Using reclaimed materials in the garden

Tips to help you enjoy a new career as a rescuer of “experienced” building material and plants.

Credit: Ted Mills

How you too can find garden treasures

Say “salvage” and most people think of sunken galleons and Spanish doubloons, but to a gardener real treasure-trove often lies in the neighbour’s rubbish pile.

To become a successful salvager, learn to see value where others may not. For example, a friend looked with dismay at a pile of old sliding glass doors left after his renovation. To him, they represented further costs to hire disposal experts. To me, they were the tempered 1/4-inch plate-glass roof of a greenhouse, so I did my friend a “favour” by taking charge of this debris.

This kind of free or low-cost material is everywhere if you are on the alert for it. And, naturally, by finding a use for other people’s discards, you are practicing those all-important three Rs of recycling and benefiting the environment.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy a new career as a rescuer of “experienced” building material and plants:

1. Look around your neighbourhood. One gardener noticed that neighbours had a greenhouse they were using only for wood storage. She popped a note in their mailbox, offering to dismantle and move the structure. The neighbours, non-gardeners, were happy to have it gone and the gardener acquired a perfectly fine greenhouse for the price of some effort and $60 for a new floor.

2. Actively watch for demolition signs as you drive around. Ask to speak to the supervisor. Most will let you take away or buy cheaply old tiles, brick, pipes or interesting plant material. Keep a shovel and a tarp in the trunk of the car so that you can dig up plant material on the spot.

3. Check regularly in your local newspaper classified section under “Building Supplies” as another way to find demolition sites. Ties Rubingh acquired a 150-foot split-rail fence for almost nothing from one site, along with a mature heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) for $5, which would otherwise have been bulldozed to clear the way for condos.

4. Use your gardening network. Two members of my garden club built a new gazebo and floored it with interlocking brick, only to discover that they were short 200 and the brick was no longer manufactured. A “Help – Bricks Needed” ad in the club’s monthly newsletter connected them with another member who had just what they were looking for – neatly stacked and waiting for disposal!

5. Identify someone with a light truck that you could borrow on occasion. Just remember to return the truck clean and gassed up.