Garbage Pickin’ and Other Cheap Garden Stuff


It is a good time of year. We can very nearly say with almost sort-of, closing in on possible certainty that there will be no more snow for a good 6 or 7 months, the plant sales are in full swing, the plant-specific festivals are rockin’ it HARD olde school (emphasis on olde), and people are cleaning the crap out of their sheds and basements. And that crap, dear reader, may very well end up as my crap.

Last Saturday was the annual Parkdale Horticultural Society Plant Sale or what I like to call, you better get there early and you had better lace those fightin’ shoes up extra tight and be ready to kick major butt cause those gardeners are tougher than you’d expect! And they are very serious about their sale plants. And to be honest I am very nearly choking on the word “sale” as I type this because while some plants were indeed sold at below market cost (as you shall see from my awesome scores below), I spotted a number of plants that were priced higher than plants I have seen at bourgeois garden stores. NICE TRY Parkdale Horticultural Society members. Sure the money collected from the sale goes towards altruistic endeavors, supporting local gardens and feeding starving children and saving the world or whatever but you can’t make me spend $3 a piece on your repotted strawberry offsets or your they’re-native-therefore-worthy-of-a-big-markup plants.

I’ve been attending this thing for years now and there are always one or two surreal moments in that community center gym that make me stop and ask myself, “Who are you?” My inner voice sounds exactly like Brenda Walsh when I say it. [Okay, pause for a moment. Now Davin and I are arguing about who said that. He thinks it was Kelly to Brenda and I think it was Brenda to Brandon.] Like those few seconds when I was stuck in the crowd, pushing my way in slow motion through a sea of bodies and carts towards the Shady Perennials Table feeling like an early eighties mom fighting for the last 5 Cabbage Patch Kids. And then by the time I reached the table all that was left was the not-so-cute one with a weird name like Geneva Mary Rose or Mercedes Brandi Lynn.

Despite the chaos I managed to walk away with some pretty good scores and what’s more there was still a dollar or two left in my wallet. It was so busy in there this year, and with no must-haves or a list for that matter, I abandoned a lot of my usual strategy and headed for the Used Garden Stuff Table much earlier than scheduled. And who knew, but there was actually a lot of good, cheap stuff worth buying! I usually focus so hard on plants that the stuff table is very near empty by the time I reach it sporting nothing but an ugly basket and a handful of really banal garden art. Here’s what I got this year:


In the Category of Used Garden Stuff…

  • A Heating Mat – I don’t really need another mat but it was only 4 bucks. I am yet to plug it in to see if it actually works. I have a small fear of used electrical items and have a long history of persuading others to initiate that first plug-in. Hmm…. I guess that kind-of makes me a total jerk who values my own life over that of my friends.
  • Vintage Egg Collecting Basket – Also something like 2 or 3 bucks. I’m going to use it to collect produce from my community plot. So I can strut through the neighborhood showing off my harvest like a primadonna.
  • Square Metal Container – $1
  • Old Metal Watering Can – $3 This item was originally unmarked. My inquiry sparked a conversation about Martha Stewart with the ladies at the table. One woman suggested that if I slap a coat of fresh paint on it and plant it up Martha would be proud. I disagreed and said that Martha would prefer that I leave it as-is therefore honoring the aged patina.
  • In the Category of Living Plant Materials…

  • Jerusalem Artichoke – 3 pots for $2 each. Total impulse buy.
  • Bloody Dock – $2 each. I have one at my community plot that I put in last year but couldn’t resist two more. They’re pretty!
  • Heuchera – I forget which type but one of the purples.
  • Siberian iris – Purple flowers.
  • Dianthus – 2 at $2 each. Pink flowers, I think.
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Giganteus’ – $3. Seriously. 3 BUCKS! I told myself I was only going to put in native grasses from here on out but then the whole painted wall incident forced my hand. This grass grows to be about 12 feet tall with stalks that are as hard and thick as a thin bamboo. Crazy.
  • Euphorbia tortilis – I got this one for Davin. In order to retrieve this plant I had to push my way into a dead end and then fight my way back out again while the prickly thing repeatedly came unearthed scratching my hands up. By the third time Davin was getting that plant whether he wanted it or not.
  • Sarracenia purpurea – FLOWERING! I bought this one from the vendors room.

Recent Garbage Pickings


On Tuesday afternoon, while out for a walk to run errands and take pictures of plants (I am the queen of multitasking) I happened upon a pile of crap strewn about a lawn in the usual way (albeit minus a helpful sign) signifying, I have recently purged this old junk from my basement. Please take my crap! So I stopped to look, scouring the piles of scattered items quickly with my eyes hoping not to find anything therefore over encumbering myself with heavy, awkward objects that I would then have to haul all the way back to my place. Note how I look hoping not to find something. No such “luck” tis time as the former owner of these goods was obviously a gardener and the pile of stuff was mostly comprised of interesting seventies era pots. I stood my ground and left the pots where they were but could not resist picking up a large, shallow enamel basin (will make an excellent succulent garden), 3 tin dishes (perfect as pot trays), and 6 small, decorative, orange window boxes. I very nearly resisted their charm walking away twice and finally putting them in my overstuffed bag to take home. I couldn’t help imagining them filled up with chartreuse colored greens. Damn imagination!

