Recycling & Upcycling in the Garden


There’s no hiding the fact that gardeners have always been a resourceful bunch. Whether it’s in our nature or has been nurtured out through the practice, so much of gardening is built around reusing. Composting, for example, is a fundamental of the practice that is all about recycling our food and green waste scraps and then turning them into something very useful. But we can also go looking outside the garden for old treasures to bring in.

So much of our food journey is about anticipation and discovery. Growing, foraging, and harvesting are unpredictable and uncertain, but there is joy in the process and an even greater excitement when you get something of value back. It’s a feeling that comes from walking through a forest looking for mushrooms or patiently waiting for the bulbs to flower or fruit trees to blossom. It’s the thrill of casting out a fishing line and feeling a bite on the other end. We are hard wired for the hunt
and that’s what recycled materials are all about.

Some of our favourite jobs have been working with clients that didn’t want anything new. We planted a 30 year old olive tree in a giant cement mixer, we’ve built wall gardens from metal sultana bins, we turned an old shipping container into cafe, and obviously, we think that apple crates can become just about anything. In all of these cases we never knew where the hunt was going to lead and it was only after finding the right material that its purpose became apparent.

We don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression, salvaging isn’t necessarily a glamorous life. There is a danger in that once you see the value in one thing, you will start to see the value in every single piece of junk out there. Before you know it you are sleeping on the couch because your bed is full of milk crates.... or if you’re smart, sitting atop a platform of them.

The truth is you simply can’t bring every great idea home (says your partner, with whom you share the bed), but that shouldn’t deter you from exploring and challenging yourself to be creative. There was a time when good hard rubbish evaporated as soon as it made contact with the nature strip, but I’m not sure what’s happened, there seems to have been a little respite. I’ve been having some great success of late, and it’s reinvigorated the hunt.

If there’s ever a time to find the real treasures for the garden, it’s now - during the depths winter - when most have tucked the idea of gardening away until spring at best. If you found that your garden infrastructure was lacking last time, why not get out there and see what can fit the bill this time around. Anything that allows you to import quality soil, chase sunlight and drains well is technically a raised garden bed. That may mean some absent milk crates or pallets, but might also find
something more sizeable lurking on your street corner or at the resource centre.

When retiring the old battle axe of the working world it is only fitting that it carry
one final load. A wheelbarrow makes a perfect raised garden bed and will ensure that there are many more years of companionship ahead of you. Make sure that there is plenty of drainage and don’t be afraid to take the drill to the old boy. Otherwise the garden bed will slowly turn into a rotting bog. Once you are past that hurdle, the beauty, of course, is in its practicality and portability (if it’s still capable). Running late for a dinner party and have nothing to bring? How about a wheelbarrow full of farm fresh herbs.

A sink is an obvious choice because they are relatively easy to find and already
equipped with great drainage. Many sinks are quite shallow by gardening standards, which makes them a prime vessel for annual flowers, salads or herbs. Choose one with a drying area and you have a perfect potting bench that can be easily cleaned. Your spider sense should start tingling around the time of hard rubbish collection.

Where do trailers go when they die? The answer could be to gardening heaven. If you are lucky enough to come across one of these or you’ve been contemplating sending your working trailer to the paddock, it will provide a very sizeable (and portable) growing area. We’ve had great success growing strawberries in ours and it has also proved ideal for crops that are hard to keep track of, such as potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. When it comes to harvest time you can simply empty the entire trailer out and know that you haven’t missed any. Unfortunately, their portable nature can also come at a cost, as they are also quite steal-able, which is what happened to ours a year or so back. RIP Timmy.

The Vintage Esky
The older the cooler (see what I did there?) from an aesthetic point of view. Drainage should be no issue as most will have an in-built drainage plug. Another advantage is insulation, which will keep plants healthy by helping to normalise the soil temperature on those hot summer days and in the cold winter months as well. The next time someone asks you to pass them a freshie, reach in and pull them out a few fresh sprigs of seasonal herbs.

The Bathtub
There is nothing quite like those great cast iron claw-footed beauties. As they
become less and less common with the passage of time, the bathtub has become the white whale of the recycled raised garden bed world. The effort of transporting one of these is basically an activity in itself and one not to be taken lightly. You’ll need more than just your kid’s skateboard. They are deep enough for virtually any crop with room to let your plants sprawl and will last a life time.

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