In the Garden with Felder: Be a Recologist!


Just made a little garden vignette that makes me and visitors smile and is a small nod towards the creative use of need-to-be-discarded throwaway stuff. Plus, I can eat part of it. 

I have been a lifelong recologist, reusing stuff through recycling and repurposing. Little things like piling up leaves where I also toss spent flowers, weeds, and kitchen scraps so they can be used later as compost. Lining walks with wine bottles and fallen limbs too big for the iron fire bowl. Making interesting garden art with junk metal and glass bottles and bowling balls. Turning tires into durable frilly, zaftig containers for free.

Eudora Welty struck a chord in the 1940s, when she described women and children fighting over tires off a wrecked car. The children needed swings, but the women wanted them for planters. 

They are, after all, as practical and safe (very sure of this) for growing flowers, veggies and herbs, and as philosophically valid and reusing half whiskey barrels, cooking kettles, and all the other stuff we can fill with soil; as Scottish poet and landscape artist Ian Hamilton Finlay put it, “Better truth to intellect, than truth to material.” By the way, you can find dozens of amazing examples of tire planters and art I have photographed worldwide by going to and type “tire planters” in the search box. 

Nothing new here, folks, just attitude. For as long as people have gardened, we’ve had home-made containers of animal skins, gourds, pottery, hollowed-out stumps and stones, old boots, pots, and pans - anything that could hold a little dirt was good. 

But there are other recyclable contenders for growing plants, as can be seen in even the most prestigious flower shows, where innovative humor garners attention and anything that can hold potting soil is fair game. I’ve seen plants growing in faded blue jeans stuffed with potting soil and set on park benches, every conceivable type of hat and helmet, opened drawers of office cabinets, concrete construction blocks, upside down umbrellas, sofas and chairs, beds, and entire walls made of plastic soda bottles and rain gutters cascading with plants. 

In my garden alone I have planted flowers, herbs, and small vegetables in shoes, boots, buckets, baskets, gloves, wagons, seashells, tin cans, an old Weber grill, and a saxophone with succulents drippling from the open bell. An all-time favorite of mine is gaily spraypainted five-gallon buckets with drainage holes drilled in the bottoms. And I plant in my great-grandmother’s porcelain pedestal sink set next to a water garden made from her antique claw-foot bathtub. Oh, and an enamel chamber pot that had been discarded up under the house because it had a rusty hole in it (planted with petunias of course. Think about it). 

My latest, which I finished last week, is a tight group of favorite culinary herbs I actually use: Upright rosemary and basil, cascading thyme and oregano, bright green parsley, colorful kale and Swiss chard, and edible violas.  

Difference is, I planted it all in Granny’s old, red-rimmed kitchen wash pot. And in a double-recycled twist I discovered it fits perfectly in an old wooden ladderback chair that long ago had its woven seat worn thorough. 

You think this is extreme? Maybe. But I call it “making do” and am unrepentant. And I’m not alone, as this has become quite chic, especially among folks with kids needing a catchy garden project. If you have planted even a single something cherishable that was made out of something recycled, then you are one of us. 

Be proud to be a recycling reusing repurposing recologist!

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to