A journey through the pages of Handmade Garden Projects, Lorene Edwards Forkner’s wonderful DIY idea and how-to guide, is a lot like taking a road trip with her to shop junkyards, flea markets, and vintage sales. I should know, because I’ve tagged along on many such adventures. There was one NHS trip where most of us came home with plants. But Lorene came home with a rack of antlers and a vintage game board.
What you and I would consider a pile of clutter in our garage or basement is, to this talented Seattle artist, designer, and author, the raw material of a cool garden project. Once she shows us how to re-imagine a section of gutter as a modern succulent planter for the balcony railing, there’s an a-ha moment and we start to appreciate the potential of everyday objects in a new way. “I’m a handmade gardening gal—part eco-friendly, non-traditionalist, part crafty creative with more ideas than money,” she writes. “My garden is my canvas, my vision, and my voice. A place where I am free of all rules, except those of Nature herself. It’s where I make my unique mark on the world.”
Indeed, Lorene has been turning nothing into something for most of her horticultural career. At Fremont Gardens, her Seattle specialty nursery that closed in 2007, she turned bags of concrete mix into colorful stepping-stones that resembled chenille pillows known as Tuffits. In 2003, when she won one of her two Best in Show gold medals at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, Lorene wowed us with a scaled-down aluminum trailer-cum-garden house, making people want to move outside. Permanently.
The book bears the subtitle: “Step-by-Step Instructions for Creative Garden Features, Containers, Lighting & More,” which indicates some of the categories to which would-be crafters are treated. Sections begin with The Ground Floor—stepping stones, edging ideas and something quirky called a “temporary turf tattoo.” They end with Organize & Store—including an easy potting bench and a flower-arranging kit.
In between, we are treated to more than thirty-one projects, including trellises, fire pits, fountains, container gardeners, terrariums, and birdbaths—all created with a little elbow grease and a few prosaic ingredients.
Last summer, I stood with Lorene in her West Seattle garden (which is part art studio, part horticultural laboratory) and watched as more than seventy-five garden bloggers from the US, Canada, and the UK arrived. They spilled out of their tour vans and scattered like hummingbirds, flitting from one dazzling feature to the next. Cameras and notebooks were busy that day as these kindred spirits oohed and aahed over the many inspiring projects on display. Everything Lorene created for Handmade Garden Projects has a place in her garden—a reassuring thing to know when you embark on making her projects yourself. And while the materials, tools, and techniques listed here are well explained, and the photographs highlight specific details, Lorene gives the reader plenty of room for experimentation. She offers alternatives to help you make each project your very own.
If you are wondering what’s in this book for plant nerds, the good news is: plenty. Each chapter lists Lorene’s recommendations for plants that work with specific projects. So, for example, after you’ve constructed an artful obelisk with bamboo poles and zip ties, turn to page 89, where Lorene outlines her favorite “flowering annual vines of summer” to plant at its feet. An inspired pairing, of course.
Debra Prinzing, garden writer