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Unusual Container Gardens

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There are lots of reasons to create unusual container gardens. For me part of the reason is to save money. Most unusual container gardens are much less expensive than buying large fancy pots. While budget is a big incentive, I also find that making unusual pots pushes my creativity and presents a challenge that I love. I'm always on the lookout for cool things to plant. I go to yard sales, second hand stores and hardware stores to get ideas. I also browse magazines and plant catalogs for inspiration. The following are some of my favorites.

1. Re-Usable Grocery Bags

container gardening picture of reusable grocery bag container garden
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

Reusable grocery bags rock as container gardens. Plants LOVE them, they are really cheap--often under a dollar--and they come in many sizes and a huge array of colors and patterns. They couldn't be easier to plant. Make sure you get the kind of bag that is plastic on the outside. Many of them have a fiber lining and that's fine.

For drainage, I cut several holes in the bottoms of the bags with scissors. I then cover the holes with plastic window screening. You can also use paper towel or coffee filters. I also cut a few slits about an inch up the sides of the bag, in case the holes in the bottom get clogged.

The only downside of the bags is that they only last a season and if they sit in the hot sun, some can fade by the end of the summer. Also, the handles can weaken in the sun, so may break if you try to pick the bag up by the handles.


For a video on making an Herb Garden in a Reusable Grocery Bag
Step by step on Making a Lettuce Garden in a Reusable Grocery Bag

2. Colander Container Garden

container gardening picture of an unusual container garden
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

I love colanders. Even shiny new ones aren't too expensive and you often can find great, old colanders at yard sales and second hand stores. They come in all sizes. If you want a really big colander, a good place to look is a restaurant supply store.

One of the best things about planting in colanders is that the drainage is built in--holes galore. I line mine with plastic mesh window screening, but you can also use moss or even a plastic bag that you've cut holes in the bottom of.

If your colander is metal, my one caution is that sitting in the sun, the metal can get really hot and burn your plants' roots. I either try to put my metal containers in shady or partly shady spots, or line them with moss or bubble wrap that has had holes cut in it. Photograph of a Restaurant Sized Colander Planted with Calibrachoa
How to make a Lettuce Colander Garden

3. Crocs

container gardening picture of baby crocs container gardens
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

My favorite Crocs to plant are the baby Crocs. They are very cute and beg for imaginative planting. You can set them on a step, or attach a string or fishing line to the back strap of the Croc and hang them from walls or fences. You can often find them in second hand stores and they last for several seasons.

To plant Crocs, I stuff as much potting mix into the toe part of the shoe and then use the heel strap to contain the potting soil in the back part of the shoe.

I have stuffed the holes in the front of the shoe with succulents and sedum, both of which are great because they don't mind drying out, which can happen easily because there isn't too much room for soil. You don't need to add drainage holes, because water has plenty of ways to escape.


Crocs with Lobelia and Hens and Chicks
Crocs with Succulents

4. Kiddie Pool Container Garden

container gardening picture of kiddie pool container garden
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

Making a plastic kiddie pool into a container garden is a cheap and easy way to get the advantages of raised bed gardening. They are lightweight (before you pot soil in them), and allow you to garden anywhere.

To cut holes in the bottom for drainage, I used a utility knife and a drill. I then covered them with plastic mesh screening. Make sure to put some drainage holes up the sides, particularly if the pool is sitting on a surface that isn't porous.

Kiddie pools generally aren't very deep, so they are great for herb gardens, edible flowers or short rooted vegetables such as lettuce, or salad greens or radishes.

How To Make a Kiddie Pool Container Garden

5. Clamshell Mini Gardens

Photograph of miniature container gardens
Photo © Kerry Michaels

I live in Maine, so I can find clamshells on almost any beach. For those who live in a clam-less area, it's easy to find all different kids of shells at craft stores or big box stores like Target. Look for shells that aren't too brittle, as they can crack or shatter when you try to drill a hole in them.

I've found that placing the shell with the convex side on a soft, but firm surface--like a lawn or a piece of wood, when drilling, gives me the best results--though there is often breakage. Also, shells can be pretty hard and heat up from drilling, so let them cool off every once in awhile, if you are drilling for a long time.

Step by Step Instructions for Clamshell Container Garden

6. Garden in a Tea Cup

hens and chicks in a tea cup
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

I have a thing about tea cups. I love all kinds and I never could figure out what to do with them. I had an ah ha moment when I bought a great drill and discovered ceramic bits. I now buy tea cups at second hand stores, drill holes in the bottoms and plant them. I usually use succulents, because teacups don't hold much soil which makes keeping the soil moist much more of a challenge, especially if they are in the sun and or wind.

How To Plant a Succulent Tea Cup
Vintage Tea Cup

7. Shoe Container Gardens

container gardening picture of hens and chickes in pink stilettos
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

I have seen all kinds of shoes planted. Old work boots are particularly popular, but almost any shoes will work, especially if they are made for rain-- rain boots will weather well. For these patent leather stilettos, I drilled holes in the soles and then lined them with a plastic bag. I did baby them, trying to keep them out of the rain and being careful when I watered them. They lasted for a summer season, and thought they are a little bit sun bleached now, they will still last for another summer.

I have found that you can have a lot of fun placing pairs of shoes and how you do that, speaks volumes. For example, if you put shoes toes in, heels out, it gives you an "aw shucks," kind of vibe. If you put them at a jaunty angle to each other, it looks funny and confident. Fool around with placement and you'll see what I mean.

How to plant Shoe Gardens with Hens and Chicks

8. Clementine Orange Box Garden

container gardening picture of clementine box container garden
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

I use Clementine orange boxes to store lots of garden stuff. I have one for gloves, one for pot pads and another for clippers. I stack them and love the way the look. Fortunately my family loves the fruit, so I get the boxes after we've eaten them.

Some Clementine boxes have paper labels stapled onto them and some of them have the labels painted right on the sides. I prefer these, because I think the labels can add a nice design element, and the paper labels won't weather, so you have to remove them.

I particularly like filling my Clementine boxes with pansies and violas. The boxes last a season, more or less, but look kind of crummy after a few months.

Step by step instructions on how to make a Clementine Box Garden

9. Metal Lunch Boxes

container gardening picture of succulent lunch box container garden
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

I found this Disney Princess lunch box at a yard sale. It was lined with paper when I bought it, which I pulled out. I then took a hammer and large nail and put lots of drainage holes in the bottom. The outside of the holes were kind of sharp and ragged, so turned the box over and tapped the rough parts of the hole with a hammer until they were flattened.

I have now had the box for several years and it is still great looking. I live in a cold climate so I bring it inside for the winter, set it on a tray and give it as much sun as possible. I let it get really dry between waterings in the winter.
Large photograph of Succulent Lunch Box

10. Eggshell Gardens

container garden picture of garden in an eggshell
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

Someone once took a look at these eggshell gardens and said, "oh, that's very Martha Stewart-y. I couldn't possibly do that." I responded that I make them with my kids and we all have a great time and they come out looking great.

You can either go for an elegant look, using small flowers, like violas, or try putting a face on the eggshell, planting grass and going for a "chia pet," humorous approach.

The hardest part of planting an eggshell, is if you are using seedlings, is stuffing them into the eggshells. Poking holes in the bottom isn't that hard and in the step by step instructions there are some suggestions on how to make it easier.
How to Make an Eggshell Garden
Eggshell Garden Idea Gallery

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