Everyone has broken or discarded stuff. Sometimes these things are too interesting to throw away. I turn metal, wooden, concrete or ceramic pieces of junk into unique assemblages for the garden.
In the early spring, my sister Ellie and I decided to put some potted plants on the concrete area beside our rear driveway to dress up a bleak spot. This made a difference, but the red brick wall under our family room windows looked too bare. It needed something interesting to detract from the boring blank bricks, so I rummaged around our crowded shed and the hidden corners of the garden to find suitable objects.
First I discovered a pair of old forged iron chair frames that had lost the wooden seat slats years ago. These were wonderfully rusty and when I placed them back to back against the wall, they formed the shape of a bizarre moth or strange old airplane. From the top I hung an iron bell and in the gap at the bottom, an old brass fireplace shovel. Instant wall decoration.
As the wall is quite long I thought it still needed some more visual interest, so from the back of the garden I moved a wooden power pole off-cut, left over from a community art project that Ellie had taken part in several years ago. This still has its metal capping and makes a great stand for a sculpture. We had kept a Mallee Root, too interesting to burn in the fireplace, that looks like the character of Bottom when he was transformed into an Ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with eye hole. I placed it on the stand at one end of the wall next to a pot of textured rocks. Mallee Roots are really hard and don’t rot easily if kept off the ground so it should weather nicely.
Now that I had begun, I kept finding other bits of junk to make assemblages. We had an old iron and stone-grinding wheel for sharpening tools that had lost its base and wooden handle. I thought that it would look good on its side to create a table-like structure, so I stuck one metal end into the bottom hole of an upended terracotta pot. Onto the joint of the handle I attached an old brass hose fitting and to the handles end fitted a rusty garden fork. I think it looks like a one-armed World War I helmeted soldier giving a cheeky salute. There is a rock that is shaped like an elbow and another like a foot on the grinding wheel and it is a tribute to the spirit of the Australian Diggers who survived that awful war. Probably my most serious assemblage.
After a violent spring storm one of our terracotta pots was broken and the shards looked too good to throw away. I half buried them in the earth under our Bay Laurel shrub where the dogs are always destroying the grass. The broken pot pieces now form a bit of archeology in the garden as if they have been uncovered in a dig. Circa Middle Suburban Period.
In the darkest corner of the shed, in a container filled with old junk, apart from the spiders, I discovered three cast iron metal shelf brackets. Standing them together on their bases creates a decorative assemblage and I put these on the concrete ledge behind our rustic garden bench and table. In the same junk container were a large rusty forged iron staple and an unusual square type of bolt fitting. These found objects were placed on the same ledge, next to a lucky horseshoe given to us by our grandfather. I did not include my grandmother’s rusty secateurs in this or any grouping, because Ellie said it was a bad idea to put potential weapons near the back door. I’m more worried about the thought of getting tetanus from a cut, than somebody going psycho with some rusty old garden tools, but better safe than sorry.
In front of this rustic collection was a pot that contained a shade loving Clivia given to us by our Aunt. But our younger dog, who is only 15 months old, decided in a moment of naughtiness that this would be a great chew toy and dug it out of the pot. Luckily Ellie caught her in the act and was able to replant the only slightly damaged Clivia. But we decided not to put it back in the same place where it had attracted Destructor Dog’s attention. I thought the now vacant spot needed a sculpture. In our pile of Mallee roots was one that resembles a large rabbit’s head. It fitted on top of a rounded rock and I sat these on a square section of broken concrete planter as a stand. I call this piece The Were-Rabbit, because it looks slightly sinister and reminds me of the Wallace and Gromit animation that features a particularly nasty, but hilarious monster rabbit of the same name (Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit). Yes I know I have a weird imagination. Anyway, it’s too big to use as a chew toy, we hope.
While I like to play around and have fun creating these objects I always try to make the most of a materials aesthetics and to put them in an appropriate position in the garden. It often takes a lot trial and error.
At the moment I have run out of items to make assemblages and my creative burst has probably produced enough for now. As we accumulate new junk, which is inevitable given that many things are not built to last these days, I will most likely find inspiration to create more, as it is such a constructive way to reuse broken stuff.
The following is a link to one of my favorite gardens surrounding a building that began construction in Victoria in 1855. The historic Old Curiosity Shop in Ballarat has become a testament to giving new life to broken pottery and discarded objects and is still being added to by the present owner. It just goes to show once you start along this path it is difficult to stop.