There is nothing that chills my husband to the bone more than me than the sound of me screeching, “STOP THE CAR. I SEE PLANTS.”
I have gotten so, so many plants for our yard – for free – by finding them on the side of the road, in the wonderful scheme that is green waste collection.
I seriously think half of our garden was grown from other people’s unwanted plants and cuttings and throwaways. Our budget landscaping.
Some of the plants in our yard weren’t even from green waste collection – they were just from people not wanting a plant anymore, so they tossed it on the side of the road, sometimes even in its pot. (I’ve done this too). I can spot a free plant from half a mile away.
I’ve found brown, wizened plants that are half-dead that have slowly come back to life, I’ve found plants in pots that are so nice I’ve thought why would you just get rid of this – you could easily sell it!
If you’re reading this wondering what on earth green waste collection is (I’m not sure what it’s called in other countries), I will explain. In Australia a lot of councils have green waste bins, for your garden/organics, which get taken away and mulched every week or two weeks.
But two – four times a year, lots of towns, particularly older ones, also do ‘green waste collection’, which is basically like a big collection for garden stuff that wouldn’t ordinarily fit in your weekly or fortnightly bin, like tree branches etc. It all gets dumped on your verge and then gets picked up my trucks.
Green waste collection is a really good chance to cut back your trees and hedges and get it all taken away without a trip to the tip, but one of the other great things about it? Free plants!
SO MANY people throw out cuttings that will easily grow in your own garden – or they dig up and throw out plants they no longer want, knowing a lot of the time that someone else will. Mulch is all fantastic and useful, but when you’re picking up a plant from the side of the road, you are saving it from a meeting with the mulcher, and that’s kind of cool too.
When I got this house, I was writing features full-time, saving every spare cent for house renovations like our laundry renovation. I bought a few plants and trees and mulch when I could, but I couldn’t really afford to spend a lot of money on the garden and had to be frugal. So when I started looking for plants and cuttings for free, at first it was just out of necessity. Now I totally believe if you get the basics right – good retic and good soil prep – you can still create a cute, pretty garden without spending a lot of money.
We have quite a big yard, and there were a lot of dry, sandy bare patches that looked pretty sad – see above!
Putting in plants I’ve found for free on the side of the road has let me slowly green up our garden at a fraction of the cost.
Here are a couple more pics of what it looked like before, when we moved here. A bit sad-looking but we were super lucky to already have bore water.
It might not be my dream garden with a perfect balanced palette, but it’s better than what we started with.
Plus, I like gardens that are lush and green, with lots of exciting weirdness and little plants peeking out everywhere. Mr Nerd calls our garden ‘overgrown’, I wouldn’t argue with him too vehemently there, but I would also say ‘green’ and ‘interesting’.
I never used to even look at green waste piles. I didn’t have a clue that so many things could be transplanted or regrown – it’s only really been with trial and error that I’ve learned a bit.
I first realised that green waste could be helpful for transforming our garden when I drove past a house where someone had put some aloe vera cuttings out on the verge. “Oooh, I think I could try replanting those cuttings in my yard,” I thought. That was my introduction to the world of free green. Aloe vera was my gateway plant.
Now I cruise the streets in my mumwagon, staring down piles of green clippings while the kids groan rudely in the backseat and say things like, “But Daddy says you have enough plants”. (They’ve spent more than a drive home or two with a philodendron in the face).
For me, driving through an older suburb (think established in the 80s or older) that’s having green waste collection is like going to a flea market – you never know if you’re going to find something amazing, or if you’re going to find nothing at all. It’s heaven for plant hoarders like myself.
In the beginning I seriously couldn’t afford to buy many plants to landscape our fairly large block; now I just carry on with probably because I am obsessed with plants, and am slowly achieving my dream of turning our little suburban block into the crazy old cat lady jungle of my dreams (minus any real cats, only because Mr Nerd is allergic, otherwise I would totally have one or five). Our garden is nothing fancy, it’s definitely a backyard-kind-of-yard, but it’s nice and green and we like it.
We have natives mixed in with all the other plants, and a quenda has even moved in and lives out the back; his house is in our woodpile and he likes to dig little snout holes in the grass.
Sometimes I have thrown plants into our garden that I haven’t known the actual name of, just because I had a feeling they might grow. Like these two. I still don’t know what they’re called.
Also, lots of people just turf out plants they don’t want on the side of the road throughout the year, because they know that chances are someone will take them (I am that someone).
By the way, I think it’s really nice when people do this. I mean, if you’re not having luck with a particular potted plant, maybe it’s looking a bit crappy, ok – maybe it’s half-dead and every time you look at it you feel a surge of guilt and it kind of looks like the plant is screaming, “WHY ME. WHY MEEEE” why wouldn’t you see if it can have one last shot at life with perhaps a more understanding owner? Rather than tossing it into the bin, and probably feel even more guilty that you’ve wasted your money?
