The Recycled Garden

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I guess you can call me the recycled gardener. I gather seeds and cuttings from neighbors and friends and look for cuttings tossed out by my neighbor’s gardeners. Then I grow them in my own garden. It’s a hobby I started when I became a dog owner and had to take long walks with my dog. Soon, I was noticing the cuttings and plants tossed out by my neighbors on garden waste day.

It wasn’t long before I picked up a few of these cuttings and started growing them in my own yard. The fun of seeing these almost dead plants and cuttings come back to life and grace my garden with their beauty has brought me such enjoyment that I would like to share it with our readers.

In my Italian grandma’s day, the garden was an essential part of life. The front and back of every home was filled with flowers for the beauty of their blooms and vegetables to provide sustenance for the family.

A friend gave me a root cutting from her Amaryllis, it grew so large!

Grandma’s Garden

Grandma’s garden, like her mother’s garden before hers, was filled with a bounty of flowers, plants and herbs and not one of them was purchased in a store or garden shop. No, in grandma’s day the ladies of the house, in order to produce those bountiful gardens, exchanged cuttings and seeds with their close-knit neighbors and family members. Today, neighbors don’t put so much stock in exchanging plants, they just run out to the local home store and buy whatever they need.

With the cost of food and gas so high these days it’s not surprising that purchasing plants has to come far down on the list of “must have” items. Well, you can still have gorgeous gardens and not spend a dime to get them. Every neighborhood has a garden’s waste pick-up day; it’s usually the same day as your trash can pick-up. When I take my dog for her daily walk, I make sure to bring a good sized bag along with me.

grandma garden
Grandma’s garden.

Finding Seeds and Starters

As I walk, I look for tossed away garden trimmings that are waiting to be hauled away by the gardeners. You would truly be amazed by what I have found and grown from these cuttings, trimmings and tossed away plants and fruits: Wisteria, hydrangeas, daisies, roses,begonias, fruit trees and any bulbs that are still moist, any flowers that have dried and turned to seed are good for this purpose, too.

You can shake out the seeds from the dead flowers and save them for spring planting. I especially like to do this with sunflowers and any flower that reseeds itself. Hydrangeas are easily grown by using the tossed away cuttings. Just place the stems in containers of sand or a good potting soil, or if you don’t have any of these, it will work with good old fashioned water and soil. Keep them watered and protected from bugs and by next year you’ll have a beautiful hydrangea plant.

Blooming hydrangeas
Beautiful blooming Hydrangeas.

The same is true for rose cuttings, and geraniums. If you see a wilted geranium plant or cutting don’t be fooled by its look. These plants have a great knack for survival and a little TLC and water will bring them right back. Some added minerals and vitamins are a big help, but not completely necessary. I’ve been doing this for years and my garden is a mass of beautiful blooms.

It’s become a challenge to see just what I can save and start up in my own garden. It only takes a small piece of cutting in some cases. One day, I found a tiny piece of ice plant, it didn’t look like much, but I stuck it in the wet earth and forgot about it. To my surprise, it blossomed with glorious pink flowers. These dazzling blooms open to the warmth of the sun each day.

Time For Gourds And Pumpkins

Right after Halloween is the best time to get gourds and pumpkins. Just open them up and clean out the seeds, dry those seens and toss them all around your yard in the early spring; they are a hardy plant and will give you plenty of pumpkins for the following year.

pumpkin
Pumpkin and seeds.

One day while on another walk, I found an oregano plant that had been tossed out by its roots. The owner of the plant said it was a volunteer plant growing in his driveway and he had plenty more in the backyard, so I gladly took it home.

I stuck it in my backyard soil in a sunny spot and now I have a lovely patch of freshly growing oregano whenever I want it. (Oregano is best dried and crumbled in fine pieces in salads and tomato sauce, as every Italian cook knows.)

I find all sorts of flowers and even fruit tossed out in the garden waste. I grew a lovely nectarine tree from the pit inside of a tossed-out fruit.

Sharing Garden Gifts

On another walk I found whole sunflower heads tossed out in the waste. I took the heads home, dried some for the birds and some for planting, the result: a bunch of happy birds and some tall sunny plants gracing my yard the following season. Just about anything can be grown from cuttings and of course if you are lucky enough to find some plants with the roots still on, all the better.

sunflower
Sunflowers in a bucket.

Roses are fairly easy to grow from cuttings, as most gardeners know. If you find one in the street waste, just pick off a few bottom leaves, stick it in a pot of earth, and if you have root starter, all the better, if not, just stick it in the pot and cover it with a clear plastic soda bottle with the bottom cut off, or whatever you can improvise to use as a hot house until it takes hold. I’ve grown them without the hot house trick, but it protects them from the bugs and most gardeners swear by it.

Lilac trees are another easy one to grow from cuttings. I was always told they had to be started from small plants that sprout from the mother plant, but I found branches of them tossed away in the garden waste and now I have several lilac trees that bloom every year.

Talk To Your Neighbors

Get to know your neighbors, it is another way to replenish a fading garden, exchange cuttings and seedlings with each other and you’ll be surprised how fast a recyled garden of cuttings can become a garden of beautiful flowers, greenery, plants and fragrant herbs.

Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a “Remember When” column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of “Mother’s Miracle” books ( Morrow books).

She has a short story in the new book “ELVIS”, Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman’s World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.

Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L’italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.