Each spring, on the weekend before Mother’s Day, Yakima master gardeners hold an epic plant sale at their greenhouses on South 18th Avenue. For thousands of Yakima gardeners, the sale marks the official start of a new growing season. Shoppers wait patiently in long lines to buy wagonloads of premium plants, grown locally by their neighbors and friends.
Renee Holwegner shopped the sale for years before she became a master gardener in 2012. While she loved the sale, she felt it could be even better. Every garden becomes a unique expression of the gardener’s personality. While plants are important, there are other ways to tell a gardener’s story.
Rusting and degraded metals, bits of tangled barbed wire, and colorful broken glass. Renee sees beauty and potential in the discarded and abandoned materials that most of us wouldn’t give a second glance. She’s called “Re-cycle Re-nee” for good reason. She’s been shaping and welding these humble components into stunning pieces of art for years, often to benefit the Shayla Fund, a nonprofit she founded to honor the memory of her oldest daughter. The fund provides financial support to families who have children facing serious health issues.
Renee also makes art for her garden, which has been featured on the Yakima Arboretum Garden Tour. Under her leadership, the 2012 plant sale included a “Garden Art Department” for the first time. If there were any rules, there was just one. All materials must come from reused or recycled sources.
In the beginning, some members had doubts that “art” had a place at a plant sale. Veteran master gardeners Diana Pieti and Margie Conzatti became Renee’s creative accomplices from the very beginning, and any concerns soon evaporated as one successful sale followed another.
In 2019, the “Garden Art Department” space in the sales area of the greenhouse was renamed “Mirth in the Garden.” It’s identified by a sign created by Jenny Mansfield from — what else but recycled plywood, a twin bed headboard, bolts and washers, broken pruners and a pitchfork, old chains, clamps, and miscellaneous metal pieces (the rustier, the better). “Mirth in the Garden” perfectly describes what you’ll find.
“Mirth” is gaiety, gladness, and lightness of heart, served up with joyful laughter. The Master Gardeners who gather every Friday for months to work on plant sale art projects don’t take themselves too seriously. After all, Andy Warhol observed that art “is anything you can get away with.”
Jenny Mansfield, a woman after Renee’s own heart, became a master gardener in 2018 and chaired the arts committee for this year’s sale. Jenny’s garden, designed so that one garden room leads to another, has also been featured on the Arboretum Garden Tour. Around every corner, you’ll find whimsical adornments created by Jenny and her husband Ron. Like Renee, they have a knack for making something wonderful out of not much at all.
If special supplies are ever needed for a project, running to the store is inconceivable. Jenny simply posts a “Wish List” in the Master Gardener newsletter. It never fails that the elusive items are collecting dust at the bottom of someone’s closet.
Jenny describes her team’s creations this year as “one-of-a-kind farm-style.” A busted whiskey barrel planter was mined for its staves, which were crafted into rustic candelabras. A beat-up, broken guitar was transformed into an amazing bird house. Wooden pallets and old orchard props were up-cycled into a potting bench. More benches were made from wood salvaged from the original master gardener greenhouse that collapsed under heavy snow two winters ago and had to be bulldozed. The headboard and footboard of an old twin bed, with an orchard prop seat, became a charming garden loveseat. If you were at the sale, you couldn’t miss “Willow Woman,” my favorite creation. Crafted from willow and dogwood branches over a chicken wire frame and larger than life, she is impressive.
And then there’s the story of “Queen B.” Master gardener Debra Kroon frequently walks along a ditch bank in East Valley, and for years noticed a rusty jumble of discarded wire in a nearby field. She finally mentioned her “find” to Renee, who rescued the wire and spent five hours just uncoiling it. After more hours of shaping and welding, Queen B was born. This impish sculpture now graces Debra’s garden.
The next time you decide to clean out your basement, attic, or garage, think twice about discarding anything you classify as “junk.” Try visualizing it as recyclable material that could enjoy a second life. How many times do buy something new for your home or garden without taking a moment to think of the recycled materials you could use instead?