It’s been a long dark winter, but spring is finally here. As the trees begin to bud, the chirping birds return, and the longer days beckon us outdoors, a well-planned and well-designed garden can provide a welcomed haven. I’m not necessarily referring to formal gardens with their closely-clipped lawns and neatly arranged flower beds snuggling up to contrived paths. This is about those gardens that challenge the “usual” by incorporating vintage items used in new and creative ways.
Garden staples like planters, benches, fences, statuary, gnomes, wheelbarrows and vintage buckets have always been contenders, but that’s just the beginning. How about a vintage two-wheeler sprayed white, and adorned with colorful potted flowers, like crimson impatiens or sunny yellow marigolds that hang from the handlebars, while a ground creeper like ivy wends its way through the tire spokes?
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider those “I can’t just throw them away…I’ll use them someday” items, that clutter the garage, attic, or basement. Attractive old wine bottles, rusty tools, plates from grandma’s old set of dishes, and even that vintage chipped sink you couldn’t bear to part with when you remodeled your bathroom are potential garden treasures. Imagine that old sink filled with your favorite blooms, or as a birdbath for your feathered visitors. And, that chipped and rusted iron headboard you hid behind the furnace in the basement can be placed against a fence to support vining plants like tomatoes or cucumbers.
When planning your garden this season, free your creative side…virtually nothing is off limits. Today’s decorating possibilities have evolved way beyond worn out tires, watering cans, wagon wheels, and old baskets! You could use a wrought iron sewing machine base as a planter, or those vintage brass doorknobs and bent spoons as hooks for hanging plants, or even that old enamel colander for those finicky plants that require good drainage. How about converting an old nightstand by spray painting it, using the open drawers as a planter, and the top to display your favorite collectibles? You might want to convert those dusty mason jars and old Christmas lights into garden fixtures, or even reimagine that vintage chrome car bumper as an “object d’art” to add life to a shady corner.
Beautiful gardens have always been a part of our history. From the Garden of Eden to the Greco-Roman ideals of scrupulously planned sanctuaries. Indeed, it was the Romans who created the earliest, formalized outdoor spaces that incorporated many of the garden enhancements we still rely on today. It was also the Romans who first defined the difference between agriculture and horticulture and the idea of clearly defined gardens surrounded by fences, walls, or hedges. Additionally, those gardens were attached to private homes, public spaces, shops and inns. The Romans were probably the first culture to consider gardens as essential extensions to their houses, where they grew both ornamental and food crops. The ancient architecture and garden plantings complimented each other. Statuary, urns, walkways, reflecting pools, columns, gazebos, and pergolas were common adornments, and strategically placed among the neatly trimmed hedges and thoughtfully laid out plantings.
These Roman standards still dominate today’s gardening practices. However, the ancient landscapers were limited to those materials obtained from naturally available resources. Today, we are familiar with items produced during and after the Industrial Revolution (18th-19th centuries), like man-made plastics, first developed in 1862 by Alexander Parkes, and the humble tin can, patented in 1810. Sewing machines, early light bulbs, gaslight fixtures, and other antique and vintage items can still be acquired, but if you include the “vintage” goodies from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and even the 70’s that are gathering dust in your attic or residing at the local thrift shop, then there is an almost endless supply of items to fuel your imagination. Of course, bird
baths, benches, tables and chairs, trellises, flower bed edgings, fences, and sundials will never lose their appeal, but that doesn’t mean they can’t comfortably share garden space with your newly-created vintage additions. Imagine slipping an old freshly painted metal mailbox on a post into a flower bed and filling it with cascading creeping thyme that perfumes the air with its herbal fragrance.
So, even if you don’t have your own treasure trove of gardening possibilities in your basement or attic, online sources like Ebay and Facebook, or local thrift stores, antique shops, and summer yard sales are overflowing with vintage items waiting for your creative ideas. The only limitation is your imagination!