In Praise Of Gnarly Things

“By being alert to the architectural qualities of the natural world, you’ll be able to save the money you’d have spent buying mass-produced, uniform materials that are much less decorative.”     Rick Griffin

Porch railing made from curved and twisted branches
Twisted wood adds personality to this porch rail in the Mississippi Delta

We have many resources to draw on when order – getting everything just right – is important. Mass production has given us a regular supply of uniform products made to strict specifications. This porch railing could have been made from straight sticks of planed wood but has loads more character made from bent and twisted natural wood.

“Perhaps”, you might think, “the person could not afford a ‘proper’ rail?” Perhaps, except this fence has been artfully created at a Mississippi Delta hotel. It’s a form of branding to help create a feeling. It reminds us that not that long ago, before mass production, humans made their homes out of whatever they could make or find. We all have a little of that deeply rooted in us.

Crepe myrtle branches against an old fence
Twisted and textural crepe myrtle limbs could be treasure not trash

Like many American gardeners, Rick hoards a multitude of saved treasures in the hope they will turn out useful, although his definition of treasure might be a little broader than most. Old garbage cans and plastic containers that came with shrubs or annuals are stored with dead cedar trees, leaves, bent rebar (he drives over rebar judged ‘too straight’ with his truck to accentuate the curve), broken concrete, slate and stained glass fragments, used tires, metal pipes, beer and wine bottles – anything natural or man-made that catches his eye.

A decorative railing with rebar, vines and colorful bottles
An old wisteria vine twines texture around the rebar on the porch railing.

With nature on hand in a garden, sometimes the gardener only needs to intervene lightly to create an interesting effect. Rick and Shirley’s porch fence is made from rebar, set into top and bottom rails. Wisteria limbs have been encouraged to climb the rebar, using a natural process called thigmotropism. In simple terms, this is the way some climbing plants bend in response to touch. All that’s needed is to start a young tendril off by twisting it against something, then the plant takes over from there.

A wisteria vine wrapped around a porch railing with a limb broken off
Nature is self-cleaning: every now and again a limb breaks off, leaving just the twist behind

A few of those saved bottles came in useful to add color, give the eye a place to linger,  and indicate that this is intentional. That’s a useful tip to end on: any focal point will transform something natural by laying claim to it, for example, a wagon wheel, a pot or a beautifully shaped piece of stone in a patch of wildflowers; or a winding path mown through an unmown lawn.

Shared as part of the weekly photo challenge: twisted.