Reclaimed Containers

Using reclaimed wood is another way of incorporating an ethic of no-waste into your garden. The look of planter boxes built from reused wood can span the spectrum from super rustic to more chic and sleek.

One of our favorite places, Building Resources — San Francisco’s treasure trove of reused construction materials – made this box of old doors. This, obviously, falls under the “super rustic” category. Keep in mind that using large pieces of wood, just as they are, can be a good strategy because it means assembling the box is a relatively quick and simple project. Needless to say, there are tons of old doors out there that can be diverted from the landfill and creatively reused.

In a more stylish garden, it’s typically best to have only one or two really rustic elements — more than that begins to transform the design into something haphazard and messy (which is the antithesis of stylish, unless you’re into that “carefully-cultivated messy look”, of course!). Reclaimed wood still has a valid place in sleeker gardens, however.  For example, Elisa sanded and stained slender pieces of reused wood to make these container covers. The thinner wood would rot quickly if soil was placed directly in them, so instead the plants are kept in the plastic pots and just set inside the wooden boxes. The boxes are a perfect disguise: You can’t even see the ugly plastic containers.

On the [Planted] Road: Notes from Austin

A couple of months ago Elisa visited Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. Of course, amidst all the music, her eyes wandered toward creative uses of plants in small spaces. The following few posts contain a sampling of what she saw. –Katie

Contain Yourself! This is a Public Place…..


Arranging plants in containers is an easy way add more diversity to garden design. You can play with differences in height, variations in the materials and color of the container, or the idea of an instant mini-garden created by the boundaries of a pot. The rust-colored steel containers in this sidewalk strip allow the eye to pleasingly bounce through the small landscape. Moreover, sturdy containers help protect the plants. And note the plant selection as well: Succulents are great for sidewalk gardens because they hold their form and don’t require much water at all. (Contrast this to a common problem in San Francisco, in which neighbors get excited about installing and initially undertaking a sidewalk beautification project, but sometimes neglect to maintain it, leading to an overgrown mess and a magnet for trash.)


These hexagonal pillars add an artistic, sculptural element, with succulents poking out the sides like the drought-tolerant version of strawberries tumbling out of a strawberry pot. The shock of sword-like leaves crowning the top is a cool addition, as well.


These two matching but differently sized pots are a perfect example of paying attention to height to make a simple corner more interesting. With the succulents planted in the ground around them, it draws the eye to three levels, offering a sense of balance.


The Way We Roll

Planter boxes on wheels are becoming increasingly popular around café and shop entryways in the City. Have you noticed? The ultimate small spot – a container – that won’t be stolen or vandalized come nighttime, nor will prompt curse words to fly from the mouth of the person with the closing shift attempting to lug a heavy planter through the doorway. And how much cuter can you get than a Radio Flyer full of houseplants?

Or, for a more modern aesthetic, a recycled metal duct. But these are just two examples. The possibilities for moveable planters-on-wheels are pretty infinite.

Still Life with Toilet

Re-purposing decommissioned porcelain from bathrooms for use as garden planters is undoubtedly not everyone’s style. Sometimes the attempts at funkiness and kitsch, once executed, can be a little too, well, trashy and haphazard. However, this aesthetic can serve many practical purposes. In a city where theft is a constant issue (sometimes even ceramic gnomes can’t protect a junkyard garden!), toilet- and bathtub-planters present a hefty challenge to potential potted plant thieves. And of course, diverting housing materials from a slow death in a landfill is always a huge bonus. In terms of design, this Inner Richmond garden makes a small rectangle look thoughtfully put together, employing different heights and a complementary scheme of colors and textures to create a coordinated flow, almost like a still life painting. And if you plant a cactus in a old toilet, rest assured no passer-bys will attempt to use it!

Multiple Issues, One Solution

Is it possible to create a sense of privacy living on a busy San Francisco street? How can you successfully grow plants amidst a daily afternoon windstorm? What if you love the look of a Marin County meadow but are committed to City living? The answer is found in just a few planter boxes.

Separation between home and outside is achieved with a few clumps of juncus, a grass-like plant known as a “rush”. With its rounded blades, juncus also offers an organic and pretty windbreak, bending with the fog rather than getting tattered as would a more fragile species. Between natives like blue fescue and Pacific iris, and culinary favorites such as rosemary and lavender, the look is natural and subtle. It conjures visions of a wildflower-studded meadow, and causes the owner, who travels up north for the good surf, to dub the design a “Bolinas-themed garden”. Add the happy faces of orange pansies and the crepe-paper petals of Iceland poppies (plus some California poppy seeds in the soil, awaiting summer) for fun splashes of color.

Holding the entire Bolinas-themed garden together are planter boxes made by Small Spot Gardens from reclaimed redwood and cedar from Building Resources, a non-profit organization located in Bayview that’s dedicated to reusing materials in the built environment.