Photo: Courtesy Island Girl Salvage
5 tips for unearthing and caring for garden-worthy finds, from Tabitha Long of

1. Look for Finishes With Patina
If it's already rusty and the paint is chipped, you don't have to worry about protecting it from the elements. Conversely, if the finish is too polished, just leave it outside. "A couple of seasons in the sun or snow will give it a weathered look," says Long.

2.Keep It Safe
Beware of sharp-edged and rusty metal pieces if you have small children. Also, vintage wood items are often finished in lead-based paint, which is harmful if ingested and can leach into the soil. Be sure to seal the surface with a clear polyurethane or remove the old paint using a safe stripper, such as Peel-Away 1.

3. Shop Your Neighbors' Trash
Troll for street scores the night before "large item" trash day. Call your municipal waste authority to find out when the next pickup is (typically every four to six weeks). Better yet, find out when the fancy towns in your area kick their big stuff to the curb to increase your chances of getting classier castoffs.

4. Provide Year-Round Focal Points
Pick items in eye-catching colors and interesting shapes that will create visual interest in the garden long after plants have withered. "I love looking out the window and seeing cool forms poking through the snow," says Long.

5. Consider the Weather
Unless you plan to store wood items inside during the winter, be sure to brush on a sealer to prevent rot. Try eco-friendly SoyGuard Wood Protection Water Repellent & Sealer from Aubuchon Hardware. To preserve an aged patina on metal, apply a rust inhibitor, such as American Accents Clear Top Coat from Rust-Oleum.
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