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.


  1. What a very nice post VW. I was all set to talk of the gardening but then you surely veered off course. Congrats on 10 years! Have a great anniversary this weekend!

  2. I enjoyed your post too. I've always told my husband I'd rather have something to grow in the garden than a bouquet that lasts a week (although I still do like them) then you can grow your own bouquets and remember where they came from. Happy 10 years!

  3. What a beautiful post. It is so truth that faith helps us get times when we on a tight budget. We get the best out what we got and do not pine awy by focusing on all the things we dant have or maybe don't even need. Most of average folks are made of money and have to get things done as we can afford it. The loan crisis is after all causes by the too many people living on loans, mortages and credit charge cards. Better live frugally and not spend more money than we have.

  4. I enjoyed every word of your post, VW. What a talented writer you are. Congrats on your marriage proposal anniversary. My husband and I have been married 28 years so yes, marriages can and do last. Two ingredients to success: Jesus Christ and an extremely tolerant husband. One caveat, if I might, on #2. It's a good idea to know the growth habit of the cast off you're receiving. My garden buddy Carol has never forgiven me for offering her an innocent little morning glory seedling. Five years later she's STILL pulling up the progeny from that one plant. Guilt, guilt. Great tips all around.

  5. Beautiful post, and very useful words. I expect to be doing a lot of plant swapping/donating this year, as our gardens will need some major perennial division (little was done last year) and I've told some newer gardeners to come and get what they want. I'll still buy plants because they're a business expense for my writing, but I'll be selective in WHERE I buy them (one nursery I used to frequent will get very little of my purchasing dollars because they've stopped buying from other local growers. It's all a karma thing with me.

  6. Hi VW, first off, a very happy anniversary to you and your husband. Long marriages are more rare nowadays, but The Financier and I just celebrated 35 years of wedded bliss, so it is possible. I loved your gardening being cheaper than treatment for depression. HA All of your ideas are good ones. I still believe in buying the smallest sized plant available, those young roots take hold better than older ones.

  7. Hi VW, happy wedding anniversary. I am interested in the similarities and parallels in gardening and the rest of life. Relationships and gardens need time and nurturing, as you say. And I feel a strong connection between spirituality and nature.
    Re the cheaper option, I did appreciate the points raised. I am not materialist or consumerist - except in relation to gardening.
    Cheers, catmint


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