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Garden By Design, Railroad Ties and Galvanized Buckets

Updated on January 16, 2015

Galvanized buckets work very well as planters

Orchid Cactus and bromeliads in galvanized buckets
Orchid Cactus and bromeliads in galvanized buckets

Of Railroad Ties and Telephone Poles

You may ask, other than both being structural wood, what do railroad ties and telephone poles have in common?

My dad...

The answer is actually simple: They are both impregnated with tar made from the Chaparral bush! We call that creosote and it is in its natural form, that is, when in the root of the plant, not only an insecticide but an herbicide to everything including seedlings of its own species.

Boil that plant down and soak wood in it and it adds the quality of being a water repellant. This is why they have used it on wood for over 100 years.

When we were kids dad we used these along with used bricks before they were popular as landscape elements with and broken concrete as both walls and steps. This really looks great!

We collected railroad ties that were headed for the dump and made steps in the broken concrete terrace walls, out of a sloped back yard that, initially was immediately canyon from the back of the house. We reclaimed the wood, put it to use, kept it out of the dump, and made fairly useless land into usable gardens and yard.

It looks great and has lasted for fifty years so far.

Now my neighbor has railroad ties as his front garden wall. The yards sloped down to the sidewalk, I used block, he used railroad ties.

Railroad ties for retaining soils can be used in many ways. As steps, you simply step each back as you build up soils behind the previous one. As a retaining wall you can link these with steel rods, say, rebar, or bury several near corners vertically to hold the horizontal ties back.

With telephone poles, bury the bottoms so they stand upright to the height you want them. They are usually used as points of interest and large rope or chain can be used between them to separate a garden area and give a nautical feel, especially when three are grouped together, perhaps at different heights, and use rope to tie them.

This is easy, and straightforward recycling that helps keep this material out of the dumps.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This bromeliad on the wall and on the ground is a Billbergia and both are in galvanized pots.This is a rare fig, Ficus brandegeei raised up using a nursery pot to allow the roots to grow down before I removed the nursery pot.These actually went to a plant boutique I have traded with for forty years.
This bromeliad on the wall and on the ground is a Billbergia and both are in galvanized pots.
This bromeliad on the wall and on the ground is a Billbergia and both are in galvanized pots.
This is a rare fig, Ficus brandegeei raised up using a nursery pot to allow the roots to grow down before I removed the nursery pot.
This is a rare fig, Ficus brandegeei raised up using a nursery pot to allow the roots to grow down before I removed the nursery pot.
These actually went to a plant boutique I have traded with for forty years.
These actually went to a plant boutique I have traded with for forty years.

Galvanized Buckets as planters

I first uses galvanized buckets to stage a home we were selling in Mission Hills, San Diego. They are easy to move around, and inexpensive. According to how you use them, they can be hing on trees, or placed on walls.

I give away a lot of plants and my neighbors tell me the planted galvanized buckets I gave them (some in the images here) are thriving. I also trade plants with and to a plant boutique, again, some of the plants pictured here.

Galvanized buckets are an inexpensive way to create a garden element or group of elements for display, to create uniformity for a collection, or to create a container garden such as an herb garden.

For instance, I have decided to expand my collection if bromeliads. Their beautiful foliage is simply irresistible. So, I will go to my local hardware store and get 5-10 buckets of various sizes, one for each plant.

I will use a nail to create some drainage holes in the bottom of each bucket. You could put this in the side of the container, but it doesn't look quite as nice. I will fill the containers with mulch from my pile, some sand, and some dirt from my yard. Then plant the buckets and place them along our wall where they can make a nice display.

I already have several of different sizes and use different sizes and numbers of holes in the bottoms according to what I want to grow. I have three large “wash bucket” sizes with only a few holes despite their large size because I grow mint in them and mints enjoy a moist soil, so holding more of the water is a good thing. I have a small pan size bucket also that has about four holes, so reasonably fast draining, but the oregano growing in it simply loves the bucket, another with a poinsettia from Christmas several years ago, also covered with Baby Tears.

There is a branch of a juniper I trimmed out front and I hung this size bucket on it before the branch started to grow back. I put petunias in it and in a few months I will have petunias draping over the edges and showing their pink and purple flowers.

Of course, here, I am adding some color to a tree that has none and a point of interest as the new growth covers up just how I got that bucket onto the tree.

So plan a container garden of your favorite herbs, flowers, whatever, then use them creatively.

Plants like them because unlike some containers, they do not drain as fast as, say, a clay pot. In Hawaii in most places it rains often enough and hard enough that they can use cement pots which drain quickly, but then again, to grow an orchid, you just tie it on the tree in the front yard and forget it.

YES!

These are all my yard, my photos!

Here's a galvanized bucket pot now!

I keep using this photo, but look at the purple shamrock to my right. It is a galvanized bucket hung on a branch.
I keep using this photo, but look at the purple shamrock to my right. It is a galvanized bucket hung on a branch.

Container Gardens

Container Gardens for are a great way to improve and green up patios or porches, plant over poor soils, or bringing flowers indoors.

Containers are portable. At least most containers are portable.

I raise freesia in containers and then bring them indoors to enjoy them as a living bouquet when they are in bloom.

But even outside, clusters of nice pots adorn my entry way with bright flowers of various types to add that splash of color that is so welcoming.

Herbs love pots. An herb collection can create a very nice container garden where each adds a different color and texture to the yard or patio.

Do be careful as to what you use. I have used five gallon food containers, those big white plastic buckets for containers and they work well, but don’t look good, so do be careful what you plan and what you plant in. Ideas have consequences and hopefully all your ideas turn out to be good ones and are well thought out.

We live in San Diego and with some protection I can grow many "house plants," that is tropical plants outside. So you live elsewhere, think about what you can grow and how you want it displayed. Perhaps you want to raise geraniums back east so need to bring them in during the winter. These galvanized buckets are perfect!

I have used them for herbs, vegetables, rare ornamentals and just about everything. AGain, lots of type of containers can be used, determine what you want your yard to look like then make it so. (Thanks to Captain Picard.)

© 2015 Ronald A Newcomb

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