Creativity with Junk, Mallee Roots and Were-Rabbits

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kat

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.

The Old Curiosity Shop Garden

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There’s a Dragon At the Bottom of the Garden

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We have a dragon in our garden.  Not a real dragon like a type of frilled lizard, but the mythical kind found in old legends and fantasy tales.

Before we had any garden features our back yard looked rather boring.  Several years ago Ellie and I decided we needed some kind of focal point at the rear of the property.  We visited garden centres and couldn’t find anything we liked to suit our style of house.  It is a cross between the early 20th century Australian Federation and California bungalow styles with a modern red brick addition on the back.

Looking in some books on how to renovate houses of these eras, we saw some terracotta roof dragons hand-made by the local architectural pottery.  Our roof has a couple of original terracotta finials but is not high enough to take a large dragon, so we decided to get one of these beautifully modeled terracotta sculptures to put in the garden.  We went to the pottery and looked at all the designs, chose a large French style dragon (actually a two-legged Wyvern) and placed our order.  After several weeks it was delivered in separate pieces to its new home.

The dragon needed some kind of plinth on which to sit so we cleaned a lot of old bricks left over when a front verandah was enclosed.  With the help of a friend, the brick plinth was constructed under a wooden pergola needed to protect the dragon from falling branches. The tree next door is an African Coral tree that sheds limbs in storms.  This structure has proved very effective, as we often find fallen branches that have been deflected by the framework.

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The foliage surrounding the dragon prevents it from being viewed from all parts of the garden, so it does not compete with other garden ornaments and retains its dramatic impact.  We named it after Ramoth, the dragon Queen in Anne McCaffrey’s wonderful books about the dragons of Pern.  Our dragon has gained a green patina of moss and lichens and has become a home for spiders, the kind that make interesting funnel like webs in the dragon’s mouth.  Every time I tried to remove the webs they kept returning because the spider lives inside the dragon.  Not a wise idea to put fingers into any crevices as I have since found Redback spiders in the garden so the webs can stay, no matter what made them.   For those unfamiliar with these spiders they are Australian native members of the deadly Black Widow family and like to live in damp and dark corners of the garden or shed.  Or maybe down a dragon’s throat.

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The dragon is a wonderful symbol of both the creative and destructive forces of nature because it represents the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.  It lives in the earth, flies in the air, breathes fire and has the scales of a fish.  In western Myths and stories, dragons have often been seen as an evil serpent, like St George’s dragon and Tolkien’s cunning talking dragon, Smaug.  In Chinese culture usually they are lucky and are one of the 12 zodiac animals.  Also on the positive side, a dragon is the symbol of Wales and the magical friend of little Jackie Paper.   I was always sorry when Puff “sadly slipped into his cave”.  Dragons continue to inspire new works for children and adults, like the movie How to Train Your Dragon and the books and TV series of Game of Thrones, where they are dangerous but heroic creatures.  Never a wise idea to mock a Queen’s dragons.  Barbecue anyone?

It is great to have one of the architectural dragons at ground level because only birds would appreciate the sculptural detail when they are placed upon a roof.  To me Ramoth has a smiling face, but she looks quite powerful and ready to defend her territory so is a perfect garden guardian.

Kat

Creative Summer Garden Decor

Now that it is summer I want to spend as much time as I can in the outdoors.   It is always lovely to sit outside and read or chat with friends.  It is good to have comfortable and sheltered places in the garden where you can do this and enjoy the fine sunny weather, so you need some suitable garden furniture.  You can buy items that look exactly like furniture found indoors, but these are not very bohemian, which is the style that I prefer.   I think that it is more fun and creative to do something with old furniture and use props to dress up your garden when called for.

It would be nice to have a covered area where we could leave out cushions and less weather proof items and if you have such a structure make the most of it.  We have a very basic wooden garden table, an old railway bench that came from our grandparents and some old rusty metal kitchen chairs on our terrace.  I like the rustic look, but as a change I dress them up with interesting fabrics and other items for a more exotic feel.  Last summer I did this before entertaining some friends.

I covered the table with a painter’s canvas drop cloth.  You can buy these quite reasonably from hardware stores in various sizes.  Drop clothes are really useful as throws and tablecloths, especially outside, because they are heavy and will not blow around easily.  On top of this I put a gold Chinese style table runner and some colourful cloth tablemats, all found at an op shop.  Because it was breezy I anchored the ends of the runner with matching paperclips attached to the base cloth and placed straw mats along its edges.  These could be used as coasters.  On the tablemats I put some (op shop) candleholders and at the far end, an incense burner with lemongrass stick incense to repel flies and mosquitoes, but these weren’t a big problem because of the wind.

An old striped tablecloth was used to cover the railway bench, with some Indian cushions for comfort.  We have some black seat cushions that the fit seats of the metal chairs and a couple of striped Indian shawls were thrown over their backs, with cushions to rest against.  A large market umbrella shaded the table.  From it’s right side near the fernery I pegged up a colourful sarong to cut the glare of the sun.  This moved in the wind and was quite soothing.  From the wooden internal supports of the umbrella I hung a copper wind chime, found at an op shop and the musical notes also created a relaxing mood.   Everyone felt like they had been transported to a more tropical location rather than being in an urban setting and this was a great conversation starter.  Some good cocktails did not hurt either.   It is worth collecting interesting textiles and table accessories from places like op-shops and Oxfam, so that you can use them in imaginative ways outdoors.

I also like to sit and read or write songs in another sheltered and quiet part of the garden, where it is warmer when there is a cool breeze.  A couple of the metal kitchen chairs and an old white cast aluminum table sit in front of a pittosporum hedge and are flanked by a potted wisteria and a pot of thyme.  I can put a beach umbrella in the table for shade.  With a cool drink, some cushions and a good book, you can be perfectly comfortable in this spot.  What more do you need?  Well a nice view would help.  So opposite the table and chairs, against an old rusty gate, is a collection of bottles, ceramic pots, a statue of The Three Graces,  a mask of Pan and some found objects, together with pot plants, to form an interesting scene (referred to in 22 Oct post).   Behind this is the cool greenery of the fernery and hanging from the walnut tree above are some wind chimes.  This gives me something to look at and listen to when I need a break from reading or writing and I feel that I am in my own little oasis.

Don’t think that you need the latest décor to have an attractive garden for summer  entertaining and in which to enjoy the fine weather.  It is much more fun to do your own thing and your garden will not be the same as anyone else’s.

Kat