Water-wise gardens bloom with nonliving materials


mixed garden flooring

This geometric design shows a range of nonliving garden materials to mix artistically with succulent plants. Water-wise gardens can double as living areas.

Although we tend to think of a garden as a gathering of plant materials, much of the landscape is taken up with noniving materials. This is helpful space in the water-wise garden. There is the soil between one area and the next, a front pathway, and probably a driveway in the front of your home. But even these prosaic members of the landscape need not be dull. Permeable paving has become popular in recent years. It allows water to sink into the garden rather than sheeting off flat surfaces, gouging out erosion gullies and wasting water. More than simply creating flat surfaces for foot traffic or for setting things on, consider that non-living areas can add more color and texture .

Unlike a few decades ago when everything was covered with cement or brick, the choices for paving areas have exploded – both for flooring and vertically. Now there are colorful types of stone in a wide range of designs and finishes as well as woods, vinyls, metals, glass and more, all perfect for integrating into the new landscape.

Becoming creative about landscaping offers a chance to think about more than the usual ground surfaces for non-living garden décor. Any space is now a place to have fun with.

With the cost of materials rising and landfills overflowing, this is the time to put to work all that stuff in your home, garage and yard that is just taking up space.

recycled sculpture

Recycled old auto parts make a decorative garden sculpture


Recycling has donned the elite title of ‘up-cycling’ when you re-use old items for new purposes. Look for all those pieces of left-over building materials: pieces of wood, pipe, PVC, screening, odd tiles or latticework hanging around your yard, garage or home. These can be formed into safe-houses for growing vegetables to keep out pests, fashioned into trellises or cobbled into artistic fencing. Old concrete chunks stack into fine retaining walls.

Battered car parts, sinks, toilets, tubs or cracked fountain bases make unique container gardens. Broken dishware and pots can add color and texture as mulch over small garden areas where no one will be digging or walking. (These can have sharp edges.) Repurpose young tree stakes or poles into low fences, an archway or a series of pee posts over a washable gravel area for male dogs you don’t want marking your favorite plants. (Paint them bright colors for fun.) Hey, one designer even used bowling balls from an alley that closed down to cover open soil areas. This was one material guaranteed not to float or blow away even in the most aggressive winds!

metal landscape effects

Corrugated metal makes an interesting addition to this nonliving part of a landscape.


Even mulch offers more interest and color in the water-wise garden than ever before. Bark pieces come in colors, gorilla hair (shredded bark) clings to hillsides, gravel and decomposed granite can come in a wide range of colors – even greens and purples – or mix your own blends. Find durable colored shredded, recycled tire chips. They are bouncy for running, sitting and playing as well as just covering exposed soil. Go glittery with colored tumbled glass. Invite imaginative materials into water-wise gardens.

unusual stepping stones

Have fun with cast critters as stepping stones.

Form paths, edgings or designs with bricks, stepping stones, flagstone or a wealth of precast concrete blocks.

water-wise gardens

Gravel and stone in gray hues make for an artistic combination of living and nonliving materials in this water-wise cactus garden.


Floor a patio with slices of tree trunks for a rustic look. Check out some of your local industrial plants. You can find extruded waste materials in vinyl, metal, plastic and glass that may be ideal for decorating surfaces of your landscape. (Just make sure the material is not toxic, sharp or anything that could degrade into an undesirable form.)

Get creative or hire a designer or artist to help you make your space special. Decorate walls, furniture and even cement areas with murals or paint them with your favorite colors or designs. Hang outdoor curtains. Spread around colorful outdoor pillows or create gardens of metal or colorful pots.

Add a trellis, pergola or a screen. Lay down outdoor rugs.  Or paint your own yellow brick road on recycled materials to lead you on a winding path that tours your garden. Place sculptures. Dangle wind chimes. Post colorful fabrics to be spun by the wind. Mix living and nonliving materials for the widest range of effects and for a healthy, eco-friendly, easy-care landscape.

Assorted stone floor

Assorted nonliving stone shapes create their own floor design

As you can see, there is an endless supply of nonliving materials you can use to make your landscape into a work of art. Partner your creations with drought-tolerant plants, some comfortable furniture and turn your yard into a water-wise garden/work of art that invites you to live in it.

Landscape with tumbled glass

sample galss

A sample box of glass colors


Landscapes are more than just a gathering of plants. A well designed garden offers beautiful and comfortable living space. But there is no one definition of ‘beautiful and comfortable’. It depends on the people who are living in that space. Using interesting materials can fit into a lot of different attractive looks as well as diverse lifestyles. You can landscape with tumbled glass for some wonderful effects.

