Credit Crunch Gardening Advice

Posted on: 04 March 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

50connect are delighted to announce professional writer and garden designer Maxine Farmer as our new gardening columnist.

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For many of us, March heralds not just the beginning of spring, but the beginning of an annual spending spree on all manner of goodies that we hope will make our gardens beautiful this summer. 

But thanks to the current economic climate, 2009 has to be very different for many people.  Does that mean we have to forego our grand gardening plans?  Not at all: there are plenty of ways to save money, while still achieving a beautiful plot. 

Plus, some of these ways-to-save are also environmentally-friendly too.  Here are my top five money-saving tips for gardening in 2009.

1. Shop Online

The web has made it much easier for amateur and specialist growers to make seeds and young plants available, often at very low prices. For example, I recently bought some seeds of the annual climber ‘rhodochiton’ (the ‘Purple Bell Vine’) on eBay, for just a few pence plus the cost of a postage stamp. 

Of course, there is an element of risk involved in buying something unseen, but there are many reputable specialist nurseries now selling online and can be found using the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder.  This is a free service that puts members and non-members in touch with nurseries stocking a particular plant. Given the calibre of the RHS itself, any nursery listed on the site has to be a reasonably safe bet.  Go to http://www.rhs.org.uk/rhsplantfinder/plantfinder.asp to find out more.

2. Divide & Conquer

For a little work, existing gardens can be a great source of extra plants. Right now is a good time to ‘divide’ many perennials. This simply means taking a mature plant and cutting it into smaller plants, but I know many gardeners who are nervous about trying what might seem a dangerous process.  The reality is that many perennials are not only happy to be given this treatment but often thrive as a result, such as hardy geraniums (not pelargoniums) and iris sibirica).

Simply dig up the existing plant, put two forks back to back, thrust them into the centre of the plant, and force it in half. Depending on the size of the plant, it may be possible to divide it into four or even more pieces, as long as each one has some root and a good bit of ‘heart’. 

Discard any obviously old woody bits and replant in some good quality compost. For smaller plants, or those that have a more dense structure, such as hemerocallis (Daylilies), I use an old bread knife.  Some bulbous plants, for instance crocosmia, also benefit from rejuvenation, because new bulb offshoots can be replanted on their own to make new, healthy plants, while at the same time increasing their number.

3. Grow Your Own

It may sound obvious to grow plants from seed,but I know many very competent gardeners who fight shy of trying this relatively cheap and easy method of increasing plant stocks.  Successful seed-raising is simple, as long as some simple rules are followed. Always make sure that pots are clean; maintain a regular temperature, in line with the recommendations on the seed packet; do not over or under water; and once seeds have sprouted, make sure they get enough light. 

‘Hardening off’ seedlings (in other words, getting them used to be outside for a couple of hours a day) helps to ensure successful planting in their eventual home. Also, don’t plant half-hardy annual seeds too early, or else there will be plants crowding every space, getting leggy and root-cramped, because they cannot be planted out until after the last frosts.

4. Keep It Simple

Of course, many seeds can be sown where they are to grow: calendula, nigella, annual poppies and cornflowers are all very easy and the seeds reasonably cheap. 

For anyone who is still nervous about growing from seed, buying seedlings from mail order nurseries is a relatively cheap way to buy plants in bulk. 

5. Swap Shop

Whether buying trays or seedlings, growing from seed, or dividing existing mature plants, it is very easy to end up with too many of one particular plant, but not enough variety over all.  Our local council held its own plant swap shop last year, but it would be just as easy to agree a sharing system with friends: I’ve never been shy of asking for a cutting and my friends know that I’m always happy to help share any spares that I’ve got too.  

Or why not offer and ask for spare plants using Freecycle? This free online recycling service that has lots of local branches is also useful for getting hold of unwanted garden furniture or equipments, with the bonus of knowing that one more item is being saved from landfill. Visit  www.freecycle.org  to join your local group.

Less easy to find are cheap pots for growing plants: last spring I spent a shocking £50 on seedling trays, so this year, I am trying to use as many discarded food containers as possible. For instance, those trays that tomatoes and soft fruit are sold in – with a plastic base and clear lid – are ideal mini-propagators.  

Plastic fresh soup pots and soft drinks bottles make effective cloches. Even empty loo rolls can be used to create long-root pots for sweet pea seedlings. A cheaper and prettier alternative to plastic plant saucers are old china plates bought at car boot fairs.

Clearly, a little planning and thought is involved in all of these cost saving ideas, but the pounds saved could certainly be worth the effort involved. While the financial news may be doom and gloom, we can still ensure that our gardens are bright and opulent this summer.

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