ancient but perfectly balanced tool that the elderly gentleman several doors down decided to retire in favor of a new model. My next rose, 'Buff Beauty,' will be trained against an old porch railing that I trashpicked on my way home from volleyball this spring. And so on.

My latest Reuse project involves some trashpicking, too. I was lucky enough to come across some industrial shelving that was marked for either the recycling center or the dump. Some of the shelves matched in color, but others did not and there was an assortment of sizes. I obtained permission to take the whole lot of them home with me for the "cost" of loading up myself and hauling them away.

I wasn't sure just how I would use them in the garden, but I knew I'd figure out something. I have always liked the use of industrial elements in small urban gardens. Instead of making the garden seem like an oasis in the desert, disjointed from its surroundings, it has the effect (for me) of tying the surrounding city into the garden and anchoring it with a sense of place.

I was ecstatic to see that there was enough of this wonderful, blue-enamelled rack shelving to use as a pathway in the far half of the back yard. They are too small to use to create a wide, generous pathway... but when you want visitors to take their time navigating through a garden, you don't always want a wide path. A thin path with an interesting layout and/or breaks in the materials will cause visitors to slow down, and that's just what I need here.

To inject a little more fun into the whole project, I am digging out a series of what I like to think of as "locks" because of our proximity to the old Ohio-Erie Canal. (I have walked the canal towpath many times since I arrived here in NE Ohio.) The shelves will span some of the locks like so many bright metal bridges. Water-hued plants, including groundcover sedums, silene maritima, and ajuga, will be planted in the locks to provide even more color. Small grasses like blue fescue in the "shallows" will help tie the locks in with other plants beyond the locks' edges.

From an environmental standpoint, this project is attractive in many ways:
  • Instead of buying new block for a path, I'm reusing old materials.
  • Instead of adding more solid surfacing to my garden, my new path will be porous and allow rainwater and runoff from the garage to percolate through the ground instead of being diverted into storm sewers.
  • Lawn grass all around will be replaced with plants that will hopefully remove even more carbon monoxide from the air and provide sustenance.
  • And some shelving that is old and no longer needed for its originally intended use--but is still sturdy enough to bear the weight of a human being--has found a second life.
So in the end, I get a unique, colorful path in my garden that adds a real sense of whimsy to my yard... and I get to feel good about the environmentally friendly way in which it was created. This illustrates how taking a look at any project or item with "new eyes" might result in an interesting discovery: Maybe it's not as hard as you think to do some of those "little things" for the environment that really add up... and sometimes it's even more rewarding than the "conventional" way to go about it. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!


Stuart said...

Great reuse Kim. I guess when they've finished their service as walkways they could even be used as a new vertical garden, a climbing trellis for some of your creepers or even a screen for your garden maintenance areas.

You've got me thinking now...

Unknown said...

Stuart, funny you mention that... because there are two silver-colored shelves with vertical and horizontal shelves that make 1in open squares between them. They are definitely going to be trellises--in fact, I ordered extra QuickCrete and posts to set them in when I bought the fence supplies because I knew that they would need sturdy support. (They're heavy!)

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

Oh my God...I love this! And I know what you mean about tying your urban garden into its city surroundings--I feel the same way about mine. I haven't got the start you have, but you've definitely inspired me to get going on it.

I can definitely picture wandering that path, crossing over your "locks," and enjoying the garden. Great reuse, and great post!

BTW---I like this header even more than the last one.

EAL said...

Interesting. I grew up by the old Erie Canal, in Lockport, NY. So I love the locks idea. Would they be filled with water most of the time then?

Annie in Austin said...

You can't fool me, Kim - that 'R' also stands for Recreation and it gave you an excuse for playing in the dirt!

What a wonderful reuse of geometrically designed metal.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

PS I just saw 'Buff Beauty' at Dirt Therapy. Phillip Oliver has a nice photo.

Anonymous said...

That's a creative garden idea, Kim. I'm intrigued and can't wait to see how it all turns out. Having seen your ability to play with foliage texture and color, I'm sure it will be striking and beautiful.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Colleen! I wasn't going to show this project at all until I was more into it and you could see more of what I meant to be doing. But it just fit too well. :)

EAL, no chance of it being filled with water--not in my well-draining, sandy soil. The only place I've seen water stand after a good thunderstorm is a low spot in my cement driveway... hence the need for blueish plants to approximate the effect.

annie you got me--lol--I'm busted! You know, I'm starting to wonder what I'll do when I run out of garden space on my own lot... maybe my neighbors need to start worrying now. :)

Pam, awww... shucks. That's very nice to hear coming from someone whose foliage combinations I really admire. Speaking of things from your garden, do you think I should try a couple of agaves here where the path meets the cement driveway? It bakes in the sun all day and there are some agaves supposedly hardy to zone 5 if they're spring planted, per High Country Gardens.

Anonymous said...

Yes! A blue or gray agave would look good next to the blue grates. Since that area bakes and has fast-draining soil, I don't see why a cold-hardy agave wouldn't work for you.

