Trash talk has helped Matthew Levesque fashion an inventive career in garden design.
He holds "creative reuse" workshops, and his "yardscaping" creations made from locally available items have become austerity-chic collectibles.
"I'm trying to get people thinking about alternative sources for their materials," said Levesque, author of "The Revolutionary Yardscape" (Timber Press, 2010). "Lots of landscape people are beginning to pay attention."
A slumping economy is forcing consumers to be as imaginative about finding landscaping supplies as they are about using them. Levesque is a master at crafting yard decor from cast-off materials that otherwise would stuff landfills or litter vacant lots. He turns toolboxes into planters, and makes walkways from tumbled, recycled glass. He uses doors for fences and links small ceramic tubes into rain chains, a substitute for downspouts.
"It's the art of using what we've got," said Levesque, who also operates what he describes as a "thrift store for house parts" in San Francisco. "I use my garden as a test kitchen, trying things out to see if they work."
Ignore the cookie-cutter garden furnishings sold at big box stores and nurseries, Levesque said. Instead, reclaim building materials with recognizably local origins so you can make one-of-a-kind statements.
"What is a flowerpot but a hole with a bottom and sides? Through reuse, a great many things can fit that description," he said.
Where should you look for reclaimable building supplies? Salvage yards are great spots to start, Levesque said.
"They generally offer goods at reasonable prices, and often the proceeds go to an affiliated nonprofit endeavor," he said. "This is a quick place to find beautiful old windows, doors, racks of sheet metal and other useful stuff."
And then there's snapping up materials considered waste by the companies that generate or handle them. That would include any company that makes, handles or processes things, Levesque said.
"When you are seeking materials, this waste stream is an excellent place to wade in and start looking around," he said.
Patronize surplus sales, particularly at hospitals, universities and restaurant supply houses that build up large stocks of outdated equipment and gear.
"Of interest to the creative gardener and the landscape designer is the wealth of stainless steel implements, equipment and containers," Levesque said. "If durable and shiny are on your spec sheet, find the closest outlet and go shopping."
Clover Chadwick is a Los Angeles designer who, like Levesque, embraces recycling as a way to shape things of beauty. She collects discards to reuse as backdrops for weddings, store openings and other events. Chadwick's designs blend the economical, aesthetic and environmental.
"I like decorating with tires, box springs, whatever I can grab that's been abandoned on streets or back alleys," she said. "They're offbeat. People use them as inspiration for their own gardens and I sometimes land landscaping jobs because of them."
Reusing tires in floral arrangements has been a creative signature for years at her Dandelion Ranch design studio. She uses tires as hanging planters, and converts mattress box springs into wall cubicles for growing succulents or other low-maintenance plants. Pallets, cans, crates and air ducts also come into play.
"If it holds soil, we'll plant it," Chadwick said. "You see trash. We see garden."