Ellen Zachos is the author of seven books including Down and Dirty: 43 Fun and Funky First-Time Projects and Activities to Get You Gardening. Her most recent book, The Wildcrafted Cocktail, was published in May 2017.

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A Painted ‘Forest’
by Ellen Zachos       #Art   #Colorful   #Design   #How to






Try this cool idea this winter for long-lasting color











A single painted tree makes a unique garden sculpture and a convenient place to hang small garden ornaments.

When we moved into our new condo, there was a dead mountain ash tree in the backyard. I’d just come back from a visit to Chicago and I’d seen how the parks department there had painted dead trees, turning them into art. Inspired, I painted my own dead tree, and used it to hang wind chimes, lamps, and houseplants summering outdoors. The bright purple was a great accent color in the garden.

By the following summer, when I was ready to tackle a garden makeover, a second mountain ash tree had also died. I cut that one down, dug up the previously painted purple tree (say that five times fast), and checked with the condo association to see if I could use the common space just beyond our garden wall. That became the site for my painted forest – a bit of bleak, unplantable landscape transformed into a permanent art exhibit, all for the cost of a few dollars and some labor. Here’s how you can plant your own painted forest.

Choose trees and shrubs with interesting shapes and sizes to make your painted forest.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Dead trees and shrubs with interesting shapes
Spray paint
Cinder blocks (one for each tree or shrub)
Miscellaneous stones

Here’s what you’ll do:
1. Choose your base materials.
I started out with two small, dead trees, and as my painted forest grew, I searched for shapes that would fit the space. Look for specific heights and widths to fit your overall design plan.

2. Choose your colors.
Do you want a color that contrasts with your immediate surroundings (as the purple paint contrasts with my orange walls) or would you prefer using complementary colors, like teal blue against a backdrop of green oak leaves? The color choice is entirely personal; but, remember that light colors will require more frequent touch-ups, as the paint cracks and the underlying wood shows through.

Lay out a large drop cloth in a location out of the wind to do your spray painting.

3. Paint your forest.
Spread a large drop cloth someplace out of the wind and lay out your trees. Even a slight breeze can cause paint to drift. From a distance of about 8 inches, begin spraying the branches of your tree in light, quick bursts. You will not get immediate coverage with this approach, but resist temptation to apply a thick, solid coat of paint. A single, thick coat will drip, look gloppy, and chip off easily. The application of several light coats gives you more attractive, longer-lasting coverage.

Painted trees are an artistic, sculptural addition to the landscape. Here, they brighten up a spot where a living garden would be impossible to maintain.

4. Dig a hole.
Each tree will be planted in a base made from a cinder block and Quikrete (an easy to mix, fast-drying concrete available at hardware or home improvement stores). Dig a hole large enough to accommodate your cinder block, and deep enough so that the top several inches of the block are below soil level. Put the block in the hole and fill in around the outer edges with soil. Place the painted tree in the hole of the cinder block, and fill in with small- to medium-sized stones to hold the tree in place.

5. Finalize the “planting.”
Mix your Quikrete next to where you are doing the “planting.” Pour it immediately into the hole of the cinder block, using a dowel to push the concrete down around the stones, and up to the top of the cinder block hole. Straighten the tree so its placement is exactly right and hold it while the Quikrete sets. This will take 5 to 10 minutes, after which you can let go of the tree and it won’t move.

6. Tidy up.
Quikrete takes four hours to fully dry. When this time is up, check your work, and cover the base of the tree and the cinder block, with soil, river stones, or mulch.

This project is so easy and visually striking, you may find yourself planting multiple painted trees to create your very own painted forest.


A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Ellen Zachos.


Posted: 11/13/18   RSS | Print


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