Published on 08/07/08

'Dish' garden is functional, recycled art

By Sharon Dowdy

On their own, container gardens or recycling are not new concepts. But Tony Johnson combined the two and made a unique, eye-catching, floral conversation piece.

The 8-foot diameter satellite dish once helped a homeowner tune into the latest movies and broadcasts. But today, it receives curious looks and smiles as a “dish garden” at the University of Georgia Research and Education Garden in Griffin, Ga.

Creative recycling

As horticulturist for the garden, Johnson is known for his creativity and ingenuity. “I have a limited budget and very limited manpower, so I rely heavily on volunteers and donations,” he said. “So, when one of our Master Gardener volunteers asked me if I wanted his old satellite dish, I said, ‘Sure.’”

No matter what size or form, containers are perfect for planting under tree canopies, he said. Johnson places his first dish garden under a Chinese Evergreen Oak tree. The almost complete shade was perfect for growing hostas. But the dish could’ve been filled with any number of annual or perennial plants.

Water drains through

The satellite dish Johnson used is made of metal mesh. Excess water drains through the soil and waters the tree roots beneath.

“When you plant in the ground under trees, you risk destroying the tree’s root system,” Johnson said. “The satellite dish is perfect because it’s large, but the base is very small so it leaves a small footprint and doesn’t interfere with the tree’s roots.”

Johnson is now searching for more dish donations to plant around the 65-acre UGA garden.

“I know you can donate old dishes to a scrap metal recycler, but I view my idea as recycling, too,” he said.

Old items make for unique garden fodder

Don't be too quick to toss away your old items. They could make for quirky outdoor garden features, too.

Heirloom gardens are typically full of plants reminiscent of gardens from the Old South. What better, more creative way to label your selections than with china plate name markers?

Other yard art ideas include using an old wheelbarrow or wooden chest as a planter. A brass headboard from an old bed may seem useless, but in a flower garden it becomes an attractive minifence.

At the UGA garden in Griffin, Johnson’s other recycled creations include an antique iron bed he turned into a flower “bed” and old scrap metal welded into garden art that resembles cat tails, birds and butterflies.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.