Permeable paving is popular because it allows water to penetrate flat areas without causing erosion or ugly damage. Using decorative materials for that kind of paving makes a practical solution into something ornamental and unusual. These materials can offer color and texture, too. Glass adds the element of reflectivity and glow as well as a range of color to suit every situation.

permanent mulch

Stone and glass can offer a wide range of effects for mulching or paving.

Tumbled glass can be used as all one color or mixed to create blends, rainbows, patterns or pictures. Used in a flat open area it can form a glistening carpet of color or be divided to fill in outlines. It can also be used in small spaces. Some ways to use glass is as mulch in containers. Another common use is for fire pits.

Tumbled glass designs can be blended with other building materials. Mixed into concrete, glass pieces can be surfaced to provide glowing top surfaces for walkways, driveways and counter tops.

Use glass to paint single colors, blend or partition it into sections to create designs like mosaics that fill in picture areas like coloring between the lines of a coloring book. You can even achieve shading or rounded effects by using lighter and darker edges the way you would if you were drawing or painting.


recycled garden

A colorful garden of up-cycled materials including blue tumbled glass

Much of the glass used these days is recycled. It’s a great way to put old materials to work artistically. Some companies that offer recycled glass counter tops and other specialized items even include a history of the glass that was used.

The transparency of glass offers a whole world of possibilities in lighting. Think in terms of how the sunlight will reflect or filter through. Back-lite colored glass or shine light from below. Angled lighting will catch surface glow leaving deeper tones beneath.

To be safe, make sure your glass has no sharp edges. You can even buy a tumbler and make your own.

There is a whole world of magic you can create with color and reflection using recycled glass in your landscape. Best of all, it is low maintenance, never needs watering and turns waste glass into a beautiful artistic statement in your garden. Where can you use tumbled glass in your own landscape?

Frosted clear glwass in the garden

Create a garden world with tumbled glass. This is frosted clear.

How to frame a garden view

Mirror and vine wall

Try looking back on the garden or into a structure with a mirror view. This one is framed with textural vines.

If you want to do something a little different in your garden try altering your vision. A landscape design is really a three dimensional painting with living and non-living materials. Just like fine art can show you views of the ordinary that are more creative, you can design ways to look at your garden that make you into a landscape artist.

Garden view

The view you see from your home changes the whole ambiance of the room.

One way to make your landscape special is by looking through shapes. When you design your garden remember you will be looking at it from both inside and out. The view from inside your home will create a frame for the picture of your garden.

Inside the garden you can use walls to make more framed art work. Add holes to windows to look through, to let in light, to create textures, or to define the edges of the view you are observing. Or put up a partial wall to direct attention to a specific area. It’s up to you to define areas to your own taste as beautiful landscapes.

Privacy view

Capture a view through a wall.

Structures can frame views making them either a window through which you look or by blocking out views you find distracting to the image you want to create. Some structures that can surround the picture you are enclosing are archways, arbors, hanging windows or doors that focus the view, or grille work that makes a pattern over the scene in front.


This arch welcomes you into a private garden

Frame an area with seating — chairs, couches, or a hammock. Trim the edges of a view with tall trees or shrubs or use big pots or other decor.

No matter whether you look through an opaque surface or use the surface as edging around the visible area of your garden, you can define the size and shape of the picture viewers will see.

Garden view

Doorways open a vista of their own


Use succulents as a garden building material

succulent dish garden

A bowl of showy water-retaining plants.

UCanGrowThat 2






Of all the plants for the garden, I believe succulents are the most versatile. They not only come in a wide range of size, shape, color and form, but they are so adaptable that they can become an ornamental garden building material. Use succulents to sculpt beautiful or bizarre focal points, populate sunny or shady garden beds, surface flat areas of different angles, disguise walls, create miniature landscapes in containers or cover roofs. What other plants can boast such versatility?


The Epiphyllum — a succulent called Orchid Cactus — has huge, showy flowers.


landscape cactus garden

Landscape with mature cactus and succulent plants

Succulents in large areas

The cactus is a succulent – a plant with leaves or stems that has adapted to store water. Using cacti and other adapted plants can make a decorative garden ideal for dry climates. Mix in pieces of wood or even cactus skeletons for texture and add some boulders to have this kind of garden paint a picture all of its own. These landscapes are low maintenance and save water in hot areas.  They thrive in poor soils, too.

Use them in small spaces

Since succulent plants come in all sizes, you can find plenty of plants to decorate a small garden, a patio, a balcony – or even build a whole landscape in a pot or dish garden with them.

