Thrifty Ugly Bucket Camo

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

The discussion around inexpensive containers for indeterminate tomato plants in a recent post has brought up a good point regarding how to conceal the clinical blandness of food industry buckets. The conversation in that post reminded me of a brilliant camouflage technique I discovered on a Saturday walk through my own neighbourhood a few years ago. I have shown this image during several presentations yet it did not occur to me to share it here. I’m not sure who the gardener/designer is although I’m fairly certain it is connected to the small restaurant that is located at this intersection. Whomever they are, what they have done to transform this corner with very little money is brilliant. The tomato plants seen in the foreground are growing in your average industrial food industry bucket but has been concealed using cheap bamboo blinds.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Putting something like this together is incredibly easy and very nearly free. The blinds are cut to size, wrapped around the container, and secured in place by wrapping string around everything and tying a knot. Try securing with wire first and then covering it up with string if you’re concerned the twine won’t hold on its own. Jute is a very affordable but weak string. It can be replaced with a stronger twine made of cotton or sisal. All kinds of decorative options are available in abundance in the curbside economy. Replace bamboo curtains with wood curtains, grass beach mats or any combination of discarded natural fibre rugs, mats, or blinds.

These materials will probably only last a year outdoors but at least you have given them another year of life out of the landfill. By the end of the year they may even be weathered enough to break into bits and put into the compost bin.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Another trick I employ when I can’t find anything to disguise ugly containers is to surround them with prettier pots. Organize larger, utilitarian buckets and garbage bins at the back of the arrangement, placing smaller, decorative pots with attractive plantings of pretty flowers and brightly coloured heirloom veggies in front. If the smaller pots are too short raise them up using larger decorative pots turned upside down as props. Make shelves out of bricks and discarded pieces of wood and then disguise that layer behind a lower tier comprised of smaller pots that sit on the ground. This tactic can be a little bit labour-intensive over the course of a growing season since it requires rearranging as the plants expand and grow. But containers generally require rearrangement for this reason regardless.

The fluidity and possibility for change that comes with container gardening is a positive that big money designers use to their advantage. While most of us can’t afford to swap out expensive containers for new expensive containers on a whim, with a little ingenuity and creativity any of us can fancify ugly buckets or simply rearrange pots to improve the overall look of our container gardeners.

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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19 thoughts on “Thrifty Ugly Bucket Camo

  1. Goodness, this is just the post I needed! I just posted on my blog about how ugly my garden is at the moment. So much to be done…

    Gayla, do you have any tips on growing beets in pots?

  2. Brilliant! I totally plan to add potted plants like this in my backyard now among the trees and shrubs using buckets tied with old beach mats.

  3. What a great idea! Those blinds are easy to come by in the trash.
    Gayla, I’m wondering if your containers are usually as closely packed as they appear in that photo. I am never sure how close I can push it with mine.

  4. I was thinking the same thing as Renee “Brilliant!!” I love the wrapped pots, so pretty. That whole corner looks so nice and relaxing. I would eat there! Thanks for the idea!

  5. Excellent! I love the bamboo blinds idea! My fiance was concerned about the “Fresh Step” kitty litter garden and our stuffy home owners association, and my recommendation was to put these plants “in the back.” The bamboo blinds are really classy and add a nice DIY touch! Thanks for that!

  6. Hi Gayla,

    That’s Kei’s garden — Kei is the chef of the restaurant on that corner. Not only is he a great gardener, Kei’s also an excellent cook and a very creative guy. He’s opening a re-invention of his restaurant this spring — amazing, delicious food, not to be missed!

  7. Hi Gayla
    I just adore your blog. So informative and so interesting. I’d love to see a post about how you plan your garden… how to work with different blooming times, heights, arrangements, colour coordination, perfume, complementary plant placement etc. This stuff fascinates me. I have a friend who is a ‘master’ gardener and the level of detail she goes to when planning her garden each season is unbelievable and she really reaps the rewards. What is your own process?

  8. Thanks for the pointers! Would it be ok for me to use these pics (credited of course) to help convince my landlord to let me grow stuff on the roof of my apartment building?

  9. Nicole: Thanks! Good to know the name of the gardener.

    Yvette: I generally avoid that question, at least when it comes to how I do things because my gardens have shifted over the years to become more about experimenting than prettification or personal interest. They are more an expression of what I am setting out to learn and experiment with that year than personal taste or preference. So consequently how I plan my gardens is a little different than if I were gardening strictly for me. That said I still do take everything you mentioned into consideration… it’s just that the outcome is a little different than if I was just growing gardens based on what I like as opposed to what I want to learn and experience.

  10. This is just what I needed! I have a stash of old ugly pots scheduled to hold my tomatoes this year. PERFECT! Thanks for the great cheap idea!

  11. Super ideas Gayla –very helpful–i plan to try wrapping an ugly bucket in a blind or mat too –thanks

  12. I love that idea! Also, if they aren’t quite broken down enough to be composted by the end of the year, they can be cut into smaller sections and used as mulch…

  13. This is a great site! Really enjoyed the container gardening article – keep up the good and informative work!

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