We hope the world will return to something close to normal soon, but the financial legacy of the pandemic will be with us for a while yet in the form of increased costs. The rising costs will affect us in the garden, and anything requiring transportation or storage will cost more as fuel costs increase. As consumers, rising prices will be unavoidable.
This will not be the first time gardeners have had to experience difficulties either affording gardening products or accessing them. There is a lot to learn from thrifty and creative gardeners digging for victory during rationing and world ward two or from tenants farmers of Edwardian and Victorian ages. The convenience of heading to the garden centre has been an enabling experience for many people, but it can cause dependence and the loss of some knowledge and skills.
Over the last few weeks, I have been looking at where I spend money on my garden. I have broken the different areas of expenditure down into the following heading and started looking at ways to reduce cost:
- New plants
- Soil improving
- Tools and equipment
Cuttings from existing plants can help refresh old plants and fill your borders. Not all plants will root from cuttings, so you need to select the right plants. This year I have taken lavender cuttings to refresh my existing plants and add them to other parts of my garden. Other plants will root from cuttings such as:
Some plants let you split their crown or split bulbs which can be taken and used elsewhere in your garden. This year, once they finish flowering, I plan to take some of my snowdrop bulbs and start a new colony in another garden area.
Friends and family
Friends and family may have plants that can be split or used for cuttings, and this will leave them with their own plants and help you increase the number of plants in your garden.
Be sure to offer the same in return if you have plants you can offer.
Out of season
Plants are at their most expensive when they are in season and in bloom. Garden centres use this time to attract customers and maximise their income. At times perennials will be on offer at a reduced cost when out of season to help the stores manage stock turnover. These are great times to buy new plants at a reduced price.
Reduced to clear
Some stores, such as supermarkets and garden centres, will have stock that hasn’t been very well looked after or need space for a higher value stock. These plants can bounce back with a bit of care, attention and water. A plant usually costs several pounds may only now cost a few pence, and I have managed to get some lovely and cheap bedding plants this way.
Collect and store your own
You can let some plants go to seed and store them in a cool, dry location. Over the years, I have heard it is always better to buy from reputable seed distributors. There may be a degree of truth in this, but I suspect it’s propaganda favouring the seed suppliers.
If you are going to select and store your own seed for the next season, try to find a plant growing well that has good colour, is disease-free, and produce reasonable quantities of great tasting food if it is fruit or vegetables. This way, you are helping with the natural selection process, so only the healthiest plants continue to produce the next generation.
Many seed packets come with far too many seeds for the average gardener. It feels like great value to get 500 lettuce seeds in a pack, but I am not likely to use that many in a season. Every season that passes, the seeds become less viable. This is where seed exchanging can come in. I have heard a debate about the legality of seed exchanges. Still, I see this as a positive way of creating community, reducing waste and the environmental impact of the logistics behind the seed industry.
Gardening magazines sometimes have some great value offers and introductory samples. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a gardening magazine with a range of seed packets inside. I expected the packets to contain fewer seeds as part of an introductory sample to entice you to buy more. To my surprise, they were full seed packs. The price of the magazine and the free seeds meant they cost over 50% less than if I bought them in a store.
Compost is one of my highest gardening costs. Compost usually comes in plastic, it is not always clear if they are peat-free, and they require a logistics chain that has an environmental impact. This year I am trying to produce the majority of my own compost.
Composting at home reduces home waste that gets into the waste processing system. Making great compost does take time, but once a system has been established, it will continue to produce compost to meet your gardening needs.
Plant feed can be expensive and generally stored in plastic containers. You can make your own feed by creating tea like solutions from comfrey or nettles.
Improving soil structure also help reduce the amount of feed and watering needed, reducing cost. Good soil structure aids nutrient transfer to plants and retains more water.
Improved soil structure comes from adding organic matter such as compost, mulch or well-rotted manure.
I am adding homegrown compost as a topping on my vegetable patch in my garden. Locally sourced aged wood chips as a mulch on the flower beds and leaves in my woodland garden to simulate the natural process seen in woods and forests.
Tools and Equipment
Maintain and repair
The quickest way to reduce the cost of tools and equipment is to avoid needing new ones. Tools have become very cheap over the years, but they may not be the best quality, and tools will break if they are not maintained.
Each year, oiling metal tools will help prevent rust or moving parts from seizing. If you have one available, a grinding stone can help keep cutting edges sharp and avoid unnecessary damage caused by using blunt tools.
Repairing can also be a way to minimise cost. Sometimes all that is needed is a new screw, a small replacement part or a tube being unblocked. Our society is so used to throwing things away, and the skills of our parents and grandparents to maintain and repair equipment is being lost.
I recently installed a workbench in my garage, made from recycled materials, to provide me with a space to work on equipment. Many of the tools I have come from grandparents and parents who no longer use them. It is nice to keep this equipment in the family, and items like vices can be handed down to my son later in life.
Second-hand equipment and tools can also be a great way to save. Many are being sold or even given away because they may have a fault, and if you can repair them, they may need some investment of time.
I picked up a strimmer that had an engine problem. Turned out the engine fuel pipe was blocked, and I unblocked the line and serviced the engine. I now have an excellent quality strimmer for a very low price.
Friends and family
Friends and family may also have the equipment they no longer want or need. I have picked up several tools from family members, such as different types of hoes over the years. As always, make sure you offer something in return.
Make your own
Not all tools need to be bought. This year I will be making a measuring stick out of reclaimed wood, and this will be used to make sure my plants are spaced correctly and only takes a few minutes to mark out the measurements and cut the wood to size.
I am also making a dibber. Dibbers are great for making holes for seeds or seedlings. They can be made out of broken spade or fork handles, and the one I am making will be from a broken broom handle.
Costs will always go up, but making small changes to how you purchase and manage your garden can help save the pennies. When I work in my garden, I am constantly reminded of when I would visit my grandparents and how they recycle garden materials and tools and avoid spending money each year. I am now trying to learn the tips and tricks of gardeners past to reduce my environmental impact, minimise cost and increase production from my garden.
If you have plans to reduce costs this year, leave a comment below and share what you will be doing.