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Thursday, February 23, 2006

How cheap can gardening be?

The Bargain Queen is a mad-keen gardener, but it used to be an expensive hobby. Mostly, The Bargain Queen would fall in love with a lush, gorgeous plant at the local nursery, pay $20 for it, take it home, plant it, think how lovely it looked, and then watch it die over the next few days/weeks/months. That's (mostly) in the past now, and The Bargain Queen's wallet is far happier for it.

Here's The Bargain Queen's tips for having a great garden on a budget:

Know your soil. Improve your soil.
It's easy to see all soil as a pile of dirt. Not so! It's actually a delicate balance of sand, clay, humus and a whole bunch of other stuff. Who knew? Where The Bargain Queen lives, most of the soil is dry, sandy, lacking in nutrients and doesn't hold water well. Some plants love sandy soil and will thrive in it; others will shrivel up and die. The Bargain Queen's still learning which are which, but when in doubt, adding compost and moss seems to sort things out. And worms are also good.

Get free plants!
The Bargain Queen LOVES other people's rejected plants. A throwaway plant has usually been so neglected that some new soil, a splash of water and a drop of fertiliser make it feel incredibly pampered. So where does The Bargain Queen find these free plants?
  • Compost. Seriously, The Bargain Queen has some great food plants that came up in the compost. For example, some tomato seedlings popped up a few months ago and are now over a metre tall. They haven't flowered yet, let alone fruited, but they smell amazing. Plus there's great snob value in showing off a herb garden complete with tomatoes.
  • Food scraps. One step before compost, is fresh off-cuts from the kitchen. The Bargain Queen recently discovered that you can eat most of a shallot, plant the bottom 10cm in the garden (i.e. the bit with the roots), and in a couple of weeks there's a whole new shallot. Genius! They just grow all by themselves, clever plants.
  • The side of the road. No, The Bargain Queen doesn't pull plants out of other people's gardens (although cuttings aren't illegal, are they?). But when a horribly neglected house plant sits amongst a pile of junk, The Bargain Queen sees a hardy new addition to her garden. Unless it's ugly, in which case, off to landfill it goes ;)
  • Around apartment buildings. For some bizarre reason, many discarded plants end up sitting around apartment buildings, waiting to die in their too-small pots. Obviously not all plants around apartments are abandoned, but when a friend living in the block assures me that the plant has been all alone for all the years they've lived there, The Bargain Queen decides to adopt.
  • Freecycle. This is the coolest thing on earth: people giving away their 'old junk' to others who desperately need exactly that thing. The Bargain Queen has given away furniture, computer bits, lamps and a bunch of other stuff. She's gained a 1.5m variegated ficus for her front yard, bush rocks for all the garden beds and a few non-plant things too. And they were all free!
  • Friends and family. There are a whole bunch of reasons your friends and family might contribute to your garden, none of which involve black mail or theft. If anyone you know is an avid gardener, they may be thrilled to share their hobby with you. Ask them nicely to strike a cutting of one of their plants and see what happens! Alternatively, if you hear that someone's leaving town, see if they intend to take their plants with them. The Bargain Queen has a bunch of plants on loan from backpacking friends, and a couple more from people who've moved away. Or if you'd like something specific, mention it next time someone asks what you'd like for your birthday / Christmas / engagement present. Just be more careful than The Bargain Queen, who killed the gorgeous succulents her mother-in-law gave her...
As for super-cheap sources of plants:
  • Church fetes. These aren't necessarily the kind of plants you want - real gardeners pamper their plants almost as much as nurseries, so five minutes of neglect kills the damn things. But if it's the end of the day and everyone wants to go home, a big box of plants and half an hour's gardening advice can be had for $5.
  • eBay. Occasionally people list their unwanted plants on eBay. Noone buys plants on eBay though, so they tend to go for great prices.
  • Nursery bargain bins. Big nurseries sometimes sell their distressed stock super-cheaply. The Bargain Queen specialises in the hardy indoor plants that have had a few hours' direct sun and have almost no leaves. She also usually falls in love with something expensive at the nursery too though, so she's only allowed to visit occasionally.
And once you've got great free plants in healthy soil...

Water the darn things!
I know, duh, but The Bargain Queen forgets and next thing, $100 worth of ferns have turned into shrivelled little twigs. The occasional dose of fertiliser seems to help too.

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  • At 2:35 am, Blogger Tania said…

    Not only was this post informative, but funny as heck! Thanks.

  • At 12:17 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Glad you enjoyed it :)

  • At 9:19 pm, Blogger Jenn said…

    Great article, and fun!

    As for the watering dilema, I use the square foot gardening method for my veggie garden outside (I posted pics this week) and my outside containers. The autor of that book suggests making your own soil with 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite. Vermiculite is mica (a rock) heated until it explodes like popcorn. Once that is done for some reason it can hold a HUGE amount of water! If when you plant something you mix a couple of handfuls of vermiculite into the soil first, it will help the soil to retain a lot more water, thus reducing the amount of watering needed. This works for both inside and outside plants. It might be of help for you :) Plus, the huge bag of vermiculite at my local Agway store only costs like $20 (this bag would fill one of those big outside trashcans.)

  • At 9:22 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Thanks for the tip Jenn! I will definitely have to try that. It gets so hot here in summer and anything that keeps water up to the plants helps keep them from being cooked!

  • At 9:54 pm, Blogger Stephanie said…

    Also find friends with perennial gardens. At our last house our entire flower bed was perennials from other gardeners thinnings. Then I would just add a few annuals each year and voila a beautiful and cheap flower bed!

  • At 6:34 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Thanks Stephanie - great tip!

  • At 12:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You've inspired me to finally finish my blog entry on an el cheapo drip watering system I use!


  • At 7:52 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Great article Dan! Thanks for posting the link


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