I have no problems with bunging something in to see if it will take. If it dies, it dies. I mean, it was free, so no big deal.
Some people have said to me, “Oh, your garden is so lush, but I don’t have any luck with plants, I think you must have green thumbs.” I don’t think I have green thumbs. I think I just plant SO MUCH STUFF that some things are bound to take, law of averages! If something dies, I might feel a bit disappointed but I’ll just try again or try something else.
I think that is the beauty of trying plants that you’ve found on the side of the road. When you go to the nursery, plants can really add up at the checkout. And have you ever filled your boot with greenery at Bunnings, then gotten home, excitedly planted everything and realised they really didn’t stretch as far as you thought they would?
It can be quite a costly exercise to fill a garden with plants, even a small one. So if you’re currently not able to spend much on your garden, you can fill your boot with green waste instead and it won’t cost you a cent.
And if some of them die? No big deal – you didn’t spend any money. Move onto your next victim.
I thought I’d share with you some of the plants in our garden I’ve found on the side of the road…. and hopefully inspire you to start adding some free green into your own yard.
PLANTS YOU CAN FIND FOR FREE
Well, now that I’ve already mentioned them, aloe vera have to go first on my list. You can grow your own aloe vera from the tiniest cuttings, OR from a large woody piece – literally just pop them in the ground. Now you have your very own sunburn soothing gel, growing right by your back door! (Cut some leaves and pop them in the fridge to make them nice and cool, then strip off the outer layer to get the gel).
But I just love how they look – especially en-masse in a huge, wild, scary clump, with those spectacular orange-red-purple flowers.
And even though they have those spiky leaves, they’re not THE WORST spiky plants to have about because they’re kind of soft (that sounds weird, but get some and you’ll see what I mean).
AGAVES OR CENTURY PLANTS
I’ve posting about doing a U-turn so many times for agaves that now some of you guys are tagging me in your agave find photos with me too! I love these plants. They’re so structural and cool-looking.
The only thing I would hasten to add is agaves can get crazy strong roots so please bear that in mind if you’re planting near paths, driveways etc – they can do damage if planted too close. I have them by our footpath, because I clearly like to live life on the edge.
Another thing to note, a lot of people dig their agaves out (not fun) once they’ve had enough of them and often they’ll have these very looong stems, making them quite tricky to plant. You can just cut the stem shorter with a hand saw! The cool thing about agaves is that you can saw the stem where you want, pop the end in a bucket of water and it will grow new roots from the cut. (Or you can just pop straight into the ground, but popping it in a bucket of water will have it growing new roots faster).They also look great in pots.
I think people either love or hate agapanthus! I love them – but I understand the hatred as well, cos once they have spread they have very stubborn root systems and are such a pain to dig out. On the OTHER hand, they’re so pretty. We have a bee hive and our bees love them.
I love elephant ears. My hubby actually stopped the car for me the other day when I spotted an elephant ear on someone’s green waste collection. So even though he pretends to not care about plants and acts like he wouldn’t notice if we lived in a barren dessert or a tropical oasis, secretly I think he appreciates them too.
And why wouldn’t you – they’re just cool-looking. They give those lush tropical vibes. I have them growing just by the house, right by my home office window. I find elephant ears prefer shade over sun, as their big leaves can burn quite easily under our harsh Perth sun. When then leaves brown and start to fall over, don’t fret – I chop the leaf part off, as it usually means there’s a new leaf coming through.
MOTHER IN LAW TONGUES OR SNAKE TONGUES
I was actually driving with my mother-in-law once when I spotted a huge pile of mother-in-law tongues on the side of the street. I love these plants and you can plant them practically anywhere where they will have well-drained soil, but I think they grow and look best in filtered light/shade, where they’ll become a nice deep, shiny green. If you find only the top pieces cut off (not with the roots) you can still grow them – they’ll grow roots if submerged in water. You can also display snake tongues as indoor house plants this way – they’re terrific plants for indoor air quality.
SPLIT LEAF PHILODENDRON (also known as tree philodendron)
These will forever remind me of my mum and dad’s house. They were super trendy in the 80s – and now they’re definitely the cool kids again. My parents have two ginormous split leaf philodendrons (I literally don’t really think they come in small) and hey have lovely big leaves and these cool structural trunks. And they’re really hardy. I literally just found one the other week and the kids and I planted it today – fingers crossed it’s happy where we’ve put it!
