Felder Rushing: When it comes to plant, sometimes the wackier the better

Published 3:15 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

While a lot of my job is to share interesting garden techniques and “how-to” information, sometimes I’m asked for help with interpersonal or social issues.

Happened just the other day after a library lecture when an attendee begged me to arbitrate a marital dispute by writing about the uncouthness of planting flowers in the front yard…in a toilet. It was a lose-lose situation for everyone including me.

Instead, I ruminated on ingenious recycled containers I’ve encountered over my long career, in home and fancy botanic gardens and prestigious flower shows where innovative humor can garner attention. And the wackier the container, the more effective it can be.

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I’ve seen plants growing in faded blue jeans stuffed with potting soil and set on park benches. And in every conceivable type of hat and helmet, and opened drawers of office cabinets, concrete construction blocks, upside down umbrellas, sofas and chairs, beds, and entire walls made of plastic soda bottles cascading with plants. Anything that holds potting soil and has drainage holes is fair game.

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 cascading from the open keys. An all-time favorite of mine is gaily-spray painted five-gallon buckets with drainage holes drilled in the bottoms.

And I cannot for the life of me see the philosophical difference between planting in a recycled half whisky barrel and an inverted car or truck tire. And no, there is no significant health risk in growing vegetables in the latter.

I grow herbs in both a large galvanized horse water trough and one of my granny’s old kitchen wash pots. And in an antique pedestal sink and claw-foot bathtub from my great-grandmother’s house. Oh, and a porcelain 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).

So, once past the “ew” factor, why not a toilet? I can show you photos of many I’ve encountered in gardens across five continents, even in England. Granted, they were more joke than anything, but to avoid bruising the delicate sensibilities of some dear readers, I won’t include a photo. Suffice to say, they are surprisingly common.

But, not-so-surprisingly, more than anywhere else I see them in children’s garden areas of even very upscale botanic gardens, including the ones in Memphis, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Their clear message almost always has to do with recycling, and they are usually part of an overall bathroom scene with sinks, bathtubs, and even partly-open mirrored medicine cabinets hung on the walls.

One summer when I was presenting a lecture at a water conservation conference in San Antonio, Texas, I was invited to be the judge of a display of toilet gardens put together by local celebrities including a popular TV weatherman and the extension horticulture agent. The lighthearted competition was designed to highlight the phasing out of old water guzzling type toilets. There were some hilarious ones, but the one I liked the most had a colorful blend of tomato and pepper plants, lettuce, Swiss chard, and herbs; it was called, appropriately, “the salad bowl.”

So, not being much on marital guidance, I deflected. Actually made things worse with my tip for anyone wanting to give this a go: Because displaying just one planted toilet nearly always comes across poorly, the trick is to use three or more.

Other words, if you’re going to be tacky with recycled planting containers, really ramp it up!

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