Recycled Garden Art: Green Transformations

See how to turn landfill candidates into beautiful creations for your yard.
bedspring art

bedspring art

Photo by: Image courtesy of Doug Yaney, www.yanzum.com

Image courtesy of Doug Yaney, www.yanzum.com

The next time you decide to clean out your basement, attic or garage, think twice about discarding anything you classify as junk. You might be sitting on a gold mine of recycleable material that could enjoy a second life as garden art or serve a useful function in your home or yard.

For inspiration, you should consider the examples set by Douglas Yaney of Yanzum Gardens in Florida who has found creative solutions and endless possibilities in his home and yard for discarded materials and found objects. Glass, tile, broken plates, pipes, bathroom fixtures, plastic, tree trunks, toys, concrete, plaster figurines, bamboo, door and window frames, furniture, bed springs and even bowling balls becomes objects of awe and unusual beauty in Yaney's garden where he lets his imagination run wild. You can join in the fun too by applying his eco-friendly approach to items once thought suitable only for landfills or the junk pile.

Some of the amazing creations, both past and present, in Yaney's garden have included an exotic bird with yellow plumage constructed from scrap metal, a garden table made from leftover concrete mixed with glass and stones for color and legs fashioned from oak tree limbs, found objects from friends that became part of his garden aesthetic such as a discarded clay sculpture of Buddha, a wooden snail created from scrap lumber, and a repurposed claw foot bathtub painted red as a flower bed centerpiece.

While remodeling his bathroom, Yaney created an elaborate mosaic octopus design from discarded tiles. "Shortly after I moved here," he says, "I helped my sister remodel her kitchen. The yellow tiles were the backsplash around her window. I saved them and used them when making the octopus. The other tiles were from a large quantity of tile samples from a nearby flooring place." He would go there "to dumpster dive for carpet to use to block weeds. The owner asked if I wanted the huge stack of tiles. I took them all. I used colors that worked together in the bathroom, breaking them when necessary since I didn't have a tile saw at that time. I filled in small gaps with river rocks and clear marbles from the Dollar Tree."

Several of the recycleable items in Yaney's yard are constantly evolving in their appearance due to a slow deterioration over time, compounded by weather and the biodegradable nature of the materials. "They basically went back to Mother Nature by rusting or decaying," he notes. "There is such beauty in decay. I love old logs that rot away as they grow moss and lichens. I used to own some land near Suches [Georgia] in the mountains. It had a wonderful mountainside area filled with ancient moss covered logs. It was like a wonderland of natural beauty."

Yaney's use of broken terra cotta for a garden path is another innovative idea and also serves as a homage to a departed friend. "The tiles came from Mary Gardner Youngblood's front porch," Yaney explained. "After she died, the house was sold to a young couple who completely re-modeled it for resale. When they tore up the front porch floor, it was in a pile of rubble, so I asked if I could have it. It reminds me of Mary every time I walk over it. So much of my garden is like that because it's filled with things that remind me of friends past and present."

Yaney is just one of several recycling pioneers in our midst. Matthew Levesque, the program director at Building REsources in San Francisco, is recycling on a much broader scale and is a local hero in his town. His not-for-profit organization is dedicated to providing the community with low cost, high quality materials for building purposes and features over one and a half acres of reusable and re-manufactured building and landscaping materials. All of his holdings come from donations and his list of items that can be recycled is staggering: bathtubs, bricks, cabinetry, hardware, lighting, molding, siding, tools, vinyl, urinals and a whole lot more. The only items that Building REsources doesn't accept is a short list that includes aluminum windows, upholstered furniture, particle board and, of course, hazardous or dangerous materials.

Like Yaney, Levesque has found creative and decorative uses for the most unlikely materials such as heavy communications cable. "I was using it to make stepping stone like sections set in to a decomposed granite path," he states. "The installation was done at Sunset Magazine in their test gardens.The ends were made smooth by pounding them into the DG with a 2x4. When installed it looked like squares of sushi set into the path."

Levesque also operates The Red Shovel Glass Company, a non-profit side project of Building REsources, that produces tumbled glass and ceramic products made from 100 percent recycled materials. "We produce a line of seven colors and materials including the tumbled terra cotta and a tumbled ceramic line made from discarded dishware," Levesque said. "Red Shovel was developed to find or create markets for materials that had low to no recycling value. From its inception it has been a real opportunity for us to build bridges between what was perceived as a building materials center and the gardening community. This is something I am personally committed to doing. Outside of Building REsources and Red Shovel, I have been teaching workshops all over the West Coast on integrating locally used materials into the landscape. To further that goal I wrote The Revolutionary Yardscape, published by Timber Press."

If you don't feel inspired to repurpose unwanted items and materials you have accumulated, there are other alternatives besides consigning them to a landfill. You might want to check out Freecycle.org, which offers an online registry for members and groups who offer and receive free items for recycling.