My bud Dee Tang, who has one of the most lovely homes I’ve seen (and lets out the stunning studio guest house for photo shoots, under Kawa Heart Studio) has this beauty of a split leaf philodendron growing in her garden below, the plant on the right. (And check out that giant aloe vera!) You can stalk her house on her Instagram here.
These make super-pretty ground covers and are perfect for coastal or tropical gardens. I just found some the other day, and have them soaking in a bucket until I plant them.
STRELITZIA (GIANT BIRD OF PARADISE)
Now I heard somewhere that this plant ISN’T called a giant bird of paradise except I can’t seem to find out where that’s wrong and the internets call them giant bird of paradise too. So let’s just go with that.
I found one of these, completely brown, dried out and chucked out on the side of the road in a tightly bound root ball. My friend thought I was bonkers for stopping to stick it in my boot (pretty sure all my friends have thought I’m bonkers at least once) but look at it now! I bought the others around her from Big W three years ago, but the one that was half-dead is doing the best of them all. Mon Palmer has a spectacular big one by her pool. These will get insanely big, so be careful where you plant, or keep them in a pot.
Many years ago I actually used to think dracaenas were so ugly! Why did so many people like these skinny, stalky, tufty-looking plants? Now I love them. They are cool, structural and not cheap to buy from a nursery – especially when they’re big! – and one they’re established you barely need to touch them. They can look great against a wall or fence or big as a feature plant.
I tend to have mixed luck with them – some will root happily and grow wonderfully, others rot and die – no big deal if they do. They’re great in pots too.
RUBBER TREES/FICUS ELASTICA
Rubber trees will have to be one of the easiest plants to grow from a cutting – I have popped little cuttings in water until they’ve grown decent roots, then put in pots to give as little pressies. They are also almost impossible to kill! They can get absolutely massive, so you might want to keep to a pot, or give them loads of space. Pic below of a variegated ficus in a pot.
Love them or hate them, I can’t NOT mention yuccas. These sharp, spiky plants really divide people, and I totally see why.
On one hand, they can look really awesome and structural, on the other hand, they can cut your skin to shreds, but also their root systems are HORRIBLE. My sister and brother-in-law just moved into a house and removed a whole fence line of huge yuccas that had uprooted a boundary fence. And they grow fairly fast, too. So, just be careful of where you plant them, if you do.
Just like century plants, yuccas grow from pieces super easily – just pop a piece into the ground. If they have brown leaves on the bottom, you can strip or cut them off (with gloves!) to reveal the trunk, which I think can look quite nice.
Last year, a guy down the road massively trimmed back a beautiful frangipani in their front garden and put all the cuttings on the side of the road. I helped myself to some branches, dried them out in my shed for a couple of weeks and popped them in the garden (in summer). Those cuttings are looking better than the actual frangipani I bought ten years ago! They are an awesome plant to grow from a cutting, and they can be BIG cuttings too, so long as you plant them correctly. Dry your frangipani out under your garage for a week or two, then plant and then basically abandon them, save for the odd water in summer – you don’t want the bottom (where the cut is) to get too wet, if it rots, it won’t grow roots.
Yeah, I don’t know the right name for this plant, so I know it as “Instagram Cactus”, because it’s the kind of cactus you’ll see in a host of influencers perfectly styled, terracotta-mustard-white-walled-rattan-furniture homes. I scored one when my friend messaged me to tell me “there’s an Instagram cactus in green waste on the corner of Fifth!” I planted it in an old wine tub. It reminds me of Red Dead Redemption. Wear gloves. Here’s an Instagram cactus I spotted on holiday in Gerringong, absolutely loving life.
Canna lilies are so hardy! In frost-free climates, they grow all year-round, but if you have frost they will die back and grow again in spring. I found some and thought I’d give them a go – the leaves all went brown and I cut them off, but now they look like this and they make me so happy every time I see them. You can get away with watering them only once a week but in summer they like being watered every couple of days. They have beautiful orange-red flowers.
A wonderful long-time blog reader actually reached out to me to kindly gift me a massive monstera she wanted to rehome, and it makes me happy every time I see it. I’ve placed it where I can see it from my writing desk and from my kitchen window, and I will never tire of those beautiful big green leaves. Monsteras transplant really well, so if you ever spot one of these on a roadside collection (they won’t last long) grab it! They grow so well from trunk cuttings.
I’m loosely categorising all aeoniums here, but these are perennial succulents that are really great, especially for time-poor gardeners, because they don’t need much care. If you ever spot a pile of cuttings of them on the side of the road, grab some. You can break the top part off (that kind of looks like a big flower) leave the bottom to dry out a few days, then plant. I have two different kinds of aeonium in my yard that I’ve grown from cuttings. The Spruce has a good read about growing them.
What have you found on the side of the road that you’ve managed to grow? Maya x