The Great American Garage—Before and After

How green is your garage? Is it an organizational nightmare? Are the shelves filled with old paint cans and toxic pesticides? Is it where you store your trusty leaf-blower? Do you own expensive, seldom-used tools that could be borrowed and shared among neighbors?

In a Connecticut church social hall last week, a group of members of the Hortulus Garden Club of Greenwich demonstrated how to transform the typical toxic jumble of the American garage into a tidy model of green living. The goals: reduce consumption and waste; conserve energy, fuel and water; eliminate chemical exposure; and protect future generations of people, animals and plants.

The exhibit consisted of two closet-sized spaces, “before” and “after,” both filled with carefully selected and styled props. Hanging signs admonished: “Go Organic,” “Not Down the Drain (dispose of toxics properly), and “Go to the Car Wash” (surprisingly, car washes use less water than using your garden hose to wash the car).


The messy “before” garage space reminded many visitors of what needs to be done at home. Props included old paint cans, crumpled plastic bags, half-used cans of Raid and Roundup, a leaf blower, and asphalt tiles on the roof.


The neat-as-a-pin “after” garage was fitted with recycling bins, organic gardening and cleaning products, a pegboard with rakes, and an inspirational potting table with a bucket of homemade compost. Two of the most compelling features were exterior elements: a rain barrel with gutter downspout for collecting water and a green roof covered with succulents to provide natural insulation and make a natural habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Green roofs, covered with a moisture barrier and plant material, collect rainwater, insulate the structure, and provide a home to wildlife and birds.

Rain barrels have been used since ancient times to harvest rainwater for irrigation.

A prettier, greener, and more organized place to pot.

According to exhibit co-chair Jeanine Behr Getz, author of the award-winning children’s book Think Green and managing director of, best conservation practices went into the planning, design, assembly, and disassembly of the exhibit. “The structures were disassembled with care and saved for future uses,” she said. “We believe that the Green Garage Before and After Makeover has inspired change in garages big and small. Many visitors were amazed that rain barrels could be so good looking. At least two people we know are exploring putting in green roofs. An area church plans to make a green garage for their parishioners to view and learn from, and is using our signage, recycled. And the exhibit was honored with the prestigious Garden Club of America Marion Thompson Fuller Brown Conservation Award.”

Planned and designed by conservation committee co-chairs Behr Getz and Lin Lavery and committee members Amanda Davis, Alane Harrington and Laura Cunningham, the exhibit was constructed by Dave Schrader of Bristol Fashion Cabinetry in Bridgeport, assisted by committee husbands Robert Getz, Tracy Lavery and Michael Tierney.

This exhibit deserves to become a national story and find a much wider audience. I’d like to see it reproduced at venues like the Go Green Expo and in community centers around the country. It will need government support or a corporate sponsor, perhaps one of the organizations and companies listed on the virtual handout, a four-page PDF with live links to resources for composting, energy-efficient lighting, insulation, non-toxic cleaners, organic fertilizers, native plants, and many more green products and services.

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint,, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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37 Responses to The Great American Garage—Before and After

  1. I like the rain barrel idea a lot. Thanks for sharing!

  2. geekhousecalls says:

    Wow! The green roof looks fantastic, but how would one keep it under control? That is, once the roof is “planted”, isn’t it then susceptible to being overtaken by weeds and even tree seeds (like the maples that self sow nearly every inch of my property). The point being, I don’t see me getting up on the garage roof with a lawnmower or shears. how does one address the possibility of something with a significant root structure from taking hold and possibly damaging the roof?

    • Dear Geek,
      I’ve shared your concerns with the designer of the exhibit and a company that specializes in green roofs. They promise to post their answers here. And to your questions, I add: how do you prevent too many species of wildlife from making your garage roof their habitat? Thank you for taking the time to respond, and we’ll get back to you.

    • Hello,

      The green roof is designed with a root barrier layer to prevent weeds and saplings from penetrating the membrane.

      Maintenance on the roof is minimal. However, as with any garden, you do need to weed.

      THe system you saw at the hortilus tradeshow is called liveroof (, It has the advantage of being 90% grown the day you put it in. That means weeds will have a harder time taking hold.

      Other maintenance tasks include watering. If wehave a 30 day period with less than 1 inch of rain, the roof will need to be watered. Some roofs incorporate an irrigation system, some people prefer to do it by hand (or hire a service like ours!).

      This past summer we atered our toof twice.

      Also, we even mow the roof once a year. This cuts off ay old flower heads and leggy stems. The cuttings are left where they fall and will root themselves, helping to fill out the roof even more.


  3. janet9195 says:

    Nice article and I like the suggestions about harvesting rainwater. I will be putting a rainbarrel to collect rainwater at the back of my house soon. I’m also planting native vegetation that once established, doesn’t need additional watering from our city water.

  4. wonderful ideas….thanks for sharing!

  5. Now if only I could find time to clean my garage…let alone save the Earth!

    Great tips, great insights, great ideas! 🙂

  6. Sunflowerdiva says:

    I LOVE THE GREEN ROOF! Sorry, just had to get that out…. Great ideas! I also really like the rain barrel. Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

  7. These are all great ideas. I’m a Realtor and these are great tips for clients.

  8. My community (and probably most) have hazardous material collection events for things they want to keep out of the general landfill. This includes things like old tires, batteries, chemicals, and paint. They actually take partial cans of paint that are still liquid, mix them together with similar colors, filter out any lumps, and give out the recycled paint for free. If you arent too particular about color and just need to protect something like a barn or outbuilding, or to cover graffiti, recycled paint is a great option. So – if you have partial cans of paint in your garage that you will never use, please take them in to be re-used instead of throwing them away or letting them sit on the shelf.

