At first glance I thought it was a landscaping rock. Then I saw the three perfectly round holes and realized that the object nestled artfully into my neighbor’s landscape was a well-worn bowling ball. Somehow it worked, and it made me smile. I thought it was a fun way to reuse something that otherwise might end up in the landfill.


There are a few other repurposed household items in gardens in my neighborhood: a brass headboard turned trellis on a terraced hillside, the mobile planter by the bus stop formed by filling an old-fashioned bicycle’s front basket with a cascade of bright blooms. They’ve been in place for several years now, and I've seen several imitators since then, but when I first saw them I thought they were so unexpected, fun and quirky.

So when is your attic castoff a garden find and when does it just look like junk that you didn’t quite get all the way to the curb? Like shabby chic interiors, there’s always the danger that it looks shabby without the chic.

As with interiors, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.    Cleanliness matters even more when the decor looks well-worn. Then it looks well-loved, not like you live in squalor. The corollary for gardening: Make sure to keep your weeds in check so it doesn’t look like an overgrown junk yard. (This is one of the biggest reasons I've never ventured into using repurposed items; my weeds are too healthy.)

2.    Giving an item a fresh coat of paint provides you the old-fashioned or off-beat look without looking ratty. Plus, using weather-appropriate paint helps the item last longer out in the elements.

3.    Let one, big, dramatic focal item draw the eye. Group smaller, similar items together for bigger impact.

4.    Love it or lose it. Just like when you’re trying to decide on that flea market find, just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s underpriced. If you like the effect of your repurposed find, it’s a treasure; otherwise it’s just clutter.

5.   Consider whether an object blends with the style of its surroundings. A "found" item is more likely to incorporate well into a cottage-style or more naturalized environment than in a formal space.

Here’s a link to some ideas:

What items have you repurposed in your garden or seen in other gardens? And where do you stand on the junk vs. art question? What crosses the line for you? Pink flamingos? Gnomes? The bent-over old lady gardening ornament?