Lexington woman used repurposed gutters as planters to dress up privacy fence

Contributing Garden WriterJune 30, 2012 

  • Rain gutter garden instructions

    ■ Decide where you want to hang your gutters, and what lengths you'll need. Suggestions include suspended along fences or outdoor walls, hanging from an overhead arbor. For children, place them lower to the ground. For gardeners with limited motion and flexibility, a raised height might be better.

    ■ Find gutters you'd like to use, along with hangers and end caps. Salvage and antique shops, home supply stores, and home restoration Web sites including Preservationdirectory.com are good places to start. You can find sophisticated antiques and replicas or recycled shabby chic. Half-round gutters, which are U-shaped with a diameter of 5 to 8 inches, work well as plant containers.

    ■ Prepare the gutters for planting by punching or drilling a series of small drainage holes about 4 inches apart along the bottoms. Attach the fasteners to the walls, or hang from metal link chains. You can even lay them across supports on the ground.

    ■ Paint or decorate as you prefer.

    ■ Line the inside of each gutter with porous black landscaping cloth to help retain the soil. Fill with lightweight potting soil, adapted to the particular type of greenery you want to grow.

    ■ Choose and add some smaller plants that will survive well without deep root systems, perhaps a mix of herbs, leafy greens and annual flowers. In sunny places, try thyme transplants, a mesclun leaf lettuce seed mix, or popular tender succulents. In shady spots, use small ferns, basil and brightly colored impatiens or small petunias.

    ■ Water frequently, because the limited amount of soil can dry out quickly. Fertilize occasionally. Keep the plants trimmed back for a fuller and more compact shape.

    Susan Smith-Durisek

Privacy fences, those lackluster barriers found to be essential in so many city neighborhoods, keep out prying eyes while marking property lines. Linda Svec is experimenting with a new idea for improving the looks of those fences while allowing for a more practical and efficient use of space. Her solution: rain gutter gardens.

"Privacy fences are ugly," she says, "and everybody has them."

Her idea is that people can attach the long, narrow rain gutters to fences, or hang them as planters from overhead trellis supports, and use them as planters. That creates vertical gardens in previously unused spaces while beautifying fences.

Svec, who has lived near St. Joseph Hospital for more than 20 years, lists other benefits. Using recycled materials is environmentally friendly, and if arranged well and painted, the gutters add a decorative element to the yard. And although plants in the gutters need to be watered often, they use much less water than an in-ground garden.

Svec has painted hers a rich blue, to match the cobalt bottles on a tree in her back yard.

Gutter placement can vary from a comfortable shoulder height for people who have trouble bending, to just a few feet from the ground, easily reachable by children. In Svec's case, that would be grandchildren Ginny, 3, Ryanne, 9, and Nathan, 17.

Ginny likes the creeping jenny, with vines that trail down from the end of one gutter, because it sounds like her name. Strawberries in pots below the gutters also are great attractions for the children.

A preschool teacher who helped found the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton preschool, Svec is attuned to bringing children and nature together. With her husband, Jim Svec, who built some of the original hardscape at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive, she had their home certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. That required verifying that food, water and nesting shelter were available. As if to prove that point, the enormous maple tree in front of the house is filled with chattering birds.

Linda Svec also is a member of Friends of the Arboretum. She is on the board of directors and has special interest in the year-old Children's Garden.

"It was a good fit for me," she says. "There exists a whole generation of folks who know nothing about gardening."

The gutter gardens are yet another way to reverse that trend. Svec has hung three sections, attaching them with gutter hangers to her wooden stockade fence and filling them with a variety of herbs, including basil and thyme; colorful annual flowers; and leaf lettuce, sprouted from seed.

"It was wasted space," she says, "and now it is well used."

Susan Smith-Durisek is a master gardener and writer from Lexington. Email: durisek@aol.com. Blog: Gardening.bloginky.com.

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