Turn an Old Boat Into a New Garden

Not Your Typical Container Garden

Flower boat, Domaso, Lake Como, Italian Lakes, Lombardy, Italy, Europe
James Emmerson/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

Why plant a flower garden in a boat? Turning a boat into a flower garden falls somewhere between planting a very large container garden and creating a raised bed garden. However, this is one container you would never want to move!

In this era of upcycling, recycling and environmental awareness, it’s smart to turn a boat that’s no longer seaworthy into a themed garden for the lake or beach. The leaks that made the boat unusable become the perfect drainage holes and the chipping paint add a rustic element that complements the flower garden.

Seasonal Interest

Spring Container Garden

One of the advantages of planting a flower garden in a boat is that the deep soil gives you the ability to plant spring flowering bulbs for earlier blooms. The soil in the boat will warm up faster than the soil in the ground, so expect your tulips and daffodils to bloom a few weeks earlier than normal.

Fertilizer From the Sea

Red Flowers Growing in Boat
Jacopo Pagni/Getty Images

It's practical for boat container garden owners to use the resources at hand to nourish their plants and flowers. Does seaweed make good fertilizer? In fact, seaweed has several benefits for the garden. Seaweed is a source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for plants, and it contains many trace nutrients not found in commercial chemical fertilizers. Seaweed also acts as a great mulch, and it won't blow away or add weed seeds to the boat garden. Rinse your collected seaweed well to remove salt before using in the garden. 

The Brig Bloomer

Summer Container Garden
Photo © Brian M. Forbes

Taken at the River Earn in Scotland, this boat is filled with long flowering summer annuals like wax begonias and calendulas combined with dusty miller accent plants. Although a popular fishing site, the river is not generally considered navigable by any watercraft, which may explain the final fate of this boat as a flower container.

Blue as a Neutral Container Color

Daffodils Growing in a Boat
Colin Howley

This vibrant shade of periwinkle blue makes a pretty foil for many flowers, especially those with primary colors like yellow or red. If you decide to plant spring flowering bulbs in your boat garden, you must choose between letting the bulb foliage die down naturally to ensure flowers for next year, or yanking the bulbs and treating them just as you would any other annual flower.

Protecting the Boat Garden

Keep Pests Out of New Garden

As with any container garden, the boat garden will go through a phase when the immature plants are not very showy and vulnerable to pests. If you struggle with rabbits or woodchucks in the garden, chicken wire is one way to deny these pests a quick meal while the garden has a chance to mature. If cats are treating the boat garden as a giant litter box, lay some rose canes between the plants to make digging unpleasant.

Ahoy, Vines!

Flowering Vine Container Garden
Jean Pierre/Flickr

What a clever idea to use the marine netting in this boat as support to flowering vines. Many flowering vines can thrive in such a large flowering container garden, including morning glories, thunbergia, cardinal vine, or cypress vine. If you don’t have rope netting to use for the vine tendrils to cling to, you can improvise with some plastic bird exclusion netting strung between bamboo posts.

Practical and Pretty

Lakeside Garden
Karen Bryan/Flickr

Not many containers could stand up to the high winds blowing in from Loch Lomond in Scotland, but the sidewalls of these boats offer some protection to the sun-loving annuals contained within. Wind tolerant annuals to include in the boat garden are lantana, purple fountain grass, and ice plant. 

Power in Repetition

Pink and Purple Flower Garden
Graham Richardson

This gardener heightened the impact of this flower garden by planting the same vinca and blue ageratum flowers in the ground and in the boat. The soil in the boat appears to have settled, so adding fresh soil to the boat at the end of the season will help to elevate future plantings so that they can be seen easily.

Flowering Topiary

Planted Topiary in Ornamental Boat Garden
Martin Hospach/Getty Images

While a professional topiary may be out of reach for most boat container gardeners, a simple topiary is doable with the wide variety of pre-formed wire topiary frames available online. A fish, frog, turtle, or mermaid will add a touch of whimsy to your boat garden. Stuff the form with long fiber sphagnum moss, wet thoroughly, and insert forgiving plants like sedums into the moss, or train creeping fig to grow over the surface. 

Lakeside Oasis

Recycled Boat Garden
Matt Browne

One gets the sense that this boat owner had the last ride in this un-seaworthy craft, drug it ashore, and then decided to make lemonade out of this lemon by planting a flower garden in it. In the background, you can see the sixth-century Scottish castle Eilean Donan.

Trailing Flowers

Red and Yellow Flowers
Nigel Wedge

An easy way to keep your flowering boat from sticking out like a sore thumb is to soften the planting with some trailing flowers. Some annual choices to consider include million bells, petunias, and trailing verbena.

Boats in Bloom

Boat Parade
Tatjana Todorov

It’s a bit of a cheat to include this flowering boat in a garden gallery, as these are clearly cut flowers, but what a fun way to decorate one’s boat! To see more fanciful blooming boats like this, attend the annual Westland Floating Flower Parade in the Netherlands.