February 10, 2009
Cheap Gardening and Valentine's Day
With the American economy in shambles, most of us are pruning back our gardening budgets. I thought I'd share some tips learned while gardening sans budget for eight years. My husband was a student of one type or another during this entire time, and our main budget mantra was, "If it's not essential, don't buy it." Unfortunately, most gardening purchases fall into the non-essential category, though occasional purchases were rationalized with the thought that buying a few plants was cheaper than treatment for depression.
1. Work with what you have. Our rented duplex in Des Moines, Iowa included a few shabby hostas and daylilies. So I watered, fertilized (yes, I splurged and bought fertilizer), divided and transplanted them until we had a small but attractive foundation garden. Our landlord loved me for it, and I felt good about improving that little spot of earth. I did the same thing with agapanthus (see my previous post), liriope and calla lilies around our California duplex.
2. Make friend with gardeners and accept cast-offs. In Santa Clara, California, I found a few gardener friends and happily accepted divisions from overcrowded perennials and plants that would otherwise have been 'shovel-pruned' (dug up and thrown out). I often helped with garden work to thank them.
3. Knock on doors. An acquaintance in Renton, Washington added many plants to her garden after seeing them in strangers' yards, knocking at their doors and politely asking if she could take a cutting or small division. This technique probably works best for petite, kindly-faced women. Men might provoke a call to the cops if they tried it!
4. Ask for nursery gift certificates for Christmas. My sweet in-laws often have a hard time thinking of presents for me, so they were delighted when I mentioned that I love gift certificates from David Austin Roses and Home Depot. It's fun to show my mother-in-law all the plants that she has purchased for me via gift certificate. Well, I think it's fun. She's not a gardener, so she just smiles and nods and looks relieved that she didn't have to pick out a sweater for me.
5. Find a farmer and ask for manure. A gardening friend in Moses Lake, Washington improved her garden beds by digging, hauling and spreading several truckloads of manure from a local dairy farmer. She had teenage sons at the time, so I assume they helped in the stinky process. I also assume that her neighbors weren't very happy about the smell, but they're probably over it by now. And her gardens are beautiful.
6. Take a chance on clearance plants but save your receipt. Many of the big-box stores have 1 year guarantees on their plants. This means you can buy a deeply discounted, half-dead clearance plant and get your money back if it doesn't respond to your TLC.
7. Be patient. The cardinal rule of buying plants is that impatience is expensive! The younger and smaller the plant you buy, the less expensive it will be. Obviously seeds are the best example of this. Plant small and save money.
Using tecniques like these, I managed to keep gardening throughout our poor student years. Maybe one or two will help you trim your budget when needed.
Now I'll veer off-topic when I note that this Valentine's Day marks 10 years since my husband asked me to marry him. It wasn't a planned event; the question just popped out in the middle of a conversation about our goals in life and such . . . "I just have to know, will you marry me?" I replied affirmatively, and the conversation continued. Nightly conversations about anything and everything are still a favorite part of our relationship.
Is it possible to have a truly happy marriage nowadays? I have found that it is, despite the afore-mentioned tiny budget. Perhaps our marriage is stronger because we've built it on a foundation that hasn't included expensive dinner dates, fancy gifts and exotic vacations (though I won't mind if we include a few of those someday!). Like gardens, relationships require steady nurturing to produce good results.
Actually, I believe the simple key to our marriage's success is that we both try to live the teachings of Jesus Christ. As we do, we become less selfish, more compassionate, and we can find joy together even in hard times. While this isn't a topic that I will post about often on this blog, it's a big part of my life. I adore gardening, but faith and family are my greatest joys.