Shovel ready


I don’t mind stealing a phrase many others have used concerning the Asheville garden of Christopher Mello, visited by garden bloggers (our annual get-together) this past weekend.

The space is dominated by a central circular space filled with Tonka trucks and surrounded by upright shovels. There are also perennial borders—amazing blue (ish) poppies and campanula among other plants—and many other found object constructions. Spectacular bottle trees are another prominent feature.

Some members of our group suggested there might be a gender divide when it comes to truly appreciating such a garden. Others disagree. What do you think?

(Hotel wi-fi is not working, so had to resort to an iPhone post.)


Previous articleDear Pennington,
Next articleCrimes Against Horticulture, Pruning Division
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Gender’s got nothing to do with it, I think. You either catch on to the quirkiness.. or you don’t. It’s as simple as that!
    As for me, I love the blue bottle tree (not sure it would work in tropical India with the sun glaring and bouncing off all those bottles)but rusty spades and trucks … I think I’ll pass on that.

  2. I appreciate the whimsy. I’d sure rather look at this than some boring old grass/foundation planting squashed up against the house, planted with big box store crap kind of a yard.

  3. I love the bottle tree. The spades and trucks don’t really do it for me. I have two sons and this looks like what I’m usually trying to tidy up.

  4. I don’t think my garden would ever look like this, but I love it, especially the dump trucks for some reason. I imagine that they’re lifesize and I’m looking at them from far, far away.

  5. Neat!!! I have a feeling that he changes these settings on a regular basis. More power to him.

  6. I can’t imagine giving up that much planting space (I’m a victim of plant lust) to a mini-construction site, but to each his own.

  7. This particular version of “found-object de arte” is not my cup of tea(I’ve never understood the appeal of bottle trees, for one)but I would not be offended if he was my neighbor. And I don’t believe it’s a gender thing at all.

  8. Well, the trucks definitely shatter the potential zen feeling of the rock garden…or is the rock garden being made?

    The bottle tree is cute and quirky. Great color!

    As a mom, I’d worry about having rusting, sharp metal objects scattered around like that, particularly in the “toy box”.

    And not as a mom, I’m just not a big fan of all that reclaim sitting around. Some people like the so-called “distressed look” — I’d try to help it calm down and heal. Grinding wheel and Rustoleum, anyone?

  9. I’m a girl who grew up playing with Tonka trucks, so I can dig the idea or concept. However, I don’t like the design of that space.

    Is the Tonka area a play area of kids or for a grown man? It’s a little creepy if it’s for an adult.

  10. I love this! The Tonka truck thing isn’t my cup of tea—mostly ‘cos I don’t have kids!—but I love the bottle trees and Spadehenge and the rest. I’d totally do that. Except I have to agree with Deirdre that the truck area, at least, is a lot of space to give up to non-plants.

  11. This is a garden that must be seen to be fully appreciated. The plant palette is dominated by red leaved plants and blue toned flowers. It is the garden of a working artist’s studio. The garden is in a prominent corner location in East-West Asheville and Shovelhenge is practically an iconic image there.

    Children are drawn into the garden like bees to Blue Pearl poppies. Christopher has said “Parents in my neighborhood tell me that the dump truck arena is the only place that they can relax while their little ones are fully engaged..not my intention..but a great karmic bonus.”

  12. I’m not too into the Tonka truck thing, but everything else is fine. I do believe in supporting creativity. Also not sure if my taste in this regard is gender-related.

  13. Having seen it in person, I must say I’ve always loved it! The trucks are a part of it…but I’ve always loved the vintage birdcages in the tree and the sheet metal fountain more. That the garden is just there and open to anyone – bring a shovel and you get a tour! Very cool, very West Asheville!

  14. I really love it. Not really ‘it’; just that he would even do it! I think self expression is under valued.

    Super I phone post!

  15. Love the rusty implements & the bottle-tree, but the trucks do nothing for me. Wait – that’s not entirely accurate. The mothering part of me thinks that there need to be some kids in there playing, and the bark should be replaced with sand …

    I think the appeal of the garden depends not on one’s gender, but rather on gardening style.

  16. I don’t think it is a gender thing. My boyfriend would hate all of this. He likes things very tidy, and dislikes some of my distressed items. I don’t like the bottle trees, I never have. I do respect the creativity, and enjoy that people do some things that make us think outside our box. I prefer the “Chanticleer” creativity though.

