Save Money: Use Salvaged Landscaping Materials

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Starting plants from seeds, digging your own flowerbeds, laying brick for a patio: Lots of DIY projects help you save money and trim your landscaping budget, but hardscape materials can often be pricey. Fortunately, if you use salvaged landscaping materials you can dress up a yard and lighten the load on your pocketbook, too. Sue Whitney, owner of Junkmarket and editor-in-chief of Decorating Junkmarket Style (, shows you how.

BHG: So besides saving money, what do you love most about using salvaged landscaping materials — aka “junk” — in the yard?

SW: The biggest thing for me is, you are going to get your own style if you use salvaged landscaping materials. Anyone can walk into a store and pick up things that are mass-produced — but they look like everybody else. And there’s a recycling aspect, too. So much of what you can use in an outdoor landscape would end up in a landfill. Outside, these beautifully weathered pieces get better with age.

BHG: Many people naturally assume that if you use salvaged landscaping materials, you have to have flea market style — but that’s not the case, right?

SW: Many people assume that you can only get salvage at a flea market, but there are so many places you can find materials. And it couldn’t be further from the truth that it has to be only country or cottage style. Using junk can lend itself to a contemporary or modern landscape, too. You’re not trying to create something that looks junky, and there is such a thing as overdoing stuff. Pick focal points first, and then drop in accessory pieces, but make sure it works with what you are planting, too. Your garden has to play well off the pieces you use.

BHG: One of the most popular places to use salvaged landscaping materials to save money is containers. What are some nontraditional containers that will help save money?

SW: An architectural salvage store is a good place to start, and used restaurant supplies work well, too. For example, there are big mixing bowls that are used for pastries, and they’re already on casters. As an outdoor container, they are fabulous: Drill a few holes in the bottom and you’re done. I always repurpose but have a purpose in mind. It has to be functional.

Businesses that are shutting down are great sources, too. I’ve found old movie reels and cases that had a nice patina with stamping on them. I’ve cut them in half and used them as containers, or drilled holes and hung them. Or you can line several of them up underneath a window for a window box.

BHG: Even if you have a purpose in mind, you manage to keep things flexible when using salvaged landscaping materials. Can you give an example?

SW: I’m always thinking about different ways I can use items. For example, if you have a mixing bowl on casters and get tired of using it as a planter, take the plants out, and reuse it as an ice bucket for a party. Or take it inside and put glass on it for a side table. The point is to make sure your junk won’t end up in your own garage sale.

BHG: You mentioned movie reels for window boxes. What are some other ways to use salvaged landscaping materials for a window box and save money on pricey, premade items?

SW: One thing that I’ve noticed is that junk is indigenous. For example, I’m from Minnesota, and there is a lot of farm junk here. And when you say window box, everyone thinks it has to be a box — but it doesn’t. There are a lot of calf pails up here with handles on them, and you can build a wooden bracket and hang them right off that underneath a window.

You can do that with metal baskets of any kind or square milk crates cut in half, as long as they aren’t too deep: Line them with moss or a mat and plant them and they become very textural. Different textures rather than just flat lines are really interesting to look at. And if you have more than one window and you can’t find the same thing, mix and match. I always say junk just has to play well together in the sandbox, and if it doesn’t match, there is much more interest.

BHG: Seating seems like another opportunity to use salvaged landscaping materials to save money. Can you offer any suggestions?

SW: So many things are fun to use when making benches. For example, no one knows what to do with theater seating, but you can repaint it, make cushions with outdoor fabric, and create fun seating. Benches are also good to elevate containers in the garden. Or, take a series of buckets, turn them upside down, and screw some reclaimed wood on the top for an outdoor bench.

BHG: What are some examples of salvaged materials that can be used as little accents in the landscape to save money?

SW: Hose guards are great to edge your flowerbeds, so take old spools and top them with doorknobs or something metal that can be attached to a thick rod with an epoxy product. Shovel heads and rake heads are nice as edging. I don’t think edging should stick out, so I tuck in pieces that become part of the garden.

BHG: How do you integrate salvaged materials into larger hardscape elements in the garden to save money?

SW: Bigger pieces are great because you can turn them into something beautiful that you can look at during the winter months, too. Old doors, for example, are amazing, as are things like old elevator gates. I took one and planted it in the ground and now have flowers growing up it. It has a reclaimed bench in front of it and makes a statement, but it doesn’t scream at you. I’ve built pergolas out of old windows. A big galvanized barrel filled with sand that holds a sun umbrella never tips over due to wind. The thing is, you can’t be afraid of using tools!

You’ll never hear me say that everything should be old. When you use salvaged landscaping materials, it’s all about how to combine new with old, so you have to take a look at the piece and think about how it will work. I only buy things I truly love, because if you love it, you will use it. If you are on the fence, don’t buy it.

Save even more by building your own raised bed.

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