Good Junque

I’ve acquired a concrete corbel. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with it; right now it sits in one of the gardens and it just might end up staying there, filling up a hole where nothing is growing at the moment. I didn’t purchase the corbel; someone else had set it out for the trash.

Yes, I admit it, I’m a trash collector. I pick up junk that no one wants, and sets out on the side of the road for the garbage trucks. “Junque” is the word I prefer – ok, so it’s pronounced the same as “junk,” but it looks better … more chic; less trashy maybe. And admitting I collect it is actually not much of an admission because everyone knows it. Even my boss, who used to laugh and scoff at the idea of picking up stuff by the side of the road, will come back from a job site with something in hand; a door from a barn, a piece of statuary or pottery the client didn’t want anymore – all sorts of stuff. Sometimes the junque he brings me is even too junky for me and it ends up in the dumpster, and sometimes he’ll tell me there’s junk in the dumpster, and I should go take a look. He’s the one that brought me the corbel … along with a couple of pots for his wife, and an only slightly rickety, but otherwise in good condition Adirondack chair for another co-worker.

My friend calls this junque “Ju-ju,” and it is usually prefaced with the adjective “good” when she speaks of it. She has alerted me to it’s presence by phone announcement, like some Blue-Light Special coming over the intercom at K-Mart, “Good ju-ju on the corner of Cherry and Superior – you better get there quick,” which means she’s already picked through it. There are certain things I always look for, and can not resist: any type of container that I can use as a planter, old wooden furniture, and solid wood paneled doors – a bonus if the fancy old iron hinges and doorknobs are still attached. My door collection is a running joke with my husband, Keith. He says the doors are cluttering up his garage, and wonders what I am going to do with them all? I don’t know; someday I’ll find a use for them … maybe. Until then they’re not taking up that much space.

I rarely visit yard sales or flea markets; it’s just not the same thrill as finding something that’s already been discarded, and then dragging it home. As my daughter, Shelby once said, “Mom, yard sales are just Ju-Ju with a price tag.” Junque is free; free is good.

Hard-good materials are often the greatest expense in garden projects. Brick, stone, and concrete are pricey. Add a few pieces of garden ornament, and the bill gets even larger. High costs can be avoided by using recycled materials: old bricks, broken concrete, even pieces of curbing. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of discarded old bricks edge my gardens. Wooden furniture, pottery, an old farming implement, (my ninety year old neighbor says it’s a potato planter), eventually made it out of the garage or basement and into the yard – much to my garage-space impaired husband’s relief.

I’ve used some of these collected pieces of trash as a solution to a problem area of the yard. What’s the quickest way off a side-door stoop? When you’re a kid, it’s not down the steps; it’s jumping off the side – right into a small patch of asparagus, chives, and parsley. This little add-on to the main vegetable garden not only created a nice landing zone for the girls jumping off the stoop in order to cut across the backyard, the ninety degree angle from one garden to the next was difficult to mow.

I used a slated wooden piece, the two halves held together with a strip of rubber sandwich-board style. (I have no idea what its original purpose was – I just picked it up off the side of the road because it looked interesting.) Keith painted it white, and I secured the piece into the ground with landscape staples and used an old porch newel as the corner piece. The “picket fence” stops the girls from jumping off the stoop and into the asparagus patch. Broken concrete pavers and pieces of old curbing, with the cracks between filled with sand, dubs as faux flagstone, takes care of the hard-to-mow angle, and makes a nice place a place to set potted plants.

This spring’s junque project was my daughters’ idea. They wanted a secret garden, and drew a plan to turn our 2/3 acre ravine into a wondrous, enchanted place with stone paths leading to hidden garden rooms, multi-tiered waterfalls, and a tree-house with enough turrets to rival Ludwig’s Castle.

What they got was a 12 x 12 corner of the ravine under a maple tree. This consists of a “flagstone” sitting area made from broken concrete pavers fitted together, surrounded by divisions of hosta, lady’s mantle, black-eyed susans, and daylilies. The top of a bird bath missing its base, sets on an over-turned pot. An American elderberry is planted in a retaining wall made with a semi-circle of brick that was once part of an old well I dragged home, and a Gro-Lo fragrant sumac cascades down the slope. A permanently open wrought-iron “gate” was made from the two separated halves of a corner plant stand that I dismantled, and welcomes one through the entrance. The border is lined with boulders from a neighbor’s father’s quarry. Cannas and potted annuals fill out the area until the perennials fill in.

Plans to expand the small garden are set for next year … or as soon as we find another piece of junque to add to it. The whole garden cost nearly nothing – even the plants were free; divided or moved from other areas of the yard. The rewards of seeing my girls work together to come up with a plan, watching my youngest, Shannon, as she helped plant with me, and spending an afternoon with Shelby at local antique markets scouting out a bench, (the garden’s only expense: $15.00), was priceless.

So next time you come across some junk set out as trash, stop and take a look. Ponder how it could be used in your garden. Can’t come up with a plan on the spot? Take it home and ponder some more. Store it in your garage until your spouse threatens to set it out for the garbage truck, and if you still can’t figure out what to do with it, send it my way. One person’s trash is another woman’s junque.

Published on Oct 9, 2008

Grit Magazine

Live The Good Life with GRIT!