Trash becomes floral works of art in Vejlstrup workshop

Published May 19, 2014 at 3:15 pm (Updated May 19, 2014 at 3:15 pm)

Master gardener and Peters Township resident Nancy Vejlstrup said the harsh winter weather, especially the frigid winds, caused a great number of her outdoor hardy plants to die. And while bare leaves and dead foliage may mar local yards, Vejlstrup advocates using a variety of flowering annuals planted in what some consider to be junk, as a great way to liven up otherwise barren yards, porches and garden walls.

During a Trash to Treasure program May 8 at the Peters Township Public Library, Vejlstrup created four unique floral displays using an old cracker tin, a scrub bucket, an antique cookie truck and a train case from a set of luggage from the 1950s and ’60s.

In addition to being a Penn State Master Gardener, Vejlstrup is an exhibit designer for Phipps Conservatory, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh.

She is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

When it comes to creating and planting a container, such as a wicker basket, old metal tea pot or a huge fishing boat, she only has a few rules: there must be drainage holes in the bottom of any and all containers, and use discretion when placing the various creations outdoors.

“I’m not talking about filling up the yard with containers,” she told the audience of about 15 women during the nearly two-hour session. “You don’t want to put a pickup truck as a container in the yard.”

The creations should be a focal point in the garden.

“Not the entire garden,” she told the women.

In addition to getting her hands dirty, she is also not shy about sorting through trash searching for the latest treasure.

While some avid gardeners would cringe at the thought, Vejlstrup has a tip that can trick the eye into thinking a planting area is in constant bloom – good quality silk or polyester flowers. She suggests purchasing the polyester or silk flowers and then taking them along to the nursery where the colors are matched. When the live plants take a growing break – and they always do – then it’s time to place the silks among the foliage. Vejlstrup said she fooled her neighbors for years into thinking her geraniums and other annuals were perpetually in perfect bloom.

Another tip is to always use a good quality potting soil. She has luck with Miracle Grow that not only acts as soil, but also keeps the plants fertilized for several months. If the container is large and would be extremely heavy if filled completely with potting soil, she uses Styrofoam or biodegradable packing peanuts as the bottom layer.

When arranging the containers of old tin kitchen canisters, wash basins, metal buckets and wooden seed boxes, she follows three simple height categories: thrillers, high plants; fillers, in the middle range; and spillers, trailing plants like sweet potato vines and ivy. She also recommends mixing blooming plants, like geraniums, campanula and million bells that attract butterflies, bloom constantly and do not need to be deadheaded.

And, yes, she said, annuals and perennials can be mixed in the same container.

With the invention of the solar lights, Vejlstrup advocates adding a single spike light to a larger container to add a different touch to the arrangement.

Like people, plants need nourishment and water to thrive and survive. It’s best to water too little than to water too much.

“Plants don’t like to have their feet wet,” she told the women.

While there are some rules, like drainage holes, appropriate light and fertilizer, Vejlstrup encouraged all gardeners to use their imagination and to see more than just an old wooden chair or rusted mailbox. Colorful flowers can transform just about anything from trash to a treasure.

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