My weekend upcycling starter garden


I’m on a mission to beautify my balcony. I want it to be comfortable enough to do yoga, lie down and read a book, have a wine with a friend and contain a colourful, useful garden. All in a cost-effective, sustainable way and within the limitations of a rental.

balcony with a small table on it

I suspect my ideal balcony is a couple of weekends of work away, but I’ve made a start.

My first stop was Canberra’s recycled furniture warehouse, The Green Shed in Hume.

It’s full of second-hand bargain items hoping for a makeover and while any given day will provide the luck of the draw, there is an endless supply of coffee tables and chest of drawers.

Almost overwhelmed by choice, I left with a coffee small enough to fit in my three-door hatch and honestly, I was just kind of making it up as I went.

Browsing Pinterest for upcycling project inspo, I found a huge range of options for turning these unloved items into homeware art and chose the easiest one.

When I moved to Canberra from Victoria last June, my tools did not make the first carload cut and, despite best intentions, they remained behind the closed border for months.

Replacing them was neither cost-effective nor sustainable so I was thrilled to sign up to the new Women’s Shed in Canberra.

The group meet at the back of recycled furniture store, Thor’s Hammer in Griffith on Saturday mornings, where COVID-safe workshops are available for members to bring in and work on their projects.

I struck it lucky the Saturday I attended the Women’s Shed, being able to take part in a hand and power tools workshop with SALT (Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen), an organisation that supports and mentors tradeswomen in Australia.

This was the 303rd workshop SALT has run since 2009.

Run by a boss army of women with a seemingly endless list of qualifications across most trades and many industries, they were somewhat over-qualified to teach us how to make a box out of ply – but they did it graciously anyway.

My group leader, Lani, was originally from the Gold Coast. After multiple jobs in retail Lani moved to Canberra, took up an electrical apprenticeship and has nearly completed her studies at CIT.

I had so much fun with the excellent and hilarious ladies in my group (who I hope to see again at the upcoming furniture upholstery workshop). We had a lovely lunch and I was given a certificate and a chest of drawers to be upcycled.

And finally, I was able to get home, set up and get into it.

To begin, I cleaned and lightly sanded my furniture pieces, then painted them. I used chalk paint because I’m obsessed with the texture.

The coastal blue and lavender hues were chosen to match the pastel tones of my interior decor and to make the colours in my garden pop.

For any project, it can be tempting to purchase a lot of products, such as paint openers, paint stirrers and drop mats, and if you do a lot of upcycling this can be a good investment.

But as cost-effectiveness and sustainability was my key, I made do with what I had.

I sacrificed an old sheet and opened and stirred my paint with the knife I had long dedicated to odd jobs around the house.

When my furniture and a selection of garden pots (picked up for free on a buy/swap/sell site) were painted, I lined the drawers with the plastic bags I had accumulated for emergencies and swore would be repurposed rather than make their way into landfill, then poured in the soil.

Despite being born into generations of “green-thumbed women” all who managed their own epic country gardens, at 35, I am yet to keep a plant alive. But I figure everything else about 2020 has gone to plan so why not try again now?

I chose my plants for a variety of reasons including: lavender because it reminds me of my amazing great grandmother, succulents because they’re awesome and slightly addictive, petunias because my mum told me to, and a variety of herbs that support my new domestic goddess outlook on life.

For gardening expertise, Canberra’s Environment Centre run workshops to help you plant Canberra climate appropriate plants if you’re after that.

I have so many plans for this balcony; it will have water features, solar lights, and recycled palette furniture. But for now, I’m proud of my little starter garden and the fact I’ve remembered to water it for seven days in a row!

balcony with two colourful tables on it

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