Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Post: Pop-Up Cardboard Garden

Amber Dohrenwend is a teacher, mother, and author of the Tokyo-based blog, The Cardboard Collective. She designs modern cardboard toys, furniture, tools, and playthings that can be recycled at the end of their life/use. Recently she used a cardboard box outfitted with castor wheels  to transport her children through the Detroit Metro airport in lieu of a stroller.  Cardboard is a material we keep re-imagining she says, using cardboard for gardening just goes to show that cardboard has no limits.

Amber also kindly agreed to allow me to repost this lovely little homemade gardening ditty here while I'm toodling about in Hokkaido.  It's a brilliant idea that I thought well worth sharing. Read on, check out her blog, and you'll never see your recycling in the same way again. Mottainai, indeed!


Electra has had her cardboard garden for a month and a half now, and seeing that the cardboard is still in great shape after 6 weeks of rain, watering and sunshine, I thought it was OK to officially let it be known that our pop-up cardboard garden is a keeper.

When I was on a cardboard finding expedition at my local grocery store, the produce manager asked me if I was interested in any of the watermelon boxes they had out behind the store. 
Watermelon boxes, I thought, why didn't I think of that before?

Watermelon boxes are made of triple-walled cardboard with a slight waxy finish, and they are super sturdy, even when exposed to rain. This garden isn't intended to last for more than a summer season, but the cardboard should easily last that long. After we finish picking our tomatoes the plan is to distribute the soil onto the other needy beds in our front yard,  and pack up our watermelon box for curbside recycling.

I used a serrated bread knife that I got from a nearby thrift shop to cut the box down to 12.5" high. Then I just positioned the box in a bright and sunny area of our front yard.

My husband kindly screened several wheelbarrow loads of compost from our backyard and added it to the garden. The last step was cutting off the little triangles of cardboard on the sides that center the watermelon box onto pallets for shipping.


We decided this would be the perfect first garden for Electra so I let her pick out all of her own plants at the local greenhouse. I encouraged her to choose a variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs. She chose cucumbers, tomatoes, chives, basil, cilantro, rosemary, zinnias and her favorite, geraniums.

She LOVED handling and smelling her plants and breaking up their roots to get them ready for planting.

Here she is watering the new crop, and facing a few skeptic neighbors who were sure we were preparing for

We watered the garden as needed trying to let it dry out as much as possible to encourage deep root growth and preserve the box. I notice after one month of watering the box is starting to break down a little where the bottom  seam is touching the soil. It looks like it's not to much of a problem at this point, so I'm leaving well enough alone. After a big rain the cardboard gets a little damp and softens. It will harden up as it dries out, so try not to disturb the cardboard too much when it's wet. I'm not promising invincibility here folks, but this IS a means of getting a few more cherry tomatoes into your little ones hands, and a great way to kindle a budding love of gardening.

Isn't this tiny cucumber the cutest thing you've ever seen? Seeing it all nestled up next to the side of the triple wall cardboard just about breaks my heart.

**Amber Dohrenwend is a mother and blogger who designs modern toys, furniture, tools and playthings for kids, made from 100% recycled cardboard that can be 100% recycled. Go check out her other great ideas at The Cardboard Collective!

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