Handmade Garden Projects

Last summer, I was thrilled to visit the queen of all things handmade, Lorene Edwards Forkner, to see real-life versions of projects that would appear in her then-upcoming book, Handmade Garden Projects from Timber Press. Stick around to learn how you could win a copy in Toronto Gardens’ first-ever giveaway.

If you’ve read my disaster with concrete paving stones or my husband’s ingenious watering can fountain, you’ll know that I embrace handmade garden projects.

When I received my review copy of Forkner’s book a week ago, I began to spontaneously emit what can only be described as squeals of glee. Many of them.

Naturally, when I get all het up like this, I approach my husband, smile, and say: Honey… come closer. There’s something I want you to do. Usually, he needs no further encouragement.

Let me share some of the scenes from the Edwards-Forkner garden, then show you what we, um, did.

Lorene Edwards Forkner created a portable topiary in an old Radio Flyer wagon
An old seat spring takes on a windowlike quality as sculpture
In another out-of-the-box application, Forkner turns a wire basket into a novel hose support
Among the many project ides in the book Handmade Garden Projects is a recipe for turning old IKEA shelving and a repurposed baking sheet into this garden shed organizer.

Right away, there were a number of ideas in the book that we wanted to try our hands at. None are particularly tricky. But Mr. TG is a project-oriented thinker who also happens to be a doer. So before I could blink twice, he had launched himself into making these canning jar garden lights from the book.

The impetus for the project began when Mr. TG found stick-on LED touch-lights on sale for less than $3 each at Home Hardware. After experimentation, he discovered they fit best in the lids of wide-mouth canning jars.
Jars were also bought from Home Hardware at $13 for a dozen. Mr. TG gave the outsides an spraying of glass frosting.
The spray paint frosted up as it dried. All 12 jars were coated with one can of spray.
Here’s a closeup of the finished jars in the garden. Because LEDs run cold, the lights can cosy right up to plants.
And the big picture in the Microgarden. Now Mr. TG is already geared up to make a dozen more.

So that’s a taste. And if you leave a comment and tell us either about what kind of project you’ve tackled yourself, or what kind of project you’d like to do, we’ll draw a name and award a copy of the book, the winner of which we’ll announce in another post. [UPDATE: Oops! Forgot to include a closure date. Please comment by Monday, May 21, 2012 to qualify for the draw.]

Now I’ll close with a vignette from Lorene’s garden. Now this is a garden with a personal imprint!



  1. Oh my golly gee, those lights are spectacular! Let's see – we made art for the chicken coop, and I want to finish painting a mural and make copper words for the walls. That's about it for right now. We also put in an irrigation system we made up, if that counts.

  2. I love the wire basket for the hose- something I definetly could do!
    vmorgan456 (at) yahoo (dot) com

  3. Magical – I love your pix of the finished garden lanterns and am so pleased to see my book spurring people to get outside and craft/make/play!!! Thank you so much for the kind words.

    1. I've seen these lights made with solar lights that fit into the jars. No messing with turning them on and off.

  4. I love the lights, giving me so many ideas, like buying those little stencils of moon / stars etc and stick them to the jar then paint the rest of the jar dark blue or black then remove the stencils

    1. That's a great idea for holidays.
      You could add ghosts and other ghastly things for Halloween and snowflakes and other similar things for Christmas.
      Just let your imagination run wild and I'm sure you can come up with many uses for these fantastic lights.

  5. we had such fun at lorene's garden, didn't we? while i have her book, and have many pages dog-eared for summer projects, i must've missed the mason jar lights. i think that one is going to move to the top of my list. so very cool.
    looking forward to exploring asheville gardens with you in a few days… what fun awaits us?!

  6. Such inspiration!
    I actually wanted a bench of some type to sit in front of our house with planters on it. I couldn't find a bench small enough, so I found some scrap lumber in our shed and built one myself. Then I stained it with redwood lumber stain. For the planters, everything that looked cute was way too expensive, so I went to the hardware store and bought 3 metal buckets. I cut out some stencils and used water colors to paint a butterfly on one, a chicken on another, and a kitty on the third. They are now sitting on the front porch of my new house with asiatic lilies in them.

