by Owen E. Dell

Many things that we have always considered trash are actually valuable resources that can be diverted from landfills to our gardens, where they can become a part of the sustainable landscape at no cost. Here are a few ideas that you might consider just for starters. With a little imagination, you can come up with other resources that are yours for the taking. Do yourselves, others and the earth a favor and become an expert at tapping the urban waste stream.


“Crazy Paving” made of broken concrete laid like flagstones has been used for centuries. Most of the time, this material is free for the hauling. Set in sand, broken concrete is attractive, permeable to rainfall and durable. Fragrant groundcovers like creeping thyme or chamomile can be planted in the cracks.

You could also make crazy paving out of broken asphalt or other durable construction refuse.

If a large tree is being cut down, have the workers cut the main trunk into 3-4″ thick slabs that can be used as stepping stones.

Tree chips make a nice informal path and are often free or available at minimal cost from tree companies.


Use construction waste, manufacturing scrap, fabric remnants, found objects, even car parts to make art for the garden. Make furniture out of wood from urban tree trimming & removals. Use discarded containers of all kinds to hold plants. Brake drums make great planters!


Sturdy low retaining walls can be made from broken concrete; they look surprisingly attractive. Broken asphalt could be used the same way, but isn’t quite as strong.

Free-standing walls and fences can make use of rammed earth, rubble or waste stones.

With a little creativity and craftsmanship, fences can be constructed of tree branches, bamboo or waste wood.


Raw materials for composting are everywhere. Stables can provide manure and bedding. Food waste is available from restaurants, institutions, markets, wineries, breweries and coffeehouses. Woodworking shops and lumber yards can supply sawdust and wood shavings. Gardeners, landscapers and tree companies can divert loads of trimmings from the dump to your house. The possibilities are endless. There are also lots of materials that can be spread as a mulch over bare ground, including tree chips, chipped pallets and waste wood. You might try roofing companies – sometimes they have large quantities of gravel removed from roofs. What else might be out there?

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