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Originally published Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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There's no better place than a garden to reuse life's leftovers

Matthew Levesque, program director at the nonprofit San Francisco company Building REsources, suggests, in his new book, going beyond the merely decorative to put repurposed materials to work at every level of the garden.

Find your inner hunter-gatherer

Designer Cameron Scott, owner of Exteriorscapes, is known for his creative use of repurposed materials in his clients' gardens and in his award-winning Northwest Flower & Garden Show displays. His favorite sources:

• Earthwise Architectural Salvage, 3447 Fourth Ave. S., Seattle; 206-624-4510;

• Seattle Habitat Outlet, 21 S. Nevada St., Seattle; 206-957-6914;

• Second Use Building Materials, 7953 Second Ave. S.; 206-763-6929;

• RE Store, 1440 N.W. 52nd St., Seattle; 206-297-9119;

• King County IMEX Industrial Exchange; 206-263-8465; e-mail at; free listing for materials

Scott also keeps in touch with fabricators and contractors about their leftovers and extras.

RECYCLE, REPURPOSE, reuse . . . Your garden is the ideal canvas for environmentally savvy creativity. Nowhere do the worn materials of everyday life look better than in the garden. Patina, shabbiness, broken-in and broken-down suit the nature of wind, weather and an ever-evolving garden.

From mossy chairs to beat-up old signs, repurposed objects lend a sense of age, story and character to the garden.

Matthew Levesque, program director at the nonprofit San Francisco company Building REsources, suggests going beyond the merely decorative to put repurposed materials to work at every level of the garden. In his new book, "The Revolutionary Yardscape: Ideas for Repurposing Local Materials" (Timber Press, $22.95), cool, old objects are the muse. When Levesque comes across a hunk of recycled glass or a rusty toolbox, he sets in to figure out how to use it outdoors. For plant-obsessed gardeners, this object-centered approach really is revolutionary and helps us look at familiar objects with fresh eyes.

"The trick is to pick something that fits your garden, is durable and, most important, elevates not only your garden but the environment around it," he advises. An example of such artistry? How about a rain chain made of old keys and heavy copper wire? Levesque came up with this idea after standing in a grocery line behind a motorcycle guy brandishing a huge set of keys cascading down his hip. The finished product looks more charm bracelet than rain chain, while effectively channeling rain into a long, slender cascade around the keys.

A skilled builder and remodeler, Levesque laments gardeners' reliance on off-the-shelf materials. "What's needed is a new set of hunting-and-gathering skills that embrace the idea of holding onto selected materials and waiting for the idea to come through the material," he says. Sounds like justification for hitting garage sales, general scavenging and holding onto all those piles of stuff while awaiting a flash of inspiration.

Levesque acknowledges that reused materials don't come in standard sizes or perfect repair. Yet it takes only a little ingenuity to come up with plenty of economic, aesthetic and environmental reasons to fix, alter and make do with what's at hand. For example, there's Levesque's shortlist of materials for fences and screens: doors, windows, fiberglass rods, shovels planted blade up in rows, old surfboards and aluminum grids from fluorescent ceiling lamps. Levesque sees all of this repurposing as imaginative adult play. "Yes, it's an appropriate response to the wastefulness of our disposable times . . . But mostly it's about having fun," he says, which is just how many of us would explain our enduring passion for gardening.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at

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