Living benches

Little succulent-planted benches

Covering surfaces with them

These are fine plants for ground-cover use. The Ice plant (a common name given to several low, creeping succulents with daisy-rayed flowers) are often put to work carpeting large expanses of hillside. Using water-retaining plants is a good way to landscape for wildfire resistance. But remember that due to heavy leaf forms, top-heavy plants can tug on root systems on a hillside where gravity will weigh them down. Large rugs that are superficially rooted can pull lose and slide down steep inclines. They will do better on more gentle slopes or flat spaces. There are plenty of succulent plants with smaller leaves that are good for ground cover, too – many low-growing sedums, for example.

living roof

Here is a partially planted green roof. In dry areas, succulents offer an excellent material for covering a living roof like this.

Flooring is not the only way to use these handy plants. Grow them up in vertical gardens, plant them in pockets on walls, roof small structures like sheds with a top layer of decorative, insulating plants, or spill them over retaining walls.

The succulent as art

There are plants in this group that create their own artistic sculptures. Big, bold specimens can turn into unique-looking trees, single forms become artistic-looking focal points, and rows of them can create an interesting fencing – and a very protective one if you choose plants armed with thorns! Most succulents not only grow with interesting growth habits, but offer fuzzy, spiny, hairy or other textural surfaces. And most have flowers that can rival the showiest of the garden bloomers. In short, you’ll be pressed to find any other group of plants that will offer so much versatility as living building materials for the landscape — no matter what surface you cover with them.

large succulent blooms

Succulents come in large sizes with ornamental flowers like yuccas, puyas and dasylirions.

One more need-to-own tool for the gardener

handy potting scoop

Look. A scoop-trowel hybrid for potting up plants!

If you pot up a lot of plants you probably know how awkward it can be just getting soil from the bag into the pot. If you have a new bag to open, you’ve probably got your gloves on and nothing sharp on hand to tear through that stretchy, resistant plastic. Then, once you’ve dealt with the bag, there’s the challenge of removing the soil or compost without spilling it all over the place. You can try balancing soil on a trowel as it spills back into the bag or scatters before you get it to the pot — or you can get those gloves again and grab it by the fistful. You’ll now be ready to start potting — assuming you aren’t trying to RE-pot plants stuck in old, stiff soil that needs to be scooped out first.

If any of this sounds familiar, you might be wondering why isn’t there a tool to make all this easier? Well, there is. It’s a unique cross between a garden scoop and a trowel designed by gardening expert Shawna Coronado and produced by Dewit Tools.

The half-round scoop is big and holds ample soil if you are digging it out of a bag. A notch just under the handle on the hand-forged carbon steel curved blade allows for cutting through resilient plastic bags. A non-slip wooden handle is firmly attached and offers a solid grip on the half-can-shaped trowel that not only holds impressively large scoopfuls of bagged material, but cuts nicely into the hardened soil of an existing planted container when it is necessary to remove the hardened or root fiber-filled old soil.

I have been using this new tool for about six months and it has simplified the job of potting considerably. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing like it available in stores. And if you are an enthusiastic gardener like I am, the addition of any tool that makes the job of potting and repotting easier is very welcome. I would recommend adding this tool to the arsenal for any gardener who enjoys making potting easier.

You can find this handy new tool at: http://www.gardentoolcompany.com/potting-scoop-by-dewit/

Use recycled windows creatively in the garden

recycled windows

Here’s a whole outdoor room filled with recycled materials. The walls are old windows.







Old windows can be difficult to throw away. They are dangerous for landfills and awkward to move. But there are better ways to use those unwanted windows. Here are some suggestions how you can use recycled windows to create a more beautiful and useful landscape.

  •  Integrate the windows into outdoor walls for a look-through effect.
  • Hang windows from an overhead beam to build an ‘invisible wall.
  • Use old windows to construct a glassed-in patio.
  • Construct a cold frame with old windows like a mini-greenhouse.
  • Create a fence or gateway with a single window that can be slid back and forth on a track. Be very careful with this design idea. It should only be used in an area where there is little or no possibility of breakage. Toughened or tempered glass is best to use. Covering the glass with a screen of metal or other material is a good idea to make the glass visible and to contain any pieces should the glass breakage.
  • Paint a used window with stained glass paint and hang it as an ornamental panel.

Always be careful when working with glass. Wear gloves and move carefully. All panels should be set in securely to frames and flimsy frames should be reinforced. Make sure any structure you build is easily seen (remember glass is supposed to be transparent!), and firmly attached to any and all supports.

Whether you are cleaning up your home or working on renovations, old windows can be bulky and awkward to handle. Use some of these suggestions to recycle windows creatively in your garden. You can turn trash into gold and make your landscape a work of art.

Can you come up with some ideas of your own to turn old windows into design elements rather than waste junk?