Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and many retailers who normally don’t feature gardening products have potted flowering plants and other quasi-gardening gifts prominently displayed. I thought I’d take the opposite tack and share with you my favorite non-gardening garden “thingies.” Most of them don’t qualify as tools. Some of them, quite frankly, would look like garbage to most people, and I am always a bit anxious that some of my favorites might be thrown out by mistake.
I first learned about insulation supports from a tip in an early issue of Fine Gardening. These pieces of medium gauge wire all cut to the same length are excellent for pinning down recalcitrant soaker hoses, you know, those porous hoses made out of recycled tires. When you first get one of those hoses out of its package, it wants to coil back up on you. Bend one of these wires into a U-shape, turn the “U” upside down and pin the hose down wherever it wants to wriggle out of your intended layout. They are also good for pegging permanent id labels into the soil.
I use those insulation supports with orange flagging tape to mark certain plants that I might not find otherwise. These are usually trilliums that I have planted in the Secret Garden. Since they are planted among a lot of naturally growing vegetation, I am never quite sure where they are, but always quite anxious to know if they made it through another winter.
I also tie a big ribbon of this tape around the base of clumps of daffodils that need dividing. The best time to divide daffodils is shortly before the foliage disappears completely. This can be akin to playing chicken with the weather. One week the leaves are still there, but all it takes is a couple of days of hot, dry weather and the leaves go from yellow and limp to brown and crispy. They can be awfully hard to find in that condition amongst lustily growing perennials, but the flagging tape will draw your eye to the fast-disappearing bulbs.
The tape is also good for marking new trails in the woods. Tie some around the trunk of a tree at eye level. Tie a bow and put the bow on the side of the tree that you want the path to take. Tie the next one within sight distance of the previous one. Continue marking the trail in that fashion until the end. You and your helpers will have a better idea of where the brush should be cleared with those visual guides in place. And if you tie the same kind of bow as you do your shoelaces, a simple tug should release the tape when it’s no longer needed.
Replacement tent pegs are another useful marking device. Last spring, I decided I needed a row of Glory-of-the-Snow sandwiched in between some miniature daffodils and some pink multiflora hyacinths. I used these bright tent pegs pushed almost all the way into the soil to mark the beginning and end of the row, and was able to plant the chionodoxa last fall without disturbing the other bulbs.
I also mark certain plants that are late to emerge in the spring. The presence of a tent peg warns me that I better not dig there, even if I can’t remember what’s planted there. Once the slow-starter is up, I pull the tent peg.
These tent pegs also come in handy when you need to mark a straight line such as for a path or a border edge. Place them at strategic points and run string from peg to peg as a guide for your spade to follow. Check in the sporting goods department of your favorite discount store for these.
A very small spoon with a long handle, the kind that is used to feed babies their first pureed vegetables, makes a wonderful miniature trowel for potting on delicate seedlings. It can scoop up the little root ball without disturbing the other seedlings in the pot, and the back of the spoon can tamp the soil around the newly transplanted baby. Try to avoid the kind with the “safety” coating, pictured on top, as it’s not nearly as effective.
Grated Cheese Container
Hard cheeses such as Parmesan are often sold pre-grated in 8 ounce containers such the one pictured. Fill it part way with sandbox sand (which is whiter than builder’s sand) as I have done here, and then mix in seed that you want to broadcast in a random fashion, such as peony-flowered poppies. The lid to this container has holes that allow you to shake the seed out in a somewhat controlled fashion, and the whiteness of the sand against the dark earth enables you to see where you have already sprinkled it. To get one of these, you have to buy the pre-grated cheese, or know someone who does, and ask them to save you their empty container.
Empty feed bag
I keep an empty feed bag with my trowel to use a mini tarp. When I am digging a small hole I like to pile the dirt on the feed bag. This makes it easier to get all the dirt back in the hole around the roots of the newly planted start. If you click on the image on the right, you will see that these feed bags are made of woven strips of plastic. Any similar bag or sack will do. I have seen black oil sunflower seeds sold in the same kind of sacks.
When planting a newly tilled garden bed, the last thing you want is to step on the soil and pack down the earth you just worked so hard to loosen up. A small board to stand on is a time-honored way to avoid this. This plywood scrap measures 21″ (53 cm) by 13.5″ (34 cm), the perfect length to fit between the wheels of my tool cart. If I didn’t keep it with the rest of my garden tools, another member of the family would soon find their own use for it. You can’t be too careful; someone is always ready to steal or throw out your favorite junk.
One Person’s Junk is a Gardener’s Treasure
As you can see, there’s a reason why no one would give me these things. I wasn’t kidding: some of these things really are trash under normal circumstances, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss your chance to acquire a useful garden accessory. As for the things that can be bought, none of them would be a suitable gardening gift for one of the official gift-giving occasions. However, under more informal circumstances they can still be used to show how thoughtful you are. It’s all in the presentation. For example, don’t ever think insulation supports would make a good birthday gift. (Well, maybe a gag gift.) But if you come home from a round of errands and say, “You know how you’ve been having so much trouble getting that soaker hose to lay flat? Well, I happened to see these when I was in the hardware store, and thought they might be useful for pinning the hose down.” Score! You have just demonstrated to your favorite gardener that you are both ingenious and thoughtful. And you didn’t even have to wrap it!
Tell me about your favorite junk
What incredibly useful junk do you have in your garden shed? What common (or not so common) item have you put to better use in the garden? Come out of the closet with your favorites, and share them in the comments.