Make the old new again in this year’s garden

By Janice Sroufe | May 1, 2020

Spring has never been quite like this. Many of us have spent weeks at home, trying to make do with what we have and distancing ourselves from other people. I’ve been trying to figure out my garden without wandering around in the garden centers like I usually do. Although I have taken advantage of the call-ahead and pick-up services offered by some of our local establishments, my focus this spring has been on using things I already have to create my garden. I have lots of leftover seeds from previous years, so I have been planting them to see if they will sprout. So far they are doing rather well. 

I am also exploring different types of containers for planting my garden.

I know it’s a strange attraction, but I just love old wood. Several years ago, I began replacing my redwood fence that was installed in 1979. The old wood was weathered but still beautiful, and I felt it might be useful for various projects I might dream up. And dream I did! My basement ceiling is now covered with those beautiful planks — well washed of course. I also built planting boxes and created wall hangings with some of the wood. My latest project was a two-tier strawberry bed I built last week out of salvaged 2×4 fence stringers for my daughter-in-law’s birthday present.

I might mention that I still have lots of wood. My friends even ask me if I want their old fence wood before they dispose of it. 

I mention this because I know many people who do not ordinarily garden are doing it this year. You do not have to have brand new flowerpots and fancy raised beds to grow things in containers. 

A plastic five-gallon bucket or an old washtub can be great containers for growing tomato plants. Maybe not a ten-foot indeterminate variety, but sometimes even a six-foot tomato cage is not enough for that!

Planting containers can be as simple as arranging bricks or rocks in a circle or rectangle and adding some potting soil. You can use an old mixing bowl or a tin bucket or any other container you can find. Just be sure to drill a hole in the bottom so you don’t create a mini-swamp. Drainage is important.

Another important consideration is the soil. Use potting soil in containers. Regular dirt from your yard will not work as well as nice, soft, organic potting mix.

Remember that container plants will dry out quicker than those planted in the ground, so check them often and water regularly.

Try planting normally invasive plants like mint or stringy sedum in containers. If you have leftover seeds from previous years, plant some in containers and see what happens. Marigolds or zinnias or other annual flowers planted in pots add a nice splash of color here and there in the garden. Try some lettuce or other leafy greens in pots. Herbs like basil, sage, parsley and many others are great choices for containers.

I hope you all will be inspired to look around at the things you have in your yard, garage, basement, etc. and find or build a container to grow flowers or vegetables in. Or, just dig up a little spot in your yard and plant something. Growing beautiful plants and fresh vegetables is very satisfying and comforting in a time when we need all the joy and contentment we can find!

Janet Sroufe is a Sedgwick County Master Gardener. She welcomes comments and questions. Contact her at