Backyards planted with whimsy and folly

Old paint cans, bowls, even boots, can be just right for salvage garden

In the Garden

November 09, 2003|By Peggy Musial | Peggy Musial,Orlando Sentinel

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can, entertainer Danny Kaye used to say.

A salvage gardener might read that and be inspired to toss in the empty paint cans, too - as planters. In these hybrid garden settings, discards are held in high regard.

Salvaged pieces from old buildings, for instance, are refashioned into walkways, garden sculpture or gates. Household items find their way to the garden, too. Bowls become birdbaths. Boots become birdhouses. A resourceful gardener might even summon a tropical rain shower from a whirligig made with copper tubing that serves as a sprinkler.

As long as community codes are followed, hardly any creative idea is unsuitable in a garden theme. Outlandish displays might work best in a private setting, though, as a consideration to neighbors who might not appreciate your taste.

Whimsy and folly are catchall phrases used in garden circles to describe this kind of garden ornamentation. The tradition of garden folly, though, was popular in the 18th century when art and architecture collided in a fanciful and unpredictable way. Buildings and garden adornments were designed to delight the senses. A theme garden from that time might even include mock Grecian ruins that served as a gentleman's entree to conversation about his travels or slight eccentricities.

Fast-forward to the Cocoon Age, and salvage gardens are a palette for self-expression. They're popular among artful-minded gardeners who embrace history or the environment or who just want to personalize their outdoor spaces.

Greg and Ingrid Watson designed their tropical backyard paradise in Sanford, Fla., with these thoughts in mind.

"We pay a lot of money to go on vacation every year," Greg Watson says. "And I said, `Honey, let's capture that feeling here.'"

Walking into their back yard is a bit like stepping with Alice into Wonderland. Every niche invites a conversation or a second look. A visitor can't help but admire the pool, the dry sauna and the outdoor cooking area that leads to their even-more-secluded 25-by-50-foot enclosed retreat. Just beyond the privacy gate lies a path to a rose-covered gazebo, raised flowerbeds, a homemade fountain and an outdoor dining area.

Clearly, though, the path holds as much intrigue as the garden. The curved walkway is a mosaic pattern made from bricks and almost 1,000 bottles that, on a sunny day, reflect jewel-toned light onto the surrounding surfaces.

Every detail in the garden reflects a sense of beauty and savings, from the plants that started as cuttings to the compost pile that is cleverly tucked into a corner of the garden.

Ted Busch, owner of Edward & Edward store in Frederick, suggests keeping an open mind when selecting salvage items. Using items such as windows or iron grates in unusual ways is the beauty of the salvage garden.

"If you've always seen something on the side of a building, why not have it in your garden?" he says.

American Antiques in Orlando, Fla., specializes in wrought iron collectibles and what co-owner Sharon Swan calls "early attic." Customers can pick through her hefty collection of salvaged gates, fences, door panels and accessory pieces. Her partner, Tom Winterer, also designs and repairs ornamental ironwork. Many times, she says, customers are inspired by something they've seen in a magazine or just "want something for their gardens that no one else has."

One customer bought an old iron crib and created a "flowerbed." Among Winterer's many home-garden projects is a gazebo he built at their home from decorative scrap iron and reclaimed pavers.

Monte Livermore of Bocelli Inc. in Winter Park, Fla., offers inspiration.

He specializes in high-end design and placement of garden ornaments. For salvage-garden projects, he has used ironwork gates as trellises or hung decorative metalwork on walls as pieces of art. Fountains have been created from hand-turned Grecian urns and glazed-ceramic vessels.

"I try my best to get a feel for the style of the house and use what's appropriate for the architecture," Livermore says. If a salvaged piece can't be found, "there's always the world of reproductions."

At Great Stuff by Paul in Frederick, manager Kelle Bowers says about 15 percent of their garden items are reproductions, most of which are pottery. Many pieces whose original use was functional become decorative in the salvage garden. Decorative items can also be functional.

Old German goat carts are one of the most popular items in the store, used mainly as large planters in customer's gardens. Decorative moldings find their place in the salvage garden as bases for birdbaths and sundials. The store imports items from Canada, Mexico and China to use in display ideas in the showroom.

Bowers says it is helpful to see how pieces can be used in new ways to understand how to incorporate them into a home garden. Their showroom presents Mexican sugar molds as sturdy outdoor candleholders and Canadian sap buckets in a container garden design.

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