Gardening on the cheap

There are a hundred and one different reasons why we should all adopt and encourage a more natural, less wasteful approach to gardening.  The garden can be an absolute refuge from the pressures and strains of real life and also can provide us with food, enjoyment and act as a perfect setting for entertaining friends.  There is no better feeling than growing something in the garden and then serving it up at a barbecue to real friends.  I am a really keen cook and would much rather prepare a meal to be eaten outside at home than spend hundreds of pounds on a meal that more often than not, is worse than home cooked food!  The garden is the perfect place to do just that!

I think that we all (especially us designers) are spoilt with new materials, expensive features, huge specimen plants and instant garden fixes which in reality most of us cannot afford.  I would be far more impressed with garden full of plants that have been grown from seeds and cuttings, full of features found and made.  Not only does it show respect for the environment we live in but also a bit of shrewd money saving! We can all have a great garden without spending thousands if we are prepared to work at it!

The main element that makes any garden special are the plants,, it can cost many thousands to plant up a garden from scratch so the best way to expand you collection is to grow from seed, and through division and propagation.  This is definitely an approach for the more patient among us, but if money is an issue you can’t do it cheaper.  Many specimen plants are flown in from all over the world and leave a carbon footprint the size of an elephants so if you can wait a few years for something to grow it is a far better option.  Also plants that are planted whilst small will end up being far happier than a plant that has been growing in a nursery in Italy basking in the sun, and then plucked out of its home and chucked into compost and planted in a clay soil of Hackney.

Divide and conquer

So many perennials are so easy to propagate through division that it amazes me that people go out and buy them.  Take for example the humble  Hosta, every few years they can be divided, in my last garden I had a 3 clumps of Hosta sieboldiana var. ‘elegans’ that I planted and within a couple of years 3 became 9 though division.  You won’t get much change out of a tenner for one decent 5 litre plant, so that is a lot of money saved.   Bamboo is another really easy plant to divide, Phylostachys can be dug up in spring and if you can with a sharp spade simply cut the root ball into two, you can even do this with a saw!  Then replant with plenty of water.  You may need to reduce the cane height by 50% to reduce water loss, but soon enough the plants will shoot into growth again. Also if the root ball is really big you could cut it into three or even four new clumps  A decent sized Phylostachys will set you back at least £40 so get dividing and save money! You can keep on dividing and dividing year upon year, so why not get together with friends and family and start plant swapping!

Propagation through cuttings is another great way to increase your stocks and share (or steal) with/from friends.  You will have to be patient because you will be starting with a small cutting that will take a good few years to grow into your magnificent specimen but there is nothing better than knowing that you have created this plant from a twig!  The easiest method is to take softwood cuttings and this can be used to propagate most deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeas some trees such as Betula (silver birch) and also many hardy perennials.

Softwood Cuttings how to.

  1. Snip off a new shoot from a shrub about 10cm long at an angle about an just below a leaf node, remove the lower few leaves and the soft tip.
  2. Dip the cut end into some rooting hormone and then stick them into little pots with some good cuttings compost.
  3. Place the pots in a dish of water and let them soak up the water until you can see the compost is visually moist and then put the cuttings in a plastic propagator either in the green house or on a light (but not really sunny!) window sill.  If you don’t have a propagator don’t worry just seal the pots in a clear plastic bag and remove them once a week for ten minutes or so to give them some air.
  4. Keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t dry out and within a 6 -12 weeks they will take root (well some of them will)
  5. Once they have taken root well you can pot them on into bigger pots and then harden them off ready for planting!
hardening off in a cold frame

Gardening through propagation is much more satisfying than simply popping down the garden centre and spending your hard earned cash.  You are creating new life, expanding you plant collection and even sharing achievements with you friends.  That is what gardening is all about!

Recycle what you can

Another thing that can save you money is to reuse what ever you can, composting, collecting rain water, using grey water (from the bath etc) all will save you a little money here and there.  Individually each may not make a huge difference to your pocket but together they will make a difference.

One great tip I can suggest is to look on websites such as, recently I have found loads of bricks, paving, sand, hardcore and all sorts of building materials that people want rid of.  If you are willing to pick them up, more often than not they are free or at least really cheap.  Most of this stuff would just end up in a landfill, so I urge you to see what you can find!   As an example I just did a search for free bricks and in London I could find 1000’s!

I am in no way trying to preach, especially since as a designer I use 100’s of tonnes of building materials each year creating new gardens for people.  We can all have great looking gardens but they don’t have to cost the earth.  If we look at