Helen Halpenny | May 11, 2016
Today I went to a nursery and saw a herbaceous peony priced at $99. Yes, it was rather a rare plant. That made me remember my visit to a lovely garden a couple of years ago, whose owner told me she had a $200 budget for the entire gardening year. I was amazed at the time that her frugality could produce such a wonderful collection of plants, and I asked her how she acquired such variety.
If you are beginning to garden and have limited money, some of her ideas may be helpful. First of all, start a compost pile. With fall fast approaching there will be lots of leaves and garden waste. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just make a heap, and turn it to speed the rotting process. Soon you won’t need to buy the store bought products. Compost that is ready can be spread onto perennial beds in the fall after cleanup and it will help the plants get through winter, and will provide nutrients next spring.
Save seeds. Both vegetable and flower seeds can easily be saved, providing they are not hybrids. All open pollinated varieties will come true. Let the seed pods ripen on the plant and just before they split and spill their contents, collect the seeds and store in paper sacks until you are ready to plant. Seed collection is best done on the dry day. They should be stored in a cool, dark location. If you are collecting from the wild, never take more than 10% of the available seeds, thus making sure the species will continue in that location.
Trade plants with your neighbours and friends. An established garden always has clumps that need dividing and volunteer plants that pop up in unexpected places. Become a member of the local horticultural society and you will have access to plant sales, and group orders. And, you will meet other gardeners who will give you cuttings and seeds when you admire their gardens.
Start seedlings in early spring. Bright windowsills or grow lights will give the necessary light to raise healthy plants. Annuals bring fast results, but perennials, too, are well worth growing. Even trees can be grown from seed. They just need a little more patience. For the price of a packet of seed you can have dozens or maybe hundreds of plants. Furthermore, nurturing the little plants will give you a great feeling of accomplishment.
Start small. As your clumps of perennials get big enough to divide, your flower beds can expand to accommodate the extras. By starting with a manageable area, you will not get discouraged with the weeding and other maintenance. As you get more proficient, you will enjoy a larger garden.
Visit other gardens and use ideas that you admire. Thoughtful design goes a long way in designing a successful garden. Collect ideas from many sources and during the long winter months do your planning. Some of the prettiest gardens are full of common plants used in distinctive and creative settings. A gardening friend says never to plant just one plant- always a grouping of at least three. Five is better.
Of course everyone is tempted by the glorious selection of plant material at nurseries, and we should treat ourselves to special plants from time to time. But there is real satisfaction from ‘gardening from scratch.’ By economizing on some aspects of gardening we can save up for that coveted plant we long for. Maybe I should go back and consider that peony again.
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