Ideas for creating hardscape using thrift store and estate sale finds

Story and Photos by Leslie Derrenbacker

Hardscape (by a much watered down definition) is something added to your garden that is not a plant. Hardscape is a very important element when planning any garden space. It provides four seasons of interest, requires little to no maintenance, and allows you to personalize your garden in a way plants cannot.

By adding a few coats of flat black paint and a transition piece under the hanging basket, this lamp turned plant stand is ready to join some real wrought-iron pieces in the garden.

Whether you picture hardscape as a retaining wall or as a bit of garden art, cost can be a big consideration. With your pocketbook in mind, here are some ideas for creating hardscape using thrift store and estate sale finds guaranteed to reflect your personality and enhance your garden without dipping too far into your “Gotta have that plant fund.”

This Vase joins a fish bowl and a globe from a light fixture to provide four-season interest in a garden bed. Cobalt blue is a popular accent color in many gardens.

Thrift stores are virtual warehouses for old lamps of every description. You’ll want to place prospective choices on the floor to test them for stability. A beautiful lamp creation that constantly falls over is just frustrating.

When you find one that passes the “floor test,” be open-minded about color. With a couple coats of spray paint, the lamp with the hideous camo paint job can become a plant stand that looks like faux bronze, sandstone, or terra-cotta.

This combo practically put itself together. The lamp was already a lovely color and the metal lazy Susan fit on top as though they were made for each other. Now it’s a bird feeder, but with a few adjustments would make a pretty birdbath.

Now you are ready to begin the transition from a lamp sitting NEXT to a bed, to one sitting IN a bed – of annuals – by taking the lamp apart. This is usually quite easy and only a few tools are needed.

Originally white, this lamp has a new life as a “terra-cotta” plant stand. The pot on top is an actual old terra-cotta pot.

Once disassembled, every lamp has a screw protruding from the top of the main portion. Don’t be too quick to remove it. For some projects, such as plant stands, the screw will line up perfectly with the pot’s drainage hole and will help stabilize the pot.

This lamp not only passed the “floor test,” but has a really heavy base. By painting over its original hideous paint and adding two hanging baskets, the result is a piece of garden art with lots of potential.

Next, take a little time to study the shape of the lamp, and try adding different objects and combinations of objects to the top. When you are happy with the results and paint has been applied as needed, you can permanently join your pieces together with clear weatherproof adhesive. Given Florida’s weather, applying a clear spray-on topcoat is also in order.

The next time you are in a thrift store or at a garage sale, keep an eye out for large clear vases and clear globes from light fixtures. The vases can be repurposed into stands for plants, sundials, or gazing balls. The glass globes can be transformed in gazing balls or other accent pieces.

This lamp sports a pretty glass bowl and a sundial.

I say “clear” specifically because one trick I’ve learned is to only spray paint the inside of these items. The effect is much brighter and the painted finish is protected from the elements.

Thrift stores that specialize in salvaged building supplies and the garages at estate sales are your best bet for finding garden spigots. With a little luck, they will still be attached to a metal pipe. Once you have the spigot, pipe, and fitting, a chandelier crystal is next on your shopping list. These can be somewhat of a challenge to find and you might have to buy one.

This cute “dripping spigot” would look great in any garden. Finding a spigot with a frog handle was a nice bonus.

Assembly is super easy. Attach the spigot, elbow joint, and pipe together and then adhere the crystal(s) just inside the spout with a heavy-duty epoxy. A brand that suggests 24 hours to cure is your best bet. 

Now, just push the pipe into the ground and you have an eye-catching bit of garden art. If the pipe is short, add your spigot decor to a container.

An old fishing net has endless possibilities. A tea light lantern, small potted plant, “dripping” watering can, or a hummingbird feeder would all look cute displayed in the hoop.

Sometimes we stumble upon something and instantly envision it as a fun piece of hardscape. Here are a few examples:

  • An old fishing net can be a great holder for a lantern, a small potted plant, or a “dripping” watering can.
  • A sconce shelf, when inverted and nestled in a plant bed, becomes a pretty surprise as you stroll a garden path.
  • A pair of old andirons combined with a broken pot. The result? An attractive way to display seasonal annuals.
Though found separately, this lamp and the “Thinking Lady” figurine make a great little statue for a formal (or not so formal) garden.

If you are like me, part of your mind is always thinking about your garden. How fun to know you can bargain shop and enrich your garden space at the same time.

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