Money-saving ways to garden on a budget
WITH the cost-of-living crisis, rising interest rates and inflation, many gardeners will be wondering how they can save money on their outside space.
Garden expert Mark Lane, who designed the RHS-BBC Morning Live Budget-Friendly Garden at this year’s Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival , offers the following tips on how to be frugal – but still enjoy the best your garden has to offer.
“You can sometimes find savings at DIY stores and supermarkets, but I’d say try to find local nurseries, whose plants and prices may be better than big garden centres,” he says.
Speak to exhibitors at flower shows and ask what they will be doing with their display plants at the end of the show. You may get a big discount to take them off their hands, he says.
“Make a list of what you want to achieve in the garden. Think about your borders and how far the plants you want will spread, how many you are going to need. Stick to your list at the garden centre – don’t be seduced by all the lovely colours and scents which you’ll find.”
“A packet of seeds may contain 100 or 1,000 seeds, which is potentially the same amount of plants. Perennials will take a bit longer, but if you sow some annuals in the meantime, you will save money,” Lane advises.
“Tomato feed is absolutely brilliant, high in potassium and potash – a good all-rounder, and it’s cheap,” he suggests.
You could also make your own feed out of nettles – which you can steep in a bucket of water with a lid, as it will smell – or comfrey, which is easy to grow and will, once steeped, provide highly nutritious plant feed. After a week you can strain off the liquid into a bottle and put the soggy leaves onto the compost heap. Use a 1:4 ratio of feed to water.
“Don’t go mad with tools. You really only need a good spade, a good fork, a hand trowel, a pair of secateurs and a gardening knife. You can do most gardening jobs with those.”
Once you’ve bought them, look after them, he advises.
“If you’re an absentminded gardener, wooden tools might not be the best for you. Go for things that are made of carbon, metal, steel – things that aren’t going to rust but are still going to be comfortable in the hand.
“All you’ll need to do is clean them off. With secateurs, clean the blades with a cloth after pruning so you get rid of the sap or pathogens on them.”
Use old bits of furniture, things with drawers in them, or old ladders as a platform for showing your plants, Lane recommends.
Old boxes and trays can be used for seed sowing or just for display.
You might have to be patient – smaller plants may not fill your space immediately – but they could ultimately grow into healthier specimens, he says.
“When I’m designing gardens I always suggest to my clients that it’s better to buy plants in ninecentimetre pots than to buy a plant in a three litre one. Within three years, that little plant in the ninecentimetre pot will be healthier and more robust than the three litre pot within that period.”
Rather than buying annuals which need replacing every year, or biennials which will go over quickly, think about putting in herbaceous perennials, ornamental grasses and flowering shrubs, which can give you two or three seasons of interest.
“Echinacea and helenium will flower for ages, salvias will flower until the first frost, while cotoneaster and pyracantha have tiny pale flowers and berries. Amelanchiers give you fruits, flowers and gorgeous shades of red in autumn.”
They may be looking a bit sorry for themselves as many of them have finished flowering, but if they are really cheap and you have the time, it might be worth bagging some sale plants.
“Give them a good water and start feeding them and you should see almost instant results,” Lane says. “Keep the compost moist and they should be fine.”
Leaves, garden clippings and vegetable food waste can all be put into a compost bin. It may take time but ultimately will save you money on bagged compost.
“Taking cuttings and collecting seed is free. Collect seed any time from mid summer to autumn as the flowers go over. Put them in a paper envelope.
“Hardwood cuttings can be taken in spring or autumn. Roses are great for this. Take a woody stem about 10 to 12 centimetres long, remove the lower leaves, keeping one or two leaves on the top, make a little trench in the soil and stick the whole thing into the trench about half way up and leave it over the whole of winter. Come spring you will probably see new growth appearing at the top.”
Lavender, sage and salvias are also ideal plants for propagating through cuttings. Dip your cutting in coconut water, which stimulates plant growth and is a great free rooting compound, he explains.
Increase your stock by lifting and dividing plants in autumn, replanting the divisions immediately in areas where they will have a bit of space to establish.
With plants which have thick fibrous roots, such as hostas, lift the whole plant and cut through the roots with a knife or a garden spade.
Plant the divisions in new compost and water well and you should have more plants next year, without it costing you a penny.