Wagon wheels … on a roll in gardens – by Diane Morey Sitton

Wagon wheels of various sizes make up a fence at mosaic artist Karin Overbeck’s “Evergreen Schoolhouse” garden in Door County, Wisconsin. (Image taken some years ago on a visit to Karin’s memorable garden.) Click image for larger view. All images by Diane Morey Sitton

It’s hard to say what makes wagon wheels so garden-friendly.

For starters, they are remarkably versatile. You see them lined up as fences, welded into gates, and used as legs on patio benches. Round like flowers with spokes that radiate like sunbeams, wagon wheels seem configured to catch the eye. What’s more, their age-old patina – created by decades of mud and miles – is especially compatible with Mother Nature.

Wagon wheels consist of three parts: the hub (nave) at the center, the spokes, and the rim. The rim consists of segments called felloes. Historically, wooden wheel makers used elm for the nave, oak for the spokes and ash for the felloes.

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Generally, historians believe that small, cattle-drawn wagons and carts existed as early as 3,500 BC. These primitive vehicles had wooden wheels, i.e. horizontal slabs cut from tree trunks. Slowly, as the centuries rolled by, wheels evolved. Wooden wheels acquired spokes; then came iron rims. Modern times brought rubber and mass-produced tires.

Construct a western-look porch railing by fitting wagon wheels into custom-built framework.

Although America can’t claim bragging rights for inventing the wheel itself, American ingenuity had a lot to do with developing the classic wagon wheel – a transportation game-changer with spokes, hub and iron rim in use until the early 1900s.

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These days that same American resourcefulness accounts for the various ways these old relics are put to use in landscapes.

Wagon wheels paired with plants say “welcome” at the entrance of a garden path.

For some gardeners, the creativity and fun begin when they place a wagon wheel on either side of their sidewalk to create curbside décor. Other gardeners incorporate wagon wheels into gates, or they use a large wagon wheel as the gate itself. Deeper into the garden, wagon wheels placed flat on the ground become segmented gardens for herbs or succulents. When welded together side-by-side, metal wagon wheels serve as fences, borders or screens. The same wheels, welded together and displayed upright, form trellises, perfect for showcasing flowering vines.

The simplest way to display a wagon wheel is to lean it again a wall or fence, and then let the flowers grow!

But that’s not all. When mounted in a wooden privacy fence, wagon wheels become “windows,” letting in light and breeze. Wagon wheels can serve as the legs of a table or the ends of a bench. They can be transformed into porch railings or handrails for porch stairs. They become garden art when painted folk art style. They become focal points when displayed with vintage implements.

It’s hard to tell how a wagon wheel ended up displayed with whimsically-painted chairs, a milk can and artificial flowers. Go figure!

Aside from their usefulness and versatility, however, you can’t help asking yourself, “what is it exactly that makes these crusty old artifacts so … keepable?”

When painted, wagon wheels become art. This wheel is still attached to a covered wagon used as a B&B.

Maybe, just maybe, their allure and talent for rebranding themselves as “everything garden” lies with the roads they have travelled and the loads they have hauled.

Just think of the stories they could tell!

Posted by Diane Morey Sitton
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