I, like many other gardeners, love to talk about gardening. I have been known to bore people almost to death about roses, primroses and pulmonaria. Recently it has gotten to the point where I know who the other gardeners are at parties and social gatherings because they are the ones who do not avoid me.
Even I have to admit that there are people who like flowers but do not share my all-encompassing devotion to weeding, planting and making compost. Others may or may not have the time, but they are strapped for cash. Fortunately, with a little ingenuity and planning you can combine gardening with a full life, a finite amount of money and a crowded schedule.
Time is of the essence for most of us, so tailor your garden endeavors to the time you have. You may want to do the whole yard, but if you have only have thirty minutes a week to spend on it, take things in easy phases. Start with a strip, a corner or a small bed. Spend your first 30 minutes planning. You don’t have to do full-scale drawings, just sketch out the shape of the space to be planted, note whether the space is sunny or shady, choose a color scheme, and write down the names of the plants that you particularly like.
Figure out how some or all of those plants can fit into the space that you have sketched out. The following week spend 30 minutes either buying or ordering your plants. If you go to the garden center, consolidate the trip with other errands. I usually make a trip to the garden center the “dessert” after I have done “meat and potatoes” errands such as going to the dry cleaners, pharmacist and grocery store. Bring your plants home, along with a few bags of mulch, and put the plants in the proposed planting area. Water them each day after you get home from work.. If it’s too much time and effort to walk to the proposed planting area each day after (or before) work, put the pots as close to the back door as you can get without risking tripping over them. Then all you have to do is lean out the back door to water them.
The following week, install your plants. Do not bother digging planting holes with a trowel, even for small plants. Use a spade or shovel, and, by all means, dig one big trench for groups of small plants. “Water in” your green babies by putting water in the planting holes before you fill them. This will give the plants a good start, and save you the task of watering for the first few days. If you have time, mulch around them, if not, wait for the following week. Remember to water on the third day after you plant, and every day or two thereafter to keep everything alive. The next week, mulch if you haven’t already.
By following the preceding four-week regimen, you will have a ready-made garden of a manageable size. If any of the steps take more than the thirty minutes that you have available, rethink the size of your garden. Making something delightful and manageable is the goal, not adding to your guilt load. If you have established a garden that is geared to your individual circumstances, maintenance should take no more than your allotted 30 minutes per week, sometimes less. Check once a week to see whether weeds are coming up through your mulch, and pluck them out. Water regularly, especially for the first six weeks after planting, and use recycled “gray” water if water emergency conditions persist. If you can, look at your new bed every day. It will give you encouragement and joy.
With patience and a little advance planning you can do all of the above and still stay within budgetary constraints. The most obvious step is to know what your budget is, either for the gardening season as a whole or for each week or month. If you can do it, grow at least a few of your annuals from seed. Pick self-seeding varieties such as annual poppies, larkspur, snapdragons, and marigolds. Start them ahead of time indoors or sow them directly into prepared soil after April 15. You can get a lot of color for very little money. If you are going out to the garden center, make a list before you go and stick to it. Know who has the best combination of price and quality.
Sometimes a mega merchant can sell you a particularly cheap flat of impatiens, but if those impatiens have been languishing unattended in the store’s display area they may not be worth the price. A plant that dies after three weeks is not a good value, no matter how low the initial investment. Many fine garden centers include coupons in local papers and in the coupon mailers that we all receive periodically. Judicious use of coupons will get you premium plants in season for mega merchandiser prices.
If you are on a budget, the end of the growing season, when plants are on sale for one half to one third off, is probably the happiest time of year for you.. Don’t be put off by the fact that a perennial or even an annual has bloomed already. End-of-season annuals can be cut back and will reward you with a dramatic flush of bloom. Perennials will not do that, but will come up with a vengeance next year. Spring is also a great time to take advantage of pre-season catalog sales on spring blooming bulbs such as daffodils and crocuses. The other advantage to ordering now is that you can see what is currently blooming in your garden and plan for the future. The bulbs won’t be delivered until the fall planting season, and you can smile to yourself as others pay full price for the same merchandise.
For many of us this year it will be necessary to save time, money and water. We can still have great gardens–as long as we do not cut back on common sense.
by E. Ginsburg