I was not the only person who used at least one warm day to work in the yard this week. Western New York enjoyed May in December for a few fine days. Gardeners dug, shoveled, composted, snipped, pushed wheelbarrows and mulched. Homeowners mowed, fertilized, chain-sawed and covered shrubs. Many people just picked up and put away stuff – the lawn furniture, garden décor, fences, props and tools.
In the process of putting away things, I worked myself into a frenzy: “I’m keeping too much; there’s no room for the lawn mower; let’s get everything out of here and start over …”
Letting go: This is not advanced horticulture, nor design theory, but it’s certainly an issue that gardeners will recognize: We tend to keep stuff year after year because it might be useful. If we have a garage or barn, it’s even worse. If we have a moral code that tells us “waste is sinful,” “it’s wrong to add to the landfill” or “I must recycle,” then it’s an even bigger problem. Throwing stuff to the curb because we don’t like it any more is not an option for us. So, how can we not become hoarders? How can we have neater garages, barns and sheds?
• “One man’s trash …” is an old adage that’s plenty true now. Having accepted that I’m not likely to fence the horse pasture again in my lifetime, I put eight bundles of rolled wire (thousands of feet) onto the curb, along with buckets of rusty nails and miscellaneous debris. As I dropped the last bundle a truck stopped, and the driver nodded, saying, “I scrap. Do you mind?” She was happy; I was even happier.
Other things that are likely to be picked up: tomato cages, fences, gates, trellises, large pots, baskets, black plastic, tarps, ladders, pallets, chicken wire, stakes, peony rings, buckets, pails, garden decorations and tools (even just handles). Anything metal has value for folks who earn a few dollars “scrapping.”
You may never have time to find buyers for old bottles and milk crates, but somebody else does. Why not pass them along? Put the things on the curb a day before trash pickup, and you may be amazed at what is someone else’s treasure. (But check your local ordinances about timing and “picking.”)
• “It’s a safety hazard …” is a message that may also help you clean up. Accumulations of fabric, wood, hay – just clutter in general – can be fire hazards. My husband (now lured into the organizing project) convinced me that all that wire I was hoarding could poke or entangle people or animals, and could damage machinery. Leftover solvents, gas and oil products obviously should be used up or stored safely. Pesticides are environmental and safety hazards. Watch for town or county collection dates and locations, and take them away.
Then there are fertilizers. Confession: In this whole process I learned that I hoard fertilizers, as I found half-bags or freebies from trade shows stashed everywhere. This is particularly ironic since I am an organic gardener. They are not all kelp meal! I will use the organic products (fine to spread any time) and pass the rest along to the next community garden project I encounter. But bags and bags just have to go.
• “The church bazaar or garage sale is coming soon …” if you’re lucky. This is the answer for decorative items you don’t love, decent tools you don’t use, and the pink plastic watering can from Aunt Lydia. Dust them, box them, find out when and where, and deliver.
Some things we must keep: As I said to the helpful husband, when he was moving the lampshade frames and a heap of dirty plastic toward the trash pile, “Eeeek, are you kidding, I need those!” Some things are absolutely worth keeping. Year after year, I reuse 10- or 20-foot sheets of plastic – black for killing weeds in a new garden area, clear for covering machinery or furniture. Planks, pieces of 2x4, pipes, stakes – well, you never know when you need them.
Large pieces of cardboard will be wonderful the next time I’m making a path or preparing to mulch a bed. The silk-free lampshade is obviously great for staking a floppy yarrow, and who wouldn’t be thrilled to find a bird cage stand for hanging a mandevilla? Really, people, think of the possibilities.
The tricks here are “compartmentalization” and “containerization,” both fine skills.
First, group everything you took out of the garage, barn or shed. Put like kinds of stuff together, such as the cages, rings and stakes you need July 15 when all the perennials flop over at the same time. Garden art is a category, from bird baths to statues, gazing balls to bottomless chairs. Group tools together, either stuck in sand buckets or hung on a wall where you can see them – rather than stepping on them, piercing your foot or whacking yourself in the head.
Containerization for storage requires foresight and a bit of anticipatory hoarding. Hang onto shelving. Use the former kitchen cupboards, college book shelves and cracked utility cart for storing hand tools, containers of deer repellent and unmatched gloves. Use barrels, trunks, old garbage cans, tubs or buckets to gather garden stakes and driveway markers, the cages/lampshades/peony rings group, and all that precious plastic.
Neatness can be overdone: Rural or urban, gardeners and homeowners all face some variation of this challenge; it’s a difference in scale. For gardeners it’s even more difficult because we really might use the darnedest things. Neat garages, barns and sheds are good – but only to a point.
Yes, clear the decks once in a while, but keep the good stuff. Just store it neatly.
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.