September 9, 2019

This Old Pot

This single-use pot's first use was to
enclose a tree's roots.  It has
stuck around for five seasons

Four years ago this spring, Betty and I began buying trees and shrubs for the garden at our new home.  Many specimens had root balls of a size that required rope wrapped around burlap wrapped around a wire cage.  But six smaller trees came in black, ten-gallon plastic pots; each 19 inches wide and 13 inches deep.
After the first trees went in, we contacted the selling nurseries to recycle the pots, but were informed these were ‘one-use’ containers (on top of which they had likely, themselves, been made from recycled materials).  The reason for declining to take back the tubs was because they were encrusted with soil and/or might contain diseases.  Instead, we were advised to take them to our town’s transfer station.  We asked at the transfer station what would become of the pots.  Because they weren’t ‘clean’, we were told, the containers would be incinerated.
In 2016 the pots were pressed
into service as we planted
our second round of bulbs.
As it turned out, we had an almost immediate, though temporary, need for the pots.  We had covered our newly-spread loam with several inches of mulch.  As we dug holes for arriving shrubs – more that 50 that summer – we had to find a short-term parking spot for the displaced soil other than a pile adjacent to the hole (which would inevitably mix with the mulch).  The pots were perfect.  Also, I was building a stone wall and needed to group like-sized rocks for easy transport.  There were times when there were more uses for the vessels than available tubs.
That autumn, our first 1500 bulbs arrived.  We excavated winding, foot-deep trenches around the property, with those containers serving as a brief way station for displaced soil.  Trenching for pipes to carry rainwater from downspouts to the wetlands behind us provided yet another use.
Season after season, the pots
makes themselves useful
In the spring, we started the next round of planting and, by now, those single-use plastic containers were becoming indispensable friends.  We lost one to necessity: Betty acquired a lovely specimen of Sanguisorba canadensis (American Burnet), a wonderful wildflower that produces magnificent plumes.  Unfortunately, it thrives best in a moist environment, and the ideal visual location on our property was ‘well drained’.  Our solution was to sacrifice one of our containers.  We cut out part of its bottom, sunk it a foot into the ground, and planted our American Burnet in it, pledging to throw a gallon of water into the mini-wetland whenever things were getting dry.  It has thrived, and the black neck of the container is still visible.
When not in use, the pots
have a home next to our
Another year went by and, each spring, the four remaining tubs were roused from their off-season resting place by our compost bins.  All spring and summer they served as either warehouses or transports for the soil/mulch/compost that made our ever-denser garden possible.  In the fall, UPS brought another avalanche of bulbs to be planted. There was hardly a week that went by that our one-use containers weren’t pressed into service. 
This year, they have been in near-continuous use to transport compost, heel in perennials and, of course, to hold topsoil for the plants destined for the final frontiers of our garden.  This past weekend, an Aronia (Chokeberry) and Ilex verticillata (Winterberry) found new homes on our property, as did a tray of native ground covers.
As we planted those most recent shrubs, though, I noticed for the first time our remaining containers are showing their age.  Two have large cracks in their base that make carrying them problematic; they need a wheelbarrow as a ‘crutch’.  One also has a cracked rim.  In short, their life span may be five seasons.
In 2017 the pots allowed me
to move 10 cubic yards of
compost, a few cubic feet
at a time
But they have been five glorious seasons.  They were present at the inception of the garden and proved to be useful as soon as their original purpose was completed.  They started out as walk-ons but have, through steady, uncomplaining work, become stalwarts of the regular garden troupe. If they were sentient beings, their ears would perk up as soon as they heard Betty or me reaching for a trowel or spade, because they knew they would soon, themselves, be called into action.
All right.  Maybe I’m over-romanticizing a bunch of pots.  The thing is, I’m going to be sorry to lose them, albeit to advanced age and general wear and tear.  What I know is this: they were manufactured to contain a single plant on its journey from a nursery to our home. They have stuck around to help build an entire garden.