  7. My whole deck has been a DIY experiment. Already made 2 custom deck planters filled with mulch and the plants are in smart pots. My lady is pretty handy with the glue gun and she made a custom pedestal to use as a table. Next is to create a privacy wall made with cucumbers and PVC pipe. By the end of the month the deck will be in full bloom. I would try some kind of gardening nook to house supplies and not look cluttered.

    Here is a panoramic shot http://campl.us/f5c5LwiZNca

  8. I absolutely love those lights! They are just the thing that my grandma would have in her garden.

  9. Love the frosted jars – finally something reasonably water proof!
    I've started a project – found an old Ikea bed n the alley and used the boards to created a 2 tiered shade garden in the spot something was growing between two maples. As with all garden experiments, finally adjustments are still in the works…definitely needs some great lighting.

  10. I love the idea of the jar lights too! Our deck has been an ongoing project for a couple of years as we have built it in phases – and we used reclaimed wood from the old deck to create some seating and a curb-side garbage container.

  11. The lights are very pretty. I must try out that project. The best handmade project I made for my garden would be glass on glass mosaics. I hope you draw my name as I can always use some good ideas for garden projects!

    It's been a pleasure meeting you here in Asheville!

  12. Those lights are great!. I made a greenhouse out of left over wood and concrete from when we built our log house, old storm windows I got off freecycle and plastic left over from some other project.

  13. Those lights are fantastic!

    As for me… well, we bought our house in the Junction a year ago, and inherited a bit of an overgrown garden. Ok, to say 'a bit' might be too kind! So right now it's about weeding, pruning, moving and making the actual plants look nice. But I'd love to put in some lovely lights like in this post, or some pretty decorations of some sort… I need ideas! So if I don't win this book I probably will buy a copy.

  14. It is wonderful to repurpose items to put in the garden that might otherwise end up in landfills. I have used bricks and stones to border my gardens. This year I have moved them all to the backs of the gardens so I can mow the edges easier. I also have a piece of driftwood and an old stump as decorations in the garden. Those lights are adorable. Thanks for the interesting project ideas.

  15. It is a great book. I made hypertufa troughs and I'm working on hose guides, but the lights are next on my list. I am treasuring my copy of this book.

  16. This is a great idea. I've seen those jars at Canadian tire too. They are only about $10 for a dozen. How much was the glass frosting though?

  17. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. Keep making great gardens. And congratulations to Candice, who is the winner of Handmade Garden Projects!

  18. Would you look at those jar lights! They lit up the garden quite nicely! But what I like about this idea is the simplicity. And you never quite expect that a simple and ordinary jar can be used to light up your garden. That is, indeed, extraordinary! 🙂

  19. Love those mason jar lights, but how do you turn the lights on? Do you have to go to each jar individually and open the lid and turn them on? My late husband was the project person in our family, so now my daughter and I are beginning to try some projects, and she is very good, but sometimes we don't understand the logistics and need detailed instructions.

    1. Yes, you turn each light on individually. The LED lights work like a button: push to turn on. Each light comes with a sticker to hold it in place. Now, you will eventually have to remove the light/sticker to replace the battery, but not till after many hours of use. Then just get double-sided carpet tape to re-stick the light in place.

  20. What a GREAT Ideal.

    I think one thing that might be an improvement would be to Spray the inside instead of the outside so the will not get Dirty.

    You can just wipe off the outside unsprayed glass. Also i sprayed the jars different colors♥

    1. T Ann, you're quite right. And if I were to do this again, I'd spray the inside rather than the outside, too. Mind you, our slightly weathered jars now have an interesting antiquey look.

  21. I think this is an awesome idea but the main question I have is this: What size lights and what size jars do you use? I've been looking online and I can't find lights for less than $3 anywhere, and the prices I do find vary wildly. It seems the size of the light is the reason. Some lights that look exactly like your picture can be as small as 3.5 inches to as large as 6 inches.