    • Dear Gates,
      This is a great idea. How do you keep old cans of paint liquid? Getting them open and closed again to touch up a spot or crack is such a pain. Someone suggested that when you paint, you pour a few ounces into a screw-top jar and label it with the room name and area (trim, ceiling, etc.) I wish I had the wherewithal to do that. In the meantime, I’ll pass your suggestion to our town facility manager and to Westchester County.

  9. While I think this is a great educational idea, I’m not sure how practical the two “most compelling” items are – the green roof and the rain barrel.

    I am really curious how the green roof would work out here in snow country – the summer would be great and green, but I can see several feet of snow shearing off the green and leaving horrible muddy streaks down the house (not to mention doing damage to the roof setup.) That’s not even going into the whole “structure” issues with wet dirt sitting on top of your roof all winter.

    As for the rain barrels – great idea, truly – but a lot of us don’t actually have gutters. I know, shocking – but if you’ve ever dealt with 5 foot icicles, they’re not the best idea. Hmm, wonder how those rain chains would work with a barrel? Congrats on Freshly Pressed 🙂

    • We have had roofs here in CT for several years now without any issues. The plants (sedums usually) are extremely hardy. There is never any dirt or stains.

      In reality, there is no “dirt” on the green roof. A special mix or aggregate of expanded shale is used. Some sand is added for fine materrial and water retention. Genereally there is less than 10% organic matter in the soil (you won’t want the soil to decompose or compact over time).

      Additionally, the green roofs, wheter mouldar or built in place, all have elements designed to keep the roof material in place. It’s not going to go anywhere.

  10. joanierobi says:

    Awesome idea thank you!

  11. santatiana says:

    Thank you very much. I enjoy the article and will try to follow this stimulating example.

  12. Colin L Beadon says:

    I have used a rain barrel for many years. You need a 400 mesh screen where the roof water runs into it, against bird shit and other debris. At the bottom you run an irrigation filter where the water comes out after the tap. Make sure the water barrel is off the ground about two feet on a stand, so you have room for a watering cane or a pail.
    Besides using the rainwater ( the purest water in the world) for plants, we use it for car batteries and radiator topping, and for making coffee and cooking.
    I really don’t understand why everybody who possibly can, is not using rainwater all they can. That is what makes your press so interesting. Well done, for having suddenly become enlightened.

  13. robertforto says:

    Great post and I love the roof and the rain collection system!

    Robert Forto, PhD

  14. pltprincess says:

    Nicely done. The exhibit and information was compelling even for a downtown city high rise dweller like myself.

  15. Awesome exhibit. Organization saves time and, in many cases, money.

  16. typhonalive says:

    The rain barrel is a good idea, but i would rather let it flow into my plants and plant containers as in the picture.

  17. angelagail says:

    Sheesh… now I wish I had a garage to be green with. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!! Love this post!

  18. simplyvictorious says:

    This is so interesting. I currently live in an apartment complex but I’m looking forward to the day when I have a garage and a yard in which to try these suggestions! Congrats on making Freshly Pressed :]

  19. I’m creeped out by the green roof. Not going to happen for me, but the other suggestions are nice.

  20. everythingneat says:

    Congratulations on being featured on Freshly Pressed!
    Thanks for the tips on collecting rain for household use. I would certainly want to boil it. When I lived in Thailand we couldn’t even swim in the rooftop pool for several hours after a heavy rain as the water was so polluted. It took a while for the chemicals to kick in and make it safe again.

  21. Wow, I think the biggest thing I’m going to take from this is that a car wash uses less water than a hose! Makes sense when I think of how most people use the hose, but definitely wouldn’t have thought of it on my own.

  22. cuehaven says:

    Great ideas. The green roof can be a little scary because of what may decide to take up residence, and you have to make sure you have a secure base so the roof stays outside of the house/garage.

  23. glacierwave says:

    Nice. Thank you for posting. This is a great demonstration.

  24. parisbourke says:

    Love the green roof !!

  25. andreaquyn says:

    I love these ideas! Although we don’t all have to do the same things, as what works well for one person might not for another, this world would be in much better shape if we would all pitch in by being even just a little “green.” As a Realtor, I love giving my clients new ideas on how to go green. I will be sure to pass these ideas along! Thanks!

  26. barb7802 says:

    You had to it! You just had to remind me that I needed to clean out the garage. I guess there is no escaping it. Also, I have been collecting rain water for many years. Having lived in the country, it was a must. Nothing was wasted. Thanks everyone.

  27. Neat ideas and an inspiring post !! I think I ll start with cleaning out my study w.e.f. this very minute !!

  28. What a wonderful post! And how much time you invested with all those notes everywhere.
    I have one more suggestion: if you have any non-beneficial skin care products (those with mineral oils):
    1) try to replace them with botanically based ones
    2) recycle your old stuff: use shampoo, body/face wash and toners for cleaning
    That way you´ll find my old shampoo and toner in the garage (I clean windows and walls with it)..

    The green roof is great, wish I could have one in Texas.

  29. Decluttering at it’s finest nice job!!

  30. i love this! i wish it rained enough were i live to make my rain gutters into useful catchment;^)

  31. aimeetalks says:

    Thank you for this post. I learned a lot and now I need to get to work on what I found out!

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