Guest Room

7 Unconventional Gardening Tips to Liven Up Your Home and Yard

By Charlotte on July 10, 2013 6:13 AM

By Scott Sullivan, fine gardening manager at Topiarius

Want to make a statement without saying a word? Start gardening. Studies show that gardening is good for your health. It helps you reduce stress and allows an instant reconnection with nature--even for those who don't have large backyards. Plus, getting your hands dirty is a great outlet for creativity. Whether you're a perennial green thumb or a sapling when it comes to gardening, these approaches to unconventional horticulture will help turn your outdoor space into a unique oasis.


Think Outside the Pot

The first rule of unconventional gardening: There are no rules to unconventional gardening. That means trees can be pots and pots can be trees. Take birch poles, for example. These beautiful poles double as stylish, 100-percent-natural containers. Use them indoors or out as a vase for flowers and other trim. Or, gather together any number of birch poles (increase or decrease the number to fit your home's layout) and surround them with candles, pumpkins, wreaths, lanterns and other seasonal items. The arrangement looks great year-round, and is sure to be a conversation piece.

Birch poles 1 600.jpg 

Find a Focal Point

Drama and color go a long way in gardening, and this chartreuse bamboo pole and pink hydrangea arrangement wins the Oscar for drama. Our goal was to really make the container a focal point at this Chicagoland home. The bamboo provides solid height and the hydrangeas really pop. It's a refreshing spring awakening following a drab and long-lasting winter. Plus, the poles and balls are reusable, and you can spray paint them with new colors as the season (or years) change, adding vines as trellis/plant support or moss.

Chartreuse Bamboo Poles and Pink Hydrangea 600.jpg


Contrast Is Key

Make your planter a conversation piece by adding something unexpected to the mix, like deer antlers. Here, we contrasted the antlers with a non-typical plant, the cymbidium, and placed it all in a wire basket filled with moss. This kind of container is versatile, and can be used indoors or out. In fact, you can switch out red blooming flowers with succulents, reusing the container for all seasons.

Planter with Orchid and Deer Antler 600.jpg


Plant a Statue On It

When it comes to gardening, plants don't have to be the centerpiece, contrary to common conception. In this case, we incorporated an antique sculpture into a large planter, and surrounded the Buddha with green. This is something you'd want to incorporate into the landscape, rather than placing it by, say, a front door. A large planter can serve as a room divider or punctuation. By going big, you'll open up opportunities for sculptures, shrubs and other unique green options. For the sake of variety, you can even plant something seasonal and change out the adornments around the base.

Silver Metal Planter with Bottom Buddha 600.jpg 

Three Is the Magic Number

Another lesson in gardening: sometimes, the container takes center stage. That's how it was with these three playful orange planters. The repetitiveness of the vessels is so attention-getting that they draw the eyes away from the greenery, itself. Instead, the plants are simply an accent to the containers, and not the lead act. The key to recreating this scene is to find a container in a non-traditional color, and buy three of them (one or two duplicate containers lack the same effect). Place small, inexpensive, matching plants within, and you're done. This visual works particularly well in a challenging location, where the planters are useful in keeping dogs off the lawn or camouflaging bad soil.

3 orange containers 600.jpg


Expect the Unexpected

Window boxes don't have to go in front of windows. Brick and metal doors actually make for a stunning backdrop when it comes to a dramatic black window box. Here, using the unexpected is the goal. Combine plants with accents such as natural feathers (peacock feathers are a personal favorite), ornamental bells, white branches (spray or paint them different colors) and more. Put your creativity to the test. The more ornamentation you add, the more durability you'll give your display.

 Black Window box with white sticks and peacock feather 600s.jpg


Get Bamboozled

Need more Zen in your life? Bamboo could do the trick, and it's easy to add to your garden. First, mix and match three containers of different heights and styles to tell an interesting story. Fill each container with plants, and place bright, oversize bamboo poles in the tallest container. With this kind of instant charisma, your friends will think you're a design pro. We love the pop of the red paint, but you can switch it up seasonally or according to your mood.

3 Containers with Red Bamboo Poles 600.jpg


Scott Sullivan 250.jpg





About the Author

Scott Sullivan is the fine gardening manager at Topiarius, a Chicago-based leader of urban garden and floral décor services. He was recently named one of the city's eight best container designers. He's also received the Clesen Wholesale's Summer Annuals Container and the Fall Annuals Container design awards.

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Diabetes-Friendly Chicken Burrito Bowl

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By Laura Cipullo and Lisa Mikus, authors of Everyday Diabetes Meals
Image credit: Colin Erricson

Prepare your own Mexican quick fix with this Chipotle-inspired bowl. Carbs are moderated by filling the bowl with beans, extra veggies and chicken. No need for rice, since the beans count as carbs.


If you love tomatoes, increase the quantity to 1/2 cup, but note that the carbohydrates will also increase.

If preparing this recipe for one person, cut all of the ingredients in half. Or simply prepare the full recipe up to the end of step 2 and store leftover chicken and vegetable-bean mixture in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat in the microwave on High for 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through, and continue with step 3.

Health Bite: The iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper and zinc in black beans help to keep bones strong and healthy.

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