Alex shares her top frugal green-fingered tips, plus advice from sustainable gardener and forager, Poppy Okotcha
We have never had a garden before, and despite living here for five years we only really started using it this last year!
There were always more pressing renovations, like a bathroom, or the kitchen, and then we knew the kitchen would eat into quite a lot of our garden’s space so we wanted to wait to tackle it. And once we started we realised just how expensive gardens can be (especially if, like us, your garden consists only of brambles and you have to start from scratch). I now truly understand when people say it’s the largest room in your home!
Our journey has spanned 2-3 years so far. The pandemic really made us realise we didn’t want to have an unusable garden again, so we invested in some fence panels and laid some grass. We found all of the top soil on Gumtree for free, but be warned – by the time you hire a van (and have to split trips as soil is so heavy you have to do a few trips!) it’s almost the same price as to get it delivered to your home. We have been attempting to do as much of our garden on a budget as possible, saving money on labour by tiling the patio ourselves, painting the fences ourselves (read the post here), upcycling furniture (here) and building the beds out of sleepers.
So far, we have mainly just had plants in pots; some of the large pots were already in the garden full of old weeds, so we have re-used them for our larger plants and found some via supermarkets (our olive tree was found for £30 at Morrisons but I have heard that Aldi have their £25 ones back in stock!).
We have just started our flower beds and I must admit, I have found it very therapeutic – especially planting a lot from seed and watching everything flourish. I was daunted by a garden at first – so many rules to follow – but I have found that ‘having a go’ is the best way to start! You’ll never know what can survive in your garden unless you try. I generally live by ‘if it’s meant to survive in our garden, it will’! Here are a few tips I’ve discovered along the way, plus some advice from the brilliant ecological home-grower, Poppy Okotcha:
Plant hardy flowers that are guaranteed to last
If you are worried about throwing money down the drain (as we were with a north facing shady garden!), plant some hardy plants that are more likely to thrive. Most garden centres label plants and list the type of conditions the plant needs – we’ve found a fatsia japonica loves a shady garden and geraniums are colourful plants that even I can keep alive – they keep blooming, can withstand *most* of our British weather (!) and are also great for window boxes if you don’t have outside space.
Poppy says: ‘For healthy plants and less stressful growing experience always follow the moto “right plant right place”. So if you have free draining soil in a nice sunny spot Mediterranean herbs are amazing. Thyme for example is brilliant for culinary creations, medicinal (it’s super soothing for sore throats, coughs or even in teas to help treat UTIs) and it’s also a wonderful pollinator plant when left to flower.
‘For a more damp dappled shade spot valerian (Valerian officinalis) is wonderful. A medicinal herb, the root is used in teas for calming nerves and inducing sleep. Again it’s is a beautiful plant in its own right with lovely soft pinky white flowers that hoverflies go crazy for (hoverfly larvae predate on aphids so they are very welcome in the garden!).’
Plant from seed
It may take a bit more patience but it’s a much cheaper way to get more value out of your garden (plus it’s so satisfying!). I love to plant bee-friendly wild flowers and have had great results.
‘On the whole I’d say cultivating our own plants from seed is a wonderful thing to do,’ agrees Poppy. ‘It’s cheap, we see the plant through its whole life cycle and often have spare to share! We are also able to choose to grow peat free, organic, reusing materials (like tin cans as plant post) and the plant is hyper local! This can significantly reduce the negative environmental impact that is attached to plants reared in industrial plant nurseries.’
Replant seeds and stems from your existing plants
I haven’t done this yet but my dad is a big fan and has passed on loads of plants to us this way. ‘Self-seeder’ plants like foxglove and Japanese anemones can be easily re-grown – when they’ve finished flowering just shake the seed heads out where you want them to pop up next year.
Remember to ask friends and family. Once we mentioned we were planning our garden, we had loads of friends offering us some plants and offcuts.
Try seed and plant swaps
There are lots of Facebook groups where you can swap plants and I saw that Emma Jo Real-Davies was hosting a seed swap on her Instagram channel!
‘Have a look on Facebook market place,’ adds Poppy. ‘People who’ve grown too much often give plants away for free there. Car boots sales are great for cheap, locally grown plants too! Community gardens often have plants sales. Or search for a local peat free, organic nursery.’
Secondhand marketplaces are also great for other garden stuff
People are always moving office/home and it’s a great place to find not only plants, but also terracotta pots and even used paving stones! We actually sold two large cactus plants on Gumtree last month as we were worried the kids would fall into them – they went to a good home and we made some extra cash, too!
Our garden was overrun with the wrong ones, but Poppy believes that when in the right place, weeds can not only be beautiful, but tasty, too. ‘A weed is just a plant out of place so it’s really personal preference which we allow to grow in our gardens. Personally I love to have my garden stocked with nettles (Urtica dioica) dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) and cleavers (Galium aparine) (aka sticky Willy)! All “weeds”, and all very tasty and medicinal. Nettles and dandelions are brilliant for wildlife too, but I make sure to keep up with harvesting them so they don’t take over!’
Sign up to newsletters
Sites like Gardening Express and Dobies always put their best deals on their newsletter so make sure you’re signed up. I just had a really bad experience with Secret Gardening Club unfortunately so I cannot recommend them!
Find out about local nurseries or gardening ‘clubs’ which often have members prices
Our local nursery had a plant sale last year and we picked up some bamboo for £5 (don’t worry, it’s staying in a pot!), and there are few places (such as Crews Hill) that charge a small membership fee but once you’re a member, prices are far cheaper.
And this isn’t so much a plant tip but a great saving tip in general and one I now do – whilst you run your kitchen tap for hot water, collect the cold water to use in your garden and pots!