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A revolutionary new book

by Timber Press on October 19, 2010

in Design

We had a flurry of books come out in early October — books on reusing materials in the garden, on bamboos, on bizarre plants, and on prairies. I always have mixed feelings when lots of books are available at once. On the one hand, look at all the cool new books! (So much variety!) On the other hand, how am I going to do all the books justice? (Again with the variety!)

I find our new book, The Revolutionary Yardscape, particularly intriguing. I am someone who derives great satisfaction from using the last little bits of things. Soup with all the leftovers in the fridge? Fantastic! Using all my tiny, tiny scraps of fabric to make a quilt? Sign me up! What this means in practical terms is that I have a contentious, sometimes unhealthy, relationship with the trash can. I stubbornly hang on to my stash of rusty, bent nails, “because they might be useful someday.” I have stacks and piles of things that fall into the “might be useful someday” category.

The Revolutionary Yardscape is perfect for people like me, and will inspire us to actually use those piles of stuff. Author Matthew Levesque is a pioneer in the art of using recycled materials in cutting-edge garden design. He is the program director and master of recycled art at the nonprofit San Francisco company Building REsources and the Red Shovel Glass Company. His book makes reusing materials look sophisticated — not like someone threw a bunch of trash in the back yard.

I was inspired by his section on rain chains, which I have always loved, and seem like the perfect project for where I live.

From the book: “A rain chain is an alternative to the Western downspout. Both are designed to get water off a roof and onto the ground or into a catch basin. Originally from Japan, where they are called kusari doi, rain chains do not attempt to hide the falling water inside a sealed tube. Instead they display it and celebrate it, making a temporary water feature out of every rainfall.”

“Making a rain chain from local reused materials is an excellent way to explore improvisation on a theme. A lot of the materials to construct it can be had very cheaply. Its construction does not require any special tools or knowledge beyond observing how a rain chain works. We know that gravity pulls water down off of roofs, that water likes to stay together, that it gathers and forms larger volumes at the lowest point. We can also observe that water will cling, through surface tension, to surfaces, even vertical surfaces. Understanding basics like these behind what we are designing is one of the fundamentals of designing for function — which is in turn one of the major components of designing through reuse.”

He goes on to describe and illustrate several incarnations of rain chains. Here are pictures of some commercial chains, along with his improvisations using copper wire twisted into freeform shapes, drinking straws and metal washers, and beaded cages.

One of my favorites is made of ceramic tubes that he rescued from the trash can.

He also suggests rain chains if you should happen to have really, really a lot of extra keys.

While mulling over rain chain ideas, I hit upon the thought of collecting lots of bottle caps and doing something with them. My husband was on board, because it required him to drink more beer — and save the caps. A few co-workers have even started bringing me bottle caps from home, and my collection of bottle caps is slowly growing. Soon I’m going to have to come up with more refined ideas on how to put them all together, and whether I should paint them all, or just leave them as is? So many choices!

I gain great, great satisfaction from not tossing those bottle caps in trash. Simple pleasures, folks, simple pleasures.

1 Helen October 19, 2010 at 11:28 am

your photos of ‘stuff’ are works of art!

2 Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate October 19, 2010 at 11:29 am

The photos in the post are from the book, actually. Don’t they look lovely? My own photos of “stuff” look significantly more like, well, stuff.

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