93 Year Old Dumpster Diving Urban Gardener

May 30, 2011 by

93 year-old Robert Horton, Jr., on his downtown Greenwich, CT patio.

My 93 year-old father-in-law is a dumpster diver. During one of his recent expeditions into the trash at his neighboring elementary school, he found metal file cabinets whose perfectly good castors he plucked for use on the base of the dolly he made for his Smart Pot, below.

Smart Pot gets rolling with DIY dolly.

“The town dump doesn’t allow residents to take things, but I have a deal with the guy there, so he lets me grab things,” the nonagenarian confided to me. “I recently found a practically new bicycle whose handle bar was a little bent. I fixed it and gave to my neighbor whose kid wanted a bike.”

Cold frame made from old storm windows.

For his lettuces, above, Horton constructed a cold frame from old storm windows and found wood, then upcycled the seats from discarded beach chairs to cover his crops at night. He grows tomatoes and lettuce on the patio of his downtown apartment, and has invited me to cultivate a bunch of new things with him, turning his patio into a quasi community garden.

He loves his Smart Pot because it is lightweight and easy to move. By placing the container on his homemade dolly, he is able to wheel it into the sun at various times of the day, making the most of his small garden space.

Horton, a lifelong avid gardener who served in WWII with The Army Core of Engineers, has been tinkering with DIY projects for decades. Over the years, he’s designed and built furniture, carved wood whales and birds, constructed miniature villages, and once built a 12 1/2 foot Blue Jay sailboat in his basement. For his various projects, he rarely buys anything he can recycle or make himself. “Why let all this good stuff go to waste when you can use it?” says Horton. It’s a line worth reusing.

SmartPots are soft growing containers good for keeping the root system from overheating on hot days. Purchase SmartPots here.


  • http://www.figoframes.com Sharon Wong

    Way to Go Mr. Horton! I love it when discards become something of value again. I’ve dipped into our municipal tips before (in England) and found enough bits and pieces for me to create my home-made prototype which has now turned into a patent-pending product and selling really well!

    All the Best,

  • http://hazeljarvis.com hazel jarvis

    What a great story. what a great Father.

  • Robin Plaskoff Horton

    Yes I know Sharon, and I am so proud to have featured your Figo Frames at the beginning before you launched them! Congrats on their success!

  • http://www.manuretea.com Annie Haven | Authentic Haven Brand

    Hi Robin great blog post I’m in love with your father in-law already. Annie

  • http://Wickedgardener.blogspot.com Wicked Gardener

    Awesome! I wish more like him would write blogs. I’d love weekly updates on his projects!

  • Kim Horton

    What a nice piece about an extremely creative man! Thanks, Robin, for sharing his sense of caring with others.

  • Jennfer Jasmine

    Exemplary. And…93?? Absolutely not apparent!

  • Lise Pyles

    I just found this story and really enjoyed it. Mr. Horton reminds me of my own dad — a veteran, veteran dumpster diver and great gardener. His name was Jay and he built a sailboat in his garage. Thanks for the smiles.

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