Garden Photo of the Day

Creative Recycling in a Woodland Garden

Turning trash into treasurers

whimsical elf house built on a tree stump with blue door and trim

My name is Paul Brothe, and I live and garden in Newburgh, New York. (See a previous visit to this garden.) In 2020, I cleared an overgrown part of my yard to establish a woodland garden. I removed invasive plants, chiefly Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and branches and fallen trees that had accumulated over many years. It is roughly a one-acre garden, crisscrossed now by paths covered in mulch.

small garden seating area in an homemade pergolaWhen I replaced my old garage doors last year, the installation company offered to take my old doors to the garbage dump. I declined. I knew I could use them in the woodland garden. I set the doors vertically to create a small shelter for a table and chairs and attached spindles I had found sitting by a sidewalk pile of trash in New York City. The blue railings to the side are recycled balcony railings from Belgium. The armillary came from the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I stripped the peeling paint, repainted it, and mounted it on a post made from a white fir tree that was toppled in a storm earlier this year.

whimsical elf house built on a tree stump with blue door and trimIn the summer of 2020, we had a heavy rain and windstorm. The largest tree in the woodland garden fell during the storm. It was a majestic oak that turned out to be hollow. I had the tree contractors leave part of the trunk. This has now become a feature in the woodland garden. Using pieces of odd wood from previous projects and some repurposed pieces, I created an elf house—a bit of whimsy for the garden.

closer image of homemade elf houseThe curved wooden supports for the roof are the runners from an old rocking chair that had been abandoned in an old leaky shed on the property. The door came from a local salvage company—Hudson Valley House Parts. In the background is an earlier woodland bench built from some of the fallen trees.

old fuse box turned into a elf mailboxAn elf house needs a mailbox. When I had the old fuse box in the basement updated to a breaker box, the contractor was ready to throw out the front panel. I kept it and have repurposed it as a mailbox for Dobby the elf. My neighbor boys are two and three years old. They like to run along the paths. Now they can check Dobby’s mail, where they are likely to find a note and a little treat.

One of the results of clearing out all the invasive honeysuckle was the emergence of native plants. This stand of cattails started growing last year on a barren patch of wet soil, seeded by nature.

The woodland garden is an adventure—not just in plants but also in structures designed to enhance the garden experience. The structures are in turn designed to reuse and repurpose as many materials as possible. Gardening is fun! For more about my garden, please visit my website:


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  1. User avater
    simplesue 09/19/2022

    You are so creative- the fantastic things you've made for your woodland garden from found & recycled bits are gorgeous!
    And to even entertain the little neighborhood kids with the elf mailbox- wish I had a childhood neighbor like you!
    And what a nice surprise to have wild cattails pop up in a spot of their choosing! Love it!

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 09/19/2022

    Very creative.

  3. garden1953 09/19/2022

    Super cute!

  4. sheila_schultz 09/19/2022

    Paul, you have truly created a magical place for the young and old. Every detail is beautifully and thoughtful placed in order to enhance the imagination. What a memorable gift you are giving to your young neighbors, it must be their favorite place to visit on a daily basis. You are one cool dude!!! It's perfect, thank you for sharing your little place of happy.

  5. btucker9675 09/19/2022

    I am so in love with this I can hardly stand it!!! I'm a 67 year old kid who would love checking Dobby's mail every day! Thanks so much for sharing your creativity and whimsical recycling skills.

  6. [email protected] 09/19/2022

    Enchanting!! You are the King of creative thinking /re-cycling!
    I am inspired to look at things with a fresh eye. Thanks!

  7. wittyone 09/19/2022

    You have a real gift for unseeing things in their usual situation and envisioning them as something else altogether. Not everyone can do that ----it's an ability that leads to some very interesting additions to a garden

    I love the elf tree and the accompanying mailbox for Dobby. I can just imagine those neighbor kids running in every day to see if there is a special note (and a treat!) for them--if not today then maybe tomorrow. Oh the anticipation!

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