Earlier this summer, I marveled at the ease with which innovative gardeners can turn virtually any item into a flowerpot. Old cars, bowling balls, bird cages -- I thought I'd seen it all.
Coffins, cow skulls and basketballs have been used as planters. So have gourds and farm plows. Have I missed anything? I asked readers to respond with photographs of their own creative containers.
Thus was born the Real Dirt's Weird Planter Contest.
After judging the entries, I am doubly impressed with the ingenuity of American gardeners. People plant flowers in some pretty strange places, in nooks and crannies around the house and yard. They plop dirt in everything from household appliances to footwear.
Bernard Conapinski of Frackville, Pa., is one such gardenerEvery morning, Mr. Conapinski trudges to the back yard to water his shoes. There are 18 pairs of shoes on his patio, all of them containers for Mr. Conapinski's extensive collection of Sempervivums.
These shallow-rooted, low-growing evergreens, commonly known as "hen and chickens," are thriving in his collection of old work shoes, pumps and loafers.
Mr. Conapinski says he began recycling the family footwear 10 years ago when, while dividing the Sempervivums, he ran out of conventional clay pots.
"I happened to be throwing away a pair of old bedroom slippers, and decided to use them as my new plant holders," he writes. "A new tradition started and now no one in my family throws away any old shoe."
(Old shoehorns are also worth saving. They can serve as garden trowels in a pinch.)
As co-winner of the Weird Planter Contest, Mr. Conapinski receives a $20 gift certificate from Burpee Seeds.
The other champion is Mariann Wetter of Chincoteague Island, Va., who grows red and pink impatiens in the tub of a rusty old washing machine that sits in her front yard. Ms. Wetter had tried to give away the 60-year-old washer. Failing to do so, she drilled several drain holes, filled it with soil and flowers and created an instant conversation piece.
"When they give you lemons, make lemonade," writes Ms. Wetter. "Junk becomes art. Yea, Salvador Dali!"
There were other wacky entries, including a pink commode filled with cascading white petunias that adorns the yard of a plumbing contractor in Hampstead.
"This toilet has a cracked tank and was replaced by my husband for one of our customers," writes Nancy Combs. "It was such a pretty pink that it seemed a waste to send it to 'porcelain heaven.' Thus was born our comment-producing planter."
Apparently, bathroom appliances are a big hit with gardeners in the '90s. Brenda Dinneen, of Brockton, Mass., submitted a photograph of an old claw-footed bathtub which she
saved from the dump, placed in her back yard and planted with annual flowers "in spite of much laughter and snide remarks from my friends.
"Filled with red and white impatiens in the summer, and branches from my evergreen trees in winter, [the bathtub] has been a source of visual pleasure," Mrs. Dinneen writes.
"P.S. -- My friends like it too."
Brigitte Fleming of Edgewood sent a picture of a single boot that once belonged to her son. Mrs. Fleming filled it with dirt and a plant and placed it on the front steps of her town house, where it will never track mud on her carpet again.
Joyce Ashlock of Baltimore enjoys raising impatiens in the soft red, white and blue plastic containers in which hand wipes called Wet Ones are sold.
"I just cut out a small 1/2 -inch hole in the bottom of the container and use the blue lid as a drip saucer," Mrs. Ashlock writes. "Also, if I over-water this planter, I just squeeze it around its middle and the water is forced out of the bottom!"
Of course, there was the obligatory snapshot of an automobile tire planter, turned inside out, painted purple and filled with marigolds and petunias.
"[The tire] is the perfect planter to sit outside our antique store," writes Marilyn Kowaleski, of Adamstown, Pa. "We wanted something suited for the building."
The store was once a gas station.