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Castoffs Bloom Anew

In 'Planted Junk,' Adam Caplin shows how throwaways can be revived amid garden greenery.

March 15, 2001|ROBERT SMAUS

Anything you can drill a hole in the bottom of can be a planter, according to English author Adam Caplin, a modern, madcap Johnny Appleseed, intent on stuffing every bit of urban flotsam and jetsam with greenery and flowers. In his book "Planted Junk" (Ryland, Peters & Small, 2001), which comes out this month , he and talented photographer Francesca Yorke show lovely plants spilling out of everything imaginable--from a threadbare Pirelli P2000 to a Rubbermaid wastebasket, or a hard hat turned upside down.

Is this more landfill than landscape?

Caplin is an accomplished gardener and nurseryman and, to be fair, he advocates caution: "Planted junk is better introduced gradually" to a garden. He suggests that some junk--kitchen containers, particularly teapots and cookie jars--was "born to be plant containers." Ceramic, glass, wire, wood, wicker, rubber and plastic objects are all fair game, although he is obviously partial to rusted iron, as am I. He concludes that rusted stuff looks appealing because "a really rusty tin can in a garden can appear to be growing out of the soil and at the same time decaying into it," he writes in his chapter on metal.

Repetition of form makes many of these containers look design-y. Instead of a single planted plastic purse hanging on a fence, for example, there are five--three blue, one pink and one white. Instead of a lone planted teapot, there are four. Five wildly colored but identical coffee mugs march along a fence, each planted with a little alyssum. Designers have long known that several of anything will look good, whereas one might not.

It's worth noting that all these gardens are in England, so they are naturally lush and green, which tends to make all kinds of junk look good. If some of this stuff were sitting next to a barely green palm tree on a half-dead Bermuda grass lawn in the Southland, it might not look so attractive.

It seems a little silly to suggest what to grow in a junk pot--the subject of one chapter--since anything will. Or to explain how to punch a hole in the bottom--detailed in another chapter. But one can only wax lyric about junk for so long, and 144 pages must be filled with more than just lovely photos and witty ideas.

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