Tin Can Lanterns

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Beauty in the garden. This is something I’ve been working on since I read (and used) Carole West’s Startle Garden. I’m a pretty simplistic and functional gardener, but I also enjoy having guests over, and our backyard is the hotspot of activity. This is all because of our driveway. Though we live in town, our driveway is actually behind the house, off of an alley that runs between our street and the one behind us. While this makes the front yard look uncluttered, it also means that the driveway and all of the toys that come with three kids are in the backyard.

Add a chicken coop, one large kitchen garden, a clothesline, trampoline, and a dog to the mix, and our backyard is a pretty busy (i.e. messy) place. For the past few months I’ve been trying to declutter our large backyard and make it more entertainment friendly. So when Bonnie from Farmhouse40 created the Tin Can Blogger Summer Challenge, I knew I needed to create something that:

  1. Didn’t add to the backyard clutter
  2. I would actually use
  3. Cost little to no money
The Idea

Twinkling garden lights have always appealed to me. Our neighbor has them hanging in her screened in porch, and it feels like Christmas year-round (in a non-tacky way, of course). And Pinterest and HGTV use lights and lanterns to create elegant outdoor spaces. While I love the ambiance outdoor lighting provides, I have not been willing to use electric lights outside since we have no porch or railings, only a patio. So, what could add some light and sparkle to our outdoor entertaining space? Garden lanterns or votives!

A simple metal can gives a sturdy shape to a burning citronella candle and comes in a variety of sizes. I chose the large (28oz) cans. The larger surface area gave me more space to work with and fits a variety of candle sizes. And while I plan to use these on my glass patio table, these same cans could easily line a walkway or brighten up porch steps for an evening party. The possibilities are endless!

What You’ll Need

Cans (28oz or whatever size you want to work with)



Nail (short and thick are best)

Spray Paint

Citronella Candles

The How-To
  1. Wash out your tin (or aluminum cans) and dry. Consider what design you’d like on your cans. Even something as simple as dots will be beautiful once a candle is lit inside, so don’t worry about using anything complicated. I used a diamond pattern and then a flower outline on my cans. Using your sharpie dot out your shapes on your tin cans. Don’t worry about being perfect. Tin Can Garden Lights
  2. Fill cans up with water, leaving at inch of space at the top of your can. Water expands, so you want to leave room for this. Place cans in the freezer and freeze overnight or longer. Once you’re ready to make the holes, take can out of freezer. On a cutting board (if inside), place can on its side and using a thick nail, firmly hammer nail into the dots you created. Once you find a rhythm, it should only take you one or two taps to pierce the metal. Then move on to the next dot until each one is a small hole. Tin Can Garden Lights
  3. Rinse your can in warm water to remove the ice, then let can dry. Pick through your stash of spray paint (you won’t need much for this project) or grab a can from your local hardware store in your favorite color. Set your can on an empty flower pot or a block of wood and evenly coat with paint. Tin Can Garden Lights
  4. Allow paint to dry and then apply a second coat. Let dry.
  5. Once cans are dry, they are ready to use. Grab a pack of small citronella candles (I found 3 for $3 at Big Lots) or make your own if you use essential oils (instructions here). Strike up your new garden lights, relax in an outdoor chair, and take in the glory of a summer evening (hopefully mosquito-free).

Tin Can Garden Lanterns

Using what is on hand to make something beautiful is a joy in a number of ways. First, you’re avoiding the temptation to go out and purchase something new. There are plenty of things we should all buy new (underwear, anyone?), but I can tell you countless stories of things I didn’t need because I could have used something I already had. Secondly, using each item that comes into our homes to its fullest extent is a great way to reduce waste. Not only did we really use these cans of tomato sauce for dinner, but the cans became lanterns, and the lids (if they retained their shape) are super outdoor coasters. Paint them or spice them up and voila!

I hope you enjoy all of the ways these talented bloggers have put tin cans to use this week. See all of their links below!  And I’d love to know if you’ve ever used a can in a creative way. Have a great week, and enjoy your garden!



Garden Up Green

To Work With My Hands

Hearth and Vine

At Home With Jemma

Farmhouse 40


Not A Trophy Wife


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