What does a yard sale have to do with container gardening? Other than the occasional used tool, one would think not much. But look closer. The various containers, perhaps those from the 1950s and even tiny statuettes, make up the ingredients for one-of-a-kind plant containers.

Usually, the plants themselves stand as the focal point of any container garden. Even then, the same old ho-hum containers practically yell for something more exciting, more interesting.

Sure, there is a point that the prudent gardener dares not cross. Modern additions, plastic, made in China, don’t have a place in any tastefully arranged container. That’s like putting pink flamingos in an estate garden. All the same, there are glass, clay and porcelain figures that fit right in with a modern container garden.

None of this would have occurred to me but for my friend Muriel and her contributions to our church’s annual plant sale. Muriel makes the most interesting container gardens I’ve ever seen, and she does it mostly by digging and dividing herbs and perennials from her own gardens and tastefully arranging them in period containers. Muriel always tops off her works of art with a few sundry items both obvious and nearly concealed.

No Limit

As I study Muriel’s containers, I see that there is really no limit on what to use or how to use it. If there is any rule at all, it is don’t use tacky stuff. Instead, strive for add-ons that are unique, obsolete, or just plain scarce. This can be anything. For instance, one of Muriel’s containers has, tucked away among the plants, a barely visible, tiny hare. It doesn’t just jump right out at you. You have to look twice to see it.
Conversely, one of her container arrangements has an old-fashioned saucer propped up in the back, halfway sunk in the soil. This foil draws attention first to itself then leads the eye to the other wonders of the arrangement.

Muriel arrangement —note the pottery butterfly in back.

The containers themselves can also be almost anything. An old metal pitcher, with a coat of light green paint so faded that it looks like the verdigris that forms on copper, stands as a container for some vining mint. Another looks like a miniature version of the old oval washtubs seen in country homes. A good number of Muriel’s containers are old porcelain, each one individually handcrafted by some long-ago, unnamed artist.

Clearly, my friend Muriel has an eye for putting interesting container gardens together. That doesn’t mean that you can’t, or I can’t. Just remember, it’s like cottage gardening on a small scale. Anything goes and while symmetry is nice, it isn’t mandatory.

Container Shopping

Something unique to this kind of shopping is you can’t just go to the store and buy your materials new. You must search for them in the bins, shelves and racks of second-hand stores, yard sales and indeed any old place that offers used household items. The hunt itself has its own pleasures and when that special item grabs your attention it’s a banner day. You may find everything you need in one location. Or you may not.

Muriel’s arrangement.

Sometimes one of those perennial yard sales, you know the kind I’m talking about, is laden with choice items for your container gardens. These places are scattered throughout Maine. There is one just down the road from me.

Also, don’t overlook church sales. It’s amazing the number of wicked good items church people can drum up for yard sales. While not all churches host yard sales, a great many of them do, so check out the classified ads in the newspaper and watch for roadside signs announcing yard sales.

While not everyone can avail themselves of the next source of materials, old dumps often hold the most unexpected treasures. You must secure permission to dig on private property, but if you can land it, some great finds may await you.

Container Uses

These eclectic container gardens have unlimited uses. While not exactly suitable for in-garden use, they can fill any available niche, indoors and out. Windowsills come immediately to mind. Succulents, long-lived plants that don’t require very much water, do very well on windowsills. All you need, besides the plants, is an attractive container. If the container is a one-of-a-kind, you don’t even need the add-ons since the container becomes the focal point of viewers’ attention.

In time, your container plants will outgrow the container. At this point, instead of looking for a bigger container, either plant them outside in a suitable location or pot them up and give them to friends.
Any way you look at it, these unique containers have a place in every home and garden.

Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.

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