  17. I for one love the idea of a Tonka Garden! As a child I was the only girl and baby of 4. I drove around many a Tonka Truck in the dirt with my brothers while being surrounded by Peony, Iris, Daffy’s, Quince, Wisteria etc. I am sure my being outside and playing in the dirt while surrounded by beauty has something to do with my love of gardening today. I think it is a great outlet to get children of today out from behind a TV and into nature. Their little bodys are like sponges and soak up so much when one is not aware it is happening. I think if we all had the same gardens, they would be so boring dont ya think? I for one love this garden and its whimsy. It allows one to use their imagaination and today, not many of the younger generation know how to do that. I am not a mother to human children but did work in Day Care for 7 years so I understand the importance of encouraging children to get outside…. This gal loves it and may add a smaller version to my gardens….

  18. It was hard to capture the feel of this garden with photographs, though I tried! It was beautiful, fun, original and the artist/gardener had such enthusiasm for it…that was great, too. It was pure delight to me.

  19. No, I don’t think it’s a sex-defined appreciation. Some years ago, a wonderful friend gardened an empty lot next to her house in downtown Old Savannah. She was a columnist for the Savannah newspaper, and her garden featured often her writing.
    Her garden combined a riotous mixture of amazing plants and constant-changing found objects, which were mixed among the plantings or along the paths or actually forming the paths themselves. Ropes of beads would appear dripping from trees
    or thick bottoms of bottles would appear as pavement among the bricks.
    I was in the garden on the day it was one of the featured stops on that year’s tour of Savannah’s downtown gardens. The buses would pull up and disgorge a bounty of serious gardeners and blue-haired visitors from far away and nearby. It was amusing to overhear the comments and observations; more than one visitor demanded of the tour organizers that her money be refunded.
    Perhaps interestingly, my friend the gardener sometimes acknowledged that her primary inspiration originally for the garden was the traditional homes, yards and gardens of African Americans of the rural and urban South of decades past…examples of which have pretty much disappeared now.
    These traditional humble settings featured meticulously-kept swept yards, maintained daily, with not a square foot of grass lawn. The cool sitting porches completely filled their railings – and often their steps – with tin cans planted with seedlings and cuttings of gorgeous blooming exotic plants. The swept yard might have a bottle tree, but its purpose was spiritual and not decorative or whimsical, the blue of the glass having particular significance. The lower parts of tree trunks were often white-washed, as were the occasional old-tire planters . Sometimes old tires were set on edge in a low border fence enclosing the yard, and they too were often white-washed.
    To be sure, there were vegetable gardens. They were carefully tended rows in back or out front of the yard, where the sun was plentiful. They had nothing to do, however, with these tomato-can nurseries and morning-glory bowers.
    These traditions were a major inspiration, too, for my own interest in gardening and plants – there were gifted and inspiring gardeners in my family, to be sure. But I’d not encountered such incredible unencumbered horticultural exuberance before, and it made me hunger for such riotous variety and unhindered experimentation in my own gardening journey.
    It may be telling that very few African American gardens are typically included in garden tours. Few get featured in gardening books. A wonderful introduction to their history is Richard Westmacott’s African-American Gardens and Yards In the Rural South, but the real potential for a definitive book on the subject remains unfulfilled.

  20. I enjoyed Christopher Mello’s garden. It’s all about being there, and, as Daricia writes, what Christopher has created is difficult to photograph – Shovelhenge, particularly. The bottle tree in this post, to me, was less effective than the bottles he combined with purple smoke trees. Fantastic explosions of colour. I loved his rule-breaking combinations, such as misty Nigella with smoky bronze fennel. And those blue pearl poppies he’d been selectively breeding were, Wow.

  21. To me it looks like a guys garden. I was surprised so many others didn’t think so. The fact the neighborhood kids play there makes it extra special. But seriously,those poppies – WOW! Where could one get seeds?

  22. In Sebastopol, on the western residential side of the town, the “junk sculpture of Patrick Amiot and Briggite Lamont can be seen in most front yards. It adds whimsy, “laughter is good for us”, and “don’t take me too seriously” airs to the neighborhood.

    Usually after a day of festival (this time it was for tribal style bellydance), and after dinner, my friends and I go wandering around, looking for these. You can see some of them at

  23. I feel like the focus of a garden should be plants! I do feel like there was a lot of careful effort put into this yard, but it seems to be more on the side of sculpture to me.

  24. I have lived right up the street from this garden for almost 10 years. It is at two converging streets in West Asheville. Watching the transformation and constant evolution of this garden keeps me inspired. I have three children and we walk through about once a month to see what is new and changed. Christopher is a true artist with his garden and admired by everyone in the community.

  25. i’m loving the bottle tree (i’ve seen bottles on trees before, as they were once popular here in the South, but never saw an entire tree planted blue). That said, this would be too much for my neighbors, lol.

    I’ve just started writing for The Home Depot Garden Club, which is re-launching its website. Hope you’ll check it out. We’ve got some fun stuff coming up soon–although no bottle trees. Yet, anyway 😉

Comments are closed.