The beginning of March is a frustrating time. I am done with winter now, and want it to go away. I have been trying to find indoor garden projects that allow me to dream and be creative while the cold weather hangs on. Two weeks ago that meant heading over to Wilson High School to attend RootingDC and catch some classes about gardening, food, fun, and family.
One of my favorite workshops was “reCycle: Repurposing Old Bike Wheels in the Garden,” taught by Sarah Baker, a garden educator at City Blossoms.
Sarah Baker demonstrating how to recycle bike wheels at RootingDC
City Blossoms emphasizes kid-driven community engagement at both their Girard Street and Marion Street gardens in the District. Bringing music into an urban garden, Sarah told the class on Saturday, can provide space where kids can interact with the landscape in a positive, safe, joyful and highly physical way.
Sarah noted that she and her co-workers often host kid-friendly classes in their gardens on topics like planting seeds, weeding, and cooking. Residents from the local neighborhoods are invited to help tend the garden with the casual agreement that those who help with the planting and tending can help themselves to the harvest. In City Blossom’s gardens you’ll find all kinds of tasty foods being grown in raised beds and on trellises, and you’ll often see kids enthusiastically joining in or even leading garden maintenance with their parents or other adults.
But some kids, Sarah explained, have shorter attention spans and aren’t as interested in learning how to do some of the activities being offered. The City Blossoms staff thought it would be great to provide a space where those children could safely play and have a good time without damaging anything growing in the garden beds. So she and her coworkers began building musical instruments that could withstand the elements and the kid’s musical enthusiasm. (See Sarah’s full list of “Considerations When Making Garden Art, below.)
Sarah Baker at the City Blossoms Girard Street Garden last fall, showing visitors the bucket drums and PVC xylophone.
To keep everything within budget and environmentally conscious, the City Blossoms’ crew also tried to also make their musical garden installations out of recycled materials, found either around the neighborhood, provided through donations from friends, or bought at Community Forklift, the nonprofit scrap yard located in nearby Bladensburg, MD.
Sarah also highly recommends a visit to Scrap DC, where all kinds of textiles and other colorful soft items can be found for re-purposing.
Among City Blossoms’ garden instruments:
-PVC tubes made into a rainbow-colored xylophone
-5 gallon buckets turned upside down and painted to make drums
-bike wheels suspended overhead and hung with old silverware to make wind chimes
Securing the plastic tubing using the engineering ties.
Last Saturday, those who attended Sarah’s RootingDC workshop also got to make bike wheels into circular noise makers, similar to fence-mounted macracas or rainsticks, a project that Sarah has done with children several times in the City Blossoms’ gardens.
- an old bike wheel with the tire and the center axle removed. It is okay if the wheel rim is rusty, bent or warped, but avoid using those with sharp edges.
a bolt (and corresponding nut) that is long enough to fit through the center of the wheel plus a few inches. You will use this to mount you wheel to a fence or wall.
tubing the same diameter as the wheel rim and cut to a length that is only slightly longer than the circumference of the wheel
about 1/2 cup of dry rice, seeds, beads or old bolts and nuts to make noise inside the tubing when the wheel is turned
small plastic flange or a small piece of PVC solid piping cut to a two inch segment. The diameter of the flange or PVC tubing should be the same diameter as the tubing, as you will use this to close up the tube into a circle around the bike wheel.
optional: a piece of small scrap lumber to help stabilize the wheel on your fence.
STEP 1: Secure flange/PVC piping piece to one end of the tubing. You may need to use heavy duty plastic glue.
This group, working at the City Blossoms Girard Street garden last fall, chose to weave fabric scraps into their wheel.
STEP 2: Attach tubing to wheel using engineering ties. You can get creative here by using brightly colored ties, or by adding beads before you close the ties around the tubing.
STEP 3: Before closing the piping into a circle around the wheel, pour rice (or the other small objects) into the tubing. It does not take a large amount to make noise. Test to see if you like the sound, add or subtract as desired before closing up the loop and securing the flange with glue. Then add final engineering ties, as needed.
STEP 4: Secure to a fence post with a long bolt and nut. You may need to use the piece of scrap lumber for stability.
Sarah notes that you and the children who use your garden can weave scrap fabrics into the spokes of the wheel to make it colorful. Old t-shirts are especially good for this purpose, but even plastic bags can be used if they are more plentiful in your environment.
CONSIDERATIONS WHEN MAKING GARDEN ART
A helpful list from Sarah Baker at City Blossoms in Washington, DC
- Does it promote play?
- Does it use recycled and/or or organic material?
- Is it educational?
- How does it relate back to the garden?
- Is it safe?
- Is it weather-proof?
- Can little hands make it?
- Can it be collaborative?
- How does it engage the community?
- Is it culturally-sensitive?
- How does it reflect neighborhood context?
This wind chime was made from scrap lumber and bottle caps.