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Seems to be from Plant World circa 1981. Something about the fact that they are “vintage ’81″ pleases me.

But the best thing, the thing I DID NOT bring home because it was WAY too big to lug and probably not worth the effort was this awesome seventies era hydroponic kitchen gardening kit.

Kitchen Garden

Believe me, I contemplated this one long and hard. In the time it took me to consider it the owner came out and we chatted about it. I got the impression he owned the house but not the stuff. Some dudes fixing up the house next door came over to ask me what was so interesting. I’m guessing they were also wondering what that crazy person was talking to herself about but were too polite to ask. In the end I decided against it because only the shell of the product remained. All of the original hydroponic gear was missing. Plus I don’t have a window or proper light in my kitchen. Admittedly my attraction was all about the box. That beautiful box. Sigh.

Kitchen Garden

Actually, when I think about it what I really wanted was the kitchen in the photo on the box. Like if somehow THAT kitchen with the amazing striped yellow wallpaper was held inside the box and I could take it home with me and open it up, magically transforming my own kitchen into a beautiful gem, hold the brass knick-knacks. And complete with a window, because oh how I crave a kitchen window.

Kitchen Garden

So I took pictures instead. Because boxes do not contain seventies era kitchen remodels and a photograph takes up an insignificant amount of space on my hard drive while a big, useless box has no place in my life.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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22 thoughts on “Garbage Pickin’ and Other Cheap Garden Stuff

  1. I love that watering can. Canadian Tire has one similar right now for $10 but it’ll take years before it has the much coveted aged patina.

  2. One unfortunate result of the “vintage” quality is that it doesn’t hold water. Not terrible since I like watering cans as containers but I now have 3 or 4 of them! Things keep breaking!

  3. Gayla,

    Every morning I start off my day by reading your blog, and I would by lying if I said that reading it didn’t make my day a little brighter. I truly enjoy your perspective on gardening and look forward to what you have to share everyday – I particularly enjoyed this post and it definitely made me chuckle. A few months ago I happened to pick up your book when I was considering the idea of planting a garden this year. I would go as far as to say that it changed my life a little bit. My garden is going nuts and I love it! There’s nothing like getting dirt under your nails to really make you appreciate what gardening can do for you. I thank you and my garden does too!

  4. A great post–I think we have the same plant-sale footwear, by the way–but where were you when I de-accessioned the 20 years of contents from my garage last fall?
    I particularly love the Martha musing of course, and knowing her she’d do as you say…respect and honor its patina…unless it was the bad kind of junk-y, in which case she’d turn it into a craft project.

  5. I have become a huge garbage picker! Living in a rental area with a high turnover means lots of great finds. This past weekend I got 4 boxes of retro Christmas ornamentes (1950ish), a retro tea cozy still in it’s original condition (1960ish) and two medium sized terracotta pots. My husband wanted to paint them but I love the aged look too!

  6. Oh so inspiring! I think you have finally given me the courage to fish out the kitty litter buckets from the community recycling bin. My neighbor’s stares be damned….

  7. Uh, not that you don’t always give me inspiration and courage, just that I have finally decided to stop being such a wimp about getting those freakin’ buckets. My comment didn’t really come out like I had planned it…hmmm. Gotta work on that.

  8. Good haul!! Love that basket!

    Plant sales can be very scary.. I dragged my friend along to the Vancouver African Violet Association sale last year, where we proceeded to be pushed and shoved and glared at by a bunch of 70+ year old women who were very serious about finding the best deals and the most rare plants.. my friend dubbed the sale the “African Violence Sale” and asked not to be invited to it again!

    PS – Congrats on the Mouse & Trowel Award. :)

  9. “African Violence Sale” – hee hee!

    Gayla – I love reading about your wanderings in your neighborhood. You really take us along for the ride!

    On the kitchen window thing, I so get your desire for a window. I also lack a window over my sink, which is what I grew up with and miss. So when we redid our kitchen a few years ago, I found a company that does fine art tile murals for things like back splashes. My kitchen sink view now consists of Van Gogh’s “Olive trees” and really, it’s almost as good as a real view (and the trees are always green!). You can see the one I have here.

