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The plants and flowers in your garden are only the surface of the overall look. They cannot have character without structure – beds to lie in, containers to spill over, bricks and stones to offset them, and a collection of items to provide interest, height, or focal points. What you choose for this last category depends on your style. If you like a less-than-traditional, whimsical look, then found items are a must.

Using found items takes a little more time than stopping by your local gardening center and choosing traditional items like plant stands and trellises. But the search is so much more fun.

Start looking at home

Before you go hunting for others’ discarded junk, why not free up some of your own storage space? Dig through your attic, garage, and storage sheds. Look through your kitchen cupboards and closets. Search for items you will not use again that would hold up well in the elements. A worn pair of gardening boots would serve well as planters in the garden – a fitting end to their employment.

Choose items based on shape, texture, and color

Your found items should enhance your garden and stand out a little. An old wooden ladder, for instance, can serve as a plant stand in a spot where you need a little visual height. A pink or mustard cast iron bath tub provides a splash of color and will blend in to the landscape with proper placement and a few cascading plants.

Peruse found-items

Flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores are familiar territory for folks looking for bargains. Visit antique stores, estate sales, and auctions both actual and virtual. Sometimes you can find a few gems discarded on the sidewalk in exclusive neighborhoods. Check your phone book for salvage companies for homes.

Be selective

Sure, you are doing the earth a favor by repurposing something that was headed to a landfill. But be forewarned: It’s easy to go overboard when you start collecting old treasures. As you hunt, keep a lonely space in your garden in mind. Measure it first if necessary.

Drill or fill for drainage

With an electric drill you can turn just about any vessel into a planter. You will need different bits depending on whether you are drilling wood, metal or stone. If you don’t trust your own expertise, take the container to your hardware store, and they should be able to help you.

Planting in pots with no drainage is a no-no, but it would be a greater shame to put a hole in that antique teapot. Some materials are easily damaged by drilling, like ceramic, porcelain and enamel-covered cast iron. If you must plant something in there, fill the bottom of your container with a dense layer of pebbles or gravel, burying a plastic flexible tube into it that curls over the lip of the container and to the ground. After you fill your flowerpot with soil, the tube will act as a siphon to draw off water from the bottom.

Even the most traditional gardens improve with the addition of a carefully chosen and placed found item. When you are done, you can give yourself a well-deserving pat on the back. Using found items that otherwise would only be tossed into the landfill is a very green act. And, besides, now you have a garden that has your own mark of creativity and style.

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Alpaca Health: Five Common Behaviors You Need to Know

Alpacas are easy animals for inexperienced ranchers to raise. If you can feed, water, and clean up after your herd every day, you’ll be covering 95% of their needs. Health problems are rare, but some can be extremely serious. This list of five common behaviors in alpacas breaks down dangerous symptoms that require an immediate veterinarian visit and normal actions that can be safely ignored.

Ataxia (Stumbling)

If you see an alpaca in your herd stumbling, walking with an odd limp, or struggling to control their movement, you should call a veterinarian right away. This inability to coordinate their limbs, called ataxia, can be a symptom of a meningeal worm infection. Without treatment, meningeal worms move to an animal’s brain and begin destroying tissue, eventually leading to death. The natural host for this parasite is white-tailed deer, which are native to almost the entire United States. Deer droppings contain the parasite, and snails bring the worms out of the woods and into your pasture. Infections are especially common during wet weather, so keep a close eye on your alpaca herd’s health on rainy days and immediately afterwards.


Many different parasites can cause diarrhea, so most veterinarians will want to conduct a fecal test to determine the best course of treatment. Over several days, diarrhea can lead to dehydration and possible death; crias are at a higher risk than adult alpacas. If you notice an alpaca with diarrhea, monitor it carefully and call your preferred veterinarian if the symptom continues for more than 24 hours.

Foaming at the Mouth

Alpacas exhibit odd behaviors after eating clover or alfalfa. They love these plants and can’t stop themselves from eating too much at once. If you see alpacas foaming at the mouth, lying down and stretching their back legs, or biting at their sides, they are likely recovering from devouring a large patch of clover or alfalfa. Because alpacas graze in the same areas, you may see this behavior in multiple animals. Do not be alarmed.

Stretching the Neck

Large pieces of food can become stuck in an alpaca’s esophagus. In this situation, the animal will stretch out their neck repeatedly and may appear to be choking. Do not interfere with this process; the object will be removed with a few hours. If you notice this behavior in one of your alpacas, do not feed them grain for the remainder of the day because their esophagus is already irritated.

Lying Down

Every experienced alpaca owner can remember bringing their herd home, gazing contentedly out the kitchen window, and panicking when they saw several of their new alpacas keeled over on the ground. They also remember how relieved they felt when they realized that this was normal behavior for alpacas. You might see your herd sprawled out on their side sleeping, rolling around on their back in dirt mounds, or lying down with their legs tucked under them. None of these behaviors are cause for alarm.

Overall, alpacas are stoic animals. They will hide any symptoms or pain they are experiencing. You must carefully monitor your herd’s normal behavior and watch for unusual activity. If a social animal begins hiding from the rest of the herd or a glutton stops eating grain, you should pay special attention to them. As you learn more about your animals, you will be able to distinguish normal behaviors from potential symptoms. The more time you spend with your new friends, the better you’ll be able to ensure their long-term health.

by Christina Schneider, MPH

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