You might want to build up the soil into a gravelly berm, though, if snow sits in your garden all winter, just to keep its feet nice and dry. And remember to give it plenty of room near a path. You don't want visitors' legs to be stabbed five years down the road.

Anonymous said...

Very cool, Kim and of course I'm envious of your find! We do the reuse R at Bwold too - The best example is the bed and grass steps that the guys edged in old greenhouse sills. At home I've been saving wine bottles for edging... But your path has me thinking and I'll be taking a fresher look at cast-offs on trash day - thank you for sharing!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I love the idea! It's going to look so cool & tie in with the surroundings on several levels. Go genius loci!

Karen said...

That's so great that there was enough of the blue shelving to be reused in this creative way in your garden. What a great project! I can't wait to see it when it's finished and growing.

Entangled said...

Great creative thinking! If I saw that next to a dumpster somewhere, I'd think "old shelving", and move on.

Didn't you post of a picture of something similar from a garden show last winter? Aha, I found it.
I liked it then too.

Unknown said...

AAhhh, I love it! And the thought you put into it with the locks and all- very original.
I guess after reading this I can mention I used an old angleiron bed frame up on it's end with quickcrete and fence poles to train a trumpet vine up. People thought I was crazy but I liked the idea of using the old stuff to fill a need.

lisa said...

Neat idea! You know, wooly thyme has a blue tint also. And I really like how you're incorporating a simulation of a landmark. One could almost make their whole garden a "world tour" of all their favorite vacation places...hmmm...and a recurrence of that water

Unknown said...

Pam, good thought--I want them to walk the path slowly, not have to watch out for things that might slice and dice their legs! I can definitely build up a little berm as well... and/or maybe place a potted one near there to be brought inside in the summer as an alternative. Hmm. :)

kris, I love those bottle edgings when I see them in gardens--and the bottle trees, too! I haven't ever noticed your grass bed and grass steps in posts/pictures before, but will have to go searching for them. I love that you found a reuse for the old window sills.

mr. macgregor's daughter, you have introduced me to a new term... but it seems like "genius loci" is a familiar context to me. I've been working on a post since midsummer on gardening in the spirit of place. :)

Karen, I was really excited about it, too! And there are two identical silver shelves that will make a great trellis (for what, I don't yet know) and one smaller white shelf that has yet to find a use. But I'm sure it will eventually.

entangled, I'm LOL here because I'm soooo busted! You're right, I am kind of taking a few cues from the garden I so loved at the Cleveland Home & Flower show. As much as I loved that rusty metal grate going to the huge gazebo, however, the funky blue shelving leading around to the Japanese garden probably "fits" better in my urban setting.

greeny, oooh... I bet that looks cool! When I have more time (volleyball game at 8:30 tonight, unfortunately) I will definitely be poking around your blog to see if I can find pictures of this. Thanks for stopping by! :)

lisa, funny that you mentioned that... I kind of wondered if I should make the Great Lakes in my backyard and put the shelves over them just for fun. But it didn't work out spacewise. lol.

Woolly thyme may be tapped here, too, because I love the stuff... but as I have a bunch of it elsewhere I may see what other trouble I can find here first. *grin*

Unknown said...

Smart post, wise and funny, and you're so good at reusing things creatively! I don't have the patience to go trashpicking, and then if I did find something, would I figure out something this creative to do with it? Not likely. You ROCK, Kim!

kris said...

I love this project! What a great idea to reuse the shelving - and I can't wait to see your finished locks. Very fun.

I think each of us doing our own thing for the environment is a great way to go. Gardeners can do so much - whether it's repurposing things or planting near water sources and storm drains instead of using grass or hardcover. I think this was a great post - thanks!

Anonymous said...

You are such a clever girl! Nice post and interesting paths! I can't wait to see your 'locks' planted. Very interesting!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Very clever use of old shelving. What luck to find shelving with an interesting color to add to your garden. I will look forward to seeing your completed project.

Shirley said...

Hi again, Kim :-)

I was certain I’d left a comment here but I must have missed publish :-(

Great post Kim, I agreed with Stuart that you could go vertical. I look forward to seeing your walkway next year with it fully planted. It's great what we can reuse with a little creativity :-D

Anonymous said...

It's been interesting to read some of the posts for this whole blogger action day - and a common thread truly is simplicity. Perhaps folks get so caught up in the whole 'making a difference' thing that they don't realize that it's all about baby steps but if a gazillion people are taking baby steps, well, wow. The impact is huge. Wouldn't it be great if your whole neighborhood was fighting over that industrial shelving (love the color blue by the way)?

I tend to not write about that stuff - directly at least. I just left a comment at Annie's site, about how my work has taken me into some places that was so crazy-contaminated that it was just unbelievable. Sometimes I get jaded, know those places are out there - and then I have to come back to reality (and my own garden and those of my friends) and I realize how powerful each individual is.

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