  10. Hi All,
    I checked out the $9.99 Canadian Tire watering can at lunch today. Like Gayla, I have a collection of vintage watering cans that I use daily…. I have to say, the C-Tire watering can is made of very thin tin. Not at all what I would allow in my garden. I’d pay $2.99 tops for a can of that quality. I’d recommend that you all check out as many garage sales as you can to get proper heavy-duty items.
    P.S. Most of my “new” garden plants this year have come from the gardens of houses that are about to be ripped down for redevelopment. I have got hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of plants that would otherwise be plowed under and then thrown into dumptrucks.

  11. i second amanda’s sentiments! thanks for brightening the gardening world.

    question–what is the large leafed, red veined plant you got? i have something like that growing all around the garden i am starting and, for some reason, i want to think that it is something edible and delicious.

    so, i love that so many people are ignoring the looks of neighbors, etc. and reclaiming junk from the garbage…they’re just jealous that they don’t have the guts to do stuff like that!

    i also get looks (and comments) when i collect the rain from the drainpipes across our alley. i have yet to get a rain barrel set up. so when it rains, i get super excited, run to get my gear(an old oversized hooded coat, grubby shoes, and my empty milk jugs), and bee line for the flowing gutters. sometimes i go a little overboard, because that’s just more fun.

    sorry for the book. thanks for the smiles!

  12. Meighan – I loved your friend’s comment about being asked not to be invited to it (the plant sale) again. My friend wouldn’t even come in the door to this sale.

    The sake, another friend told me about, the Hort Sale here in Toronto that Gayla has written about. He insisted I get there before 11. At 1 minute to 11 I found myself along with many others at the wrong door. I was yelled at, pushed and shoved and stepped on & somehow propelled halfway into the room where I heard my name & saw another friend I hadn’t seen for a year working behind the garage sale table selling things (maybe it was her who made the Martha comment) … I walked in a little circle, immediately spent all my cash on some plants ($15) and hi-tailed it out of there with a big smile to try to find my friend about 7 minutes later – the friend I’d invited to come before 11 (she was late) when I saw her we both agreed to just keep walking away from the building … heheh Next year I’ll get there a lot earlier and I won’t try to meet up with anyone! That was just crazy and I realize now how lucky I was to even find her.

  13. Thanks everyone! I have more garbage pickins that I neglected to mention. I saw a beautiful wood box on a stroll last night but it seemed too beautiful to throw away and I figured 11pm was too late to ring the bell to inquire.

    KatieL: I believe that is the bloody dock you are referring to which is indeed edible! It is a type of sorrel.

    Alphatango: Good to know someone is rescuing those plants. I was horrified when they tore up the native plants living around the railroad tracks near here. I would have gone in and dug some up if I had known.

    Meighan: That story is great. African Violence! When I was doing the show we had planned a segment at an African Violet sale and show. I was going to enter a plant in the competition and also get a really crazy big hat to wear. I have a soft spot for the African violets and had heard the crowd is a bit ruthless.

    Jessica: Get those buckets!

    Morgan: Yes! Moving days are always a good garbage picking day. When I was a kid I lived for those special spring cleaning days when people were allowed to throw anything out and people would scour the streets in pickup trucks looking for good stuff. My best find was a stamp collection.

    Margaret: I WISH I had been there when you cleaned the garage. I bet you had some great stuff!

  14. Bre: I know! I’m not exaggerating. It was particularly nuts this year! And yeah, they hate it when you go in through the wrong door. And definitely don’t bring friends. I bring Davin to assist but you have to either tag team or go solo. It’s not a leisurely shopping trip.

    We must have just missed each other. I got there at exactly 11am and couldn’t believe the line.

  15. After reading this yesterday, I was thinking, “boy, I haven’t had a good trash score in a while” when what did I spy curbside? a MASSIVE clump of green hosta, sitting in a tray next to a trashcan (THANK YOU people for not throwing it IN the trashcan!) I snagged it with a quickness, divided and potted it, and now I have myself 12 good sized hostas! After I get them established, I think I may write a thank you note and let the thrower-outer know what a good home they landed in. :)

    p.s. bloddy dock-is that the same as red-veined sorrel? that is a FABULOUS plant!

  16. Looks like you made a great haul, Gayla. I am the same way. I go looking through things hoping I won’t find anything either. I usually end up carting something home on my back.

  17. Your blog makes me miss Toronto so much. I would LOVE to happen upon someone’s crap on their front lawn, free for the taking. Here in New Zealand, people are so thrifty that stuff gets used up until it is dust – there is no passing it off. Even the garage sales are disapointing. Garden on!

  18. Great finds, Gayla! I go trash day cruising, too, and this week scored TWO plastic 55-gl. drums for rain barrels
    I work with the local Bonsai club at our garden expo, so I have a safe place to retreat to from the mobbing throngs, but it’s like a white sale over at the MG’s sale tables.
    If that watering can has pinholes in it, you can solder them closed. I keep my friend’s “fleet” of cans going that way.

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