It takes Out of the Box thinking when it comes to designing a sustainable garden. Think recycled materials, repurposed parts, and drought tolerant plantings.

For inspiration we took a trip up to Heilmann’s Salvage Yard in Atascadero. Metal and plastic gaskets were piled in boxes, differing in size and color. Roll-off bins were filled with varied lengths of cut steel pipes. Sheets of cutout steel were left stacked on the side of the dirt driveway. Disassembled tractors, old cars parts, phone booths, restaurant equipment, washers, dryers…..a never ending sprawl of ‘junk’. There were so many gems. I left wanting my own salvage yard; a treasure chest of inspiration! I will definitely revisit this place in the future.

All purchases at the salvage yard are done by weight, so while some of the larger rusted scrap was art in itself we settled for a few boxes of gaskets, some rough cut steel pipe, 2 large 8’x4’ rusted steel sheets with large cutouts, and a few disks from a disassembled tractor.

The SLO Botanical Garden gave us a 10‘x12’ confined space in which to execute our design. After coming to the realization that all our salvaged material was circular in theme our design was quickly inspired to be ‘Out of the Box’.  A local landscape contractor provided us with 5’ diameter corrugated drainage pipe, left over from a large construction project. We grouped 3 pieces of the drain to form our raised planter beds.

Tom Hessel, Nick Wilkenson and myself took the day off work to get our hands dirty, hauling piles of DG, laying out plant material and the rusted steel pipes.

See our time-lapsed pictures on facebook.

The final product has sedums and native dudleyas snaking through the raised planters. The steel pipes pop up and down through the vegetation like high-rise buildings in an urban cityscape. We used the varying size of gaskets as a ground cover to set off the plant material and tie into the the corrugated black drain pipe.

Final Design from a birds-eye-view

Kara Suzuki (Our Favorite Graphic Artist of We3) and her son Cruz running through the ‘Portal’.


-Nick Wilkenson at Grow Nursery for all our plant material

-Kara Suzuki at We3 Graphic Design Studio for our signage

-Kevin O’Donnel for the corrugated pipe

-Heilmann Salvage in Atascadero for loaning us the steel pipes and gaskets

-Jeffrey Smith for allowing us to break free from the office and our computers for a couple days.

Make sure to stop by and see ‘Out of the Box’ and get inspiration for your own home garden. The demonstration gardens will only be up till the 23 of May!