Stony Broke – How Can I Afford a Garden?

Last month I checked our bank account balance to find that we had €4 in it. Cue full scale panic attack. I knew we were broke but not this broke!! We were going to have to make some serious changes. I was going to have to get really clever with the household budget and we were just going to have to cut back. On everything. That also included window shopping only at the garden centres and not getting sucked in at certain low-budget supermarkets with their devilishly tempting special offers. How was I going to get a garden up and started on no money? This is where I turned back to my library and pulled down a favourite friend.

so pretty (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
so pretty
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

Alys Fowler’s Thrifty Gardener is simply inspirational. I personally am a sucker for a pretty book and if it looks a little arty and off beat, then all the better. Alys’ book, with its heavy paper and varied hues immediately appealed. Its reminiscent of a scrapbook with photos and drawings dotted amongst the text and the tiny doodles beside the page numbers. I do love a good doodle.

But setting aesthetics aside, this book is a great place to start with gardening. With her practical approach and great sense of humour, she covers all the basics in nine chapters.

  • doodle doodle doodle (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
    doodle doodle doodle
    (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

    What tools are actually needed?

  • What kind of soil do you have?
  • No garden? No problem.
  • What plants to start with?
  • What pests are out to get you?
  • How to make good compost or build a wormery.
  • And most importantly, how to have a garden without it costing the earth.

I don’t know about you, but I am easily seduced in garden centres. My wallet hates it but the bright colours bring out my inner magpie. Surely they will look as fabulous back in my nest. Sorry my garden.

My garden. My garden is a sea of weeds. Garden is probably too kind a word to call it. It really needs one of those five year management plans done out by someone who knows what they are doing. Instead my garden has me. In our previous rented house, I could barely keep house plants alive. I would go out for coffee to a garden centre and come back with some lovely plant (because it was on special offer naturally) and Mr. Fairweather would guess how long before I killed this poor hapless victim. Alys practically wrote Chapter 2 for me with its sections on rescuing house plants and grocery store gardening. If you are going to run the risk of killing the plants, then you don’t really want to be spending a bomb, do you?

la la la, all that I can see is just another lemon tree. la la la (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
la la la, all that I can see is just another lemon tree. la la la
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

And do you know what? Her stuff works. My houseplants are surviving now. And not just that. They are thriving. I even managed to grow lemon trees from seeds. I decided to split my aloe vera and take cuttings from my rosemary. Her propagation instructions are clear and simple. The photos well chosen to clarify the explanations. I now can take stem tip cuttings or internodal cuttings and have discovered leaf cuttings as opposed to my previously preferred method of chuck it in a jar of water or pot of soil and hope for the best. And I shall certainly be back consulting her when I go our pruning my fruit trees shortly.

flowery wellies (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
flowery wellies
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

My window sills and porch are brimming with pots of various descriptions. But why limit yourself to pots. Inspired by Alys, I started looking around for old wine boxes and various crates. Harder than you might think in these parts. So I persuaded Mr. Fairweather to help me convert an old pair of wellies into pots. I’m on the hunt now for other overlooked gems; colanders, tea pots, a watering can. Maybe I’ll see can I sweet talk the local shopkeeper into giving me some old gallon cans when he is done with them. The possibilities are endless.

I am also on the hunt for new plants now that I have a bit more space claimed back from the jungle. I look with new eyes now when I call to the neighbours. Have they got any perennials in need of dividing soon? Or any clumps of bulbs that will need splitting? Any plants I could take cuttings off of? Nothing is safe. Of course the problem then is remembering what the plants are called. But I’ll cross that bridge if the plants survive.

the first of the tomatoes (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
the first of the tomatoes
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

This year I shall also be trying to save seeds for next year. Some of my tomatoes are cropping well and I’d like to try them again. And the lupins I’m planning on putting into a cottage garden bed at some stage. Again Alys comes to the rescue with great and varied advice.

I have seen others comment that perhaps her sections on dealing with the glut of harvest is a little sparse. But I’m inclined to think it’s just enough to give you a taster and set you on your way, much like she does with some of her other chapters. There are after all lots of fantastic books on the subject of preserving your harvest. Consistent with the feel of the book, Alys shows you some of what’s possible and then invites you to let your imagination loose. Half of the fun is in the experimenting. At least, it is for me.

I might manage this kind of a project (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
I might manage this kind of a project
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

Pulling this book back down off the shelf has certainly reignited my passion for experimenting in the garden. I’m a firm believer that plants want to grow (despite my best efforts). Over the winter this year I’ll be perusing her last two chapters again for tools to get some DIY garden projects done and to pick out some more plants to try next year. We have €16 in the bank account this month. You could say we are still broke but I prefer to look on it as: “Yay! We’ve quadrupled our money!” If I stick with Alys I might be able to afford a whole garden with that.

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