    1. Really, you can choose whichever size light you like – just make sure you purchase a lid to fit. The lights we purchased are by Sylvania and are about 2.5" across, fitting perfectly into a lid that's about 3.5" from outside rim to rim. We chose a tall canning jar, but they'd work in a short, wide-mouth jar, too.

  22. Oh my goodness! I love the LED Mason Jar Lights, I want to make some of these as so as I can and have the extra money to get them 😉

  23. I like the red wagon toperiary for me it is a old wheel barrel turned on its side to look loke it tipped over but with some dirt half in and half out with pansies planted in the barrel its pretty cool

  24. I love the garden lights… I think I'd like to try and make them using recycled peanut butter or mayo jars (plastic) so they would be 'kid-friendly'… I also want to make a 'fairy garden' using things I can put together from around my home and classroom!

    1. Karen–so glad to see you bring some of those ideas into your classroom. The classroom fairy garden idea is SPECTACULAR! I taught pre-k for a few years and we built a Leprechan trap for St Pats Day. The kids LOVED it and wanted to keep catching more on into the year. It could have been an all year long project with redecorating for the holidays and seasons….

  25. Helen, I look forward to this spring and this is added to my to-do list!
    I think 2013 was the year of the Mason Jar! Search "one million ideas for mason jars" in pinterest… there's a lot of creativity out there!

  26. I love the lights. I have some of the lights to put into the mason jars. However, the lights used are touch lights. You have to open each and every jar to turn on (and off) the lights. There HAS to be a better way!

    1. Personally, I don't find it that much of a hassle to turn the touch-lights on and off. We don't always use all of them — just for special occasions — so it's no more trouble than lighting individual candles. For everyday use, we might only use a few.

    2. We got the touch lights on sale for much less. I guess you have to decide which is highest on your priority list: price or convenience. We're quite happy with the lights we used, but then we don't use them every day, just for special occasions. To me, it's no more trouble than changing candles and lighting them – but a lot safer.

  27. I found a storage shed full of old baby cribs and bought myself a Black and Decker combo tool set, also got a really nice sander for mother's day from my son so I will be making benches in the very near future.

  28. Love those lights! I just made a bottle tree out of an old broom handle to support several tomato cages stacked upside down to make a cone shape. All was spray painted black then blue and green wine bottles placed on the tomato cages and done! Beautiful colors in the sun!

  29. The jar lights are great but they are touch lights so you would have to turn each oneon and off..which seems lot of work at night

    1. As I said a few comments back, we don't use them every night. They're saved for parties or family dinners. And we rarely use all two dozen. A few lights light up the table and immediate area just fine.

  30. I'm sorry I skimmed through the comments you might have answered this already:)) they are on when darkness falls and off when light comes up? I'm going to have to go to home Depot for this ! I'm very excited for this experiment

    1. No, you have to click them on and off individually, which is why they're so inexpensive. If you want to replace with solar lights, then the cost goes up. If cost is an issue (and we bought ours on sale) I've since seen the touch lights in dollar stores.

  31. These will look awesome around the rustic benches I am making to accommodate guests when we have bonfires.

  32. I can't wait to try the garden lights. I recently had my knee replaced and haven't had the ability to work in the garden much. This looks like a project I can tackle this weekend even with my new knee. It wasn't a garden project but it worked like a charm. My daughter house shared an apt with 3 others in Seattle. Her room was dark brown ugly paneling with high ceilings. We bought king size flat sheets and starch for clothing. You wet the sheets throughly w the starch and then apply them to the wall like wallpaper. It doesn't harm the walls but you have a totally new look. When you move you just pull the sheets off the wall. Wash the walls and they look just like befoe with no damage.

  33. These lights use triple a batteries use them for under cabinet lighting…batteries don't last long so stock up.

    1. Actually, the lights we used didn't use AAA batteries, and some (though not all) of the ones we made still work after two and a half years. We'll likely have to replace the batteries this summer, however.

  34. Would love to try the lid garden lights, right up my alley, that kind you for sharing . Looking at what else you have to keep me in project mode . Lol

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