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Gardener sees an opening in old objects

'Tools are like people: Sometimes they need new jobs,' says artist Ray Huston, who makes new jobs for old tools by employing them in his garden gates.

Each of Huston's gates tells a story about the gardener who provided the accouterments. For instance, there's the woman who inherited her grandfather's tools but had no way to use them until Huston got his hands on them. For her birthday, the woman's husband asked Huston to use them in a gate.

'So I stood there with her grandfather's tools in this gate, and all of a sudden you can see tears welling up in her eyes,' Huston said.

That's the real payoff for this self-made artist. Huston's work brings the past alive when he takes 'cardboard boxes filled with stuff that nobody sees and makes possessions worth having.'

Huston's work may render people speechless, but he works entirely by word of mouth. Gardeners find him. His gates aren't sold at garden centers, though his trellises are. People ask him for gates when they see him at local garden fairs.

Garden fairs are a good fit for Huston. About eight years ago, he got started making gates because, he says, he was a gardener himself, and built himself a gate that people liked so much that he decided making them could be a good way to make money.

Oh, yeah. The gates run about $500. And there's quite a demand for them.

Today, about 50 of Huston's gates grace Portland gardens.

The gate in Joanne Fuller's garden in Northeast Portland has a big hoop that used to hold wine barrels together at her father's winery. Fuller had fun rounding up old binoculars, a wind-up alarm clock (which, by the way, wasn't working until Huston put it into the gate), an old shovel, pruners, shears and a little bell for the opening mechanism.

There's a bell hidden on every one of Huston's garden gates. Looking for it is kind of like playing 'Where's Waldo?' when you come upon one of the gates. Every one is different, but each has a bell that rings.

Huston and 139 other garden artists and plant people will sell stuff at this weekend's fund-raiser for the Clackamas County Master Gardener program. The Master Gardener Spring Garden Fair runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday, May 3, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 4, at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds, off Oregon Highway 99E in Canby.

This is the 19th year for the spring fair in Clackamas County. What makes it unusual is the number of little mom-and-pop greenhouses that show their wares.

There's an excellent selection of plants, hanging baskets, shrubs, trees, garden ornaments, furniture, books, tools, gates, trellises, arbors and anything else gardeners might need. You can even bring a Ziploc bag with a bit of soil in it and have the pH level tested for free. This is important if you're trying to grow roses in a spot that's too alkaline for their taste, or rhodies in soil that isn't acidic enough.

This week's to-do list:

• Plant dahlias. Plant with a handful of peat moss and a tablespoon of bone meal. Hint: A high-nitrogen fertilizer makes more leaves and fewer flowers. Don't water until you see new growth.

• Put slug bait out around newly planted dahlias.

• Cut evergreen candytuft in half after spring flowering.

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is www.gardengal.tv.