Groundwork New Orleans wants gardeners to expand their horizons when it comes to planters. Why limit the selection to the pots and boxes for sale at garden centers when there are fun and suitable alternatives all around?

At a workshop Sunday, Groundwork New Orleans’ Maria Brobine and members of its Green Team will demonstrate how to turn just about anything into a planter. A cast-off tire? Sure. A boot? Easy. A stray dresser drawer? No problem.

“Any of those can be turned into a planter if you know what to consider,” said Alicia Neal, the executive director of the nonprofit group. “We plan to have some of those on hand and we encourage folks to bring something they have that they think could be fun.”

Open to families, the hands-on event aims to convince even the youngest gardeners that using cast-offs in gardens is not only environmentally friendly, but can be aesthetically pleasing.

“New Orleans has a culture of creativity. Every place you go, you see front porch gardens with old coffee cans serving as planters, or painted tires on the sidewalk, or bathtubs or other things,” said Neal, a Xavier graduate who has adopted the city as her home.

“One day, when I was at the Earth Lab, a young lady rolled a piano onto the sidewalk on St. Claude and started planting it with flowers. It was a fabulous public art project that also addressed the environment.”

The “Earth Lab” that Neal mentioned is a demonstration garden run by her group and located adjacent to the New Orleans Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue and Spain streets.

The nonprofit uses space as both a neighborhood center and garden where it explores and tests green technologies to remediate pollution and manage water resources.

Central to Groundwork New Orleans’ programs is the Green Team, a group of about ten youths, ages 14 to 18, who learn job skills and environmental stewardship. Team members participate in workshops by helping with hands-on activities or giving presentations, and they perform green infrastructure installations, such as the creation of eight rain gardens on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City and “Green Slice,” a water management installation at Caffin Avenue and N. Prieur Street in the Lower 9th Ward.

“Rain gardens can be helpful anywhere,” Neal said. “Basically, they are raised beds that capture rainwater and keep it from running off into the street and into the drainage system.”

Tomorrow’s workshop guests may not be ready to build a rain garden at home yet, but using a cast-off object as a planter may help pique their interest in the possibility of taking bigger steps in the future.

“If we can help people see an object differently than they have in the past, then their vision will take over about how to reuse it,” Neal said. “They can plant flowers in them for aesthetics, but also to attract butterflies, for example.

“It may not sound environmentally significant to plant something in a milk carton, but it’s a fun way to awaken awareness and help the environment at the same time.”

R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at