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Trash to treasure
Gail Morgan’s love of recycled garden art has turned her yard into a funky and eclectic outdoor space

By MARY LOU SANTOVEC

August 2006

An iron gate welcomes visitors into the flower-filled yard.


Not everyone hates change. In fact, Wauwatosa gardener Gail Morgan actually thrives on it.

Unlike the gardeners who like the predictability of perennials, the gardens on Morgan’s half-acre lot contain many varieties of annuals. "Some people shy away from annuals because of their cost and upkeep," she says. "But I like to change."

Pots of plants make that change intentional. Each year Morgan puts new combinations together and places the results in various spots around her yard and on her deck. Larger pots are placed next to smaller ones or trimmed with rocks or shells. And the pots are stuffed full with various vines and blossoms — no single geraniums for her, thank you very much.

"The beauty of pots is that you can move them around," says Morgan. "When stuff is in the ground you’re kind of sunk." This year, she’s also in a change mode with plans to convert the annuals alongside the driveway in her front yard into mounded areas filled with grasses and perennials.

Pots of plants are only the beginning of the experience in the Morgan gardens. If you were to describe her landscape in two words, it would have to be eclectic and funky. As an artist, she likes to think of her gardens as an extension of her paint palette, hence the bright colors and recycled garden art.

The art often competes for attention with the flowers. There are the handpainted table and chairs outside of her screened-in glass porch. Another painted half-table and chair is clamped to a lattice trellis. Her collection of concrete faces is scattered about, startling visitors when they’re noticed.

Morgan has hung a wreath of brightly painted pots on the trellis although she doesn’t recommend someone making a similar one out of clay pots like she did. "I’d suggest using different size plastic pots," she says. "They’re lighter and easier to work with."

A $5 flea-market bicycle is painted white, its basket filled with fuchsia and pink impatiens. Painted garden chairs, minus parts of their seats, hold pots of blooms. Her husband, Jim, acquired a concrete planter with a tiny nick from the local dump. A birdbath was assembled from a variety of sizes of clay pots, painted and then topped with a saucer from the largest pot. There’s a contemporary gray water fountain ringed with impatiens and Shasta daisies.

Morgan is proud to announce that between acquiring things from the local dump and gifts of unwanted furniture from friends, she’s never purchased a garden chair. But she’s had great fun converting someone’s trash into her treasures.

A funky painted table and chairs fits right in with the eclectic look of the Morgan yard.

Old storm windows and birdhouses haven’t escaped without a coat of paint. "I’m not that great of a painter, but for a garden it doesn’t have to be a Picasso," says Morgan of her artistic endeavors.

Inspiration for both her art and her gardens comes in many forms. "I have that type of mind that’s just a little off-kilter," she chuckles. On a tour of homes, noticing what appeared to be pewter roses, she discovered they were actually red cabbages. "If you let them grow and feed them as if they were flowers, they turn into great ‘roses,’" says Morgan. "And they’re cheaper than the flowering kale plants." She also borrows ideas from magazines and trips to greenhouses.

Impatiens, zinnias and marigolds welcome visitors with their brightly colored blooms. There are also hostas and coral bells in her shade garden, which encircles a huge arbor vitae like a sculpture at the base of the tree. Yarrow and daylilies fill in the sunny portion of that shade garden.

The key for Morgan is to have lots of choices. "If you have a lot of plants, people don’t notice what isn’t good because you have so much," she explains.

A stone wall and basin provide a natural touch for a water spigot where the Morgans can fill their watering can while tending to their gardens.


Coleus is one of her favorites and you’ll find varieties in rainbow colors from yellow to deep purple. "No bugs seem to eat it and it doesn’t get powdery mildew," Morgan explains of her choice. "The only thing is you have to water it a lot."

For this Master Gardener, gardening is obviously a passion. After she retired as a clinical instructor in radiology at Froedtert Hospital, she’s had more time to enjoy the fruits of her labor. "It keeps me physically fit and it helps with the osteoporosis and the waist line," she says. "I’m not the kind who touches her toes 80 times."

Besides converting the front yard gardens, this year’s project is installing a rain garden. Morgan is putting plants into a portion of her yard to slow down runoff that would otherwise go into the sewer. And likely planning more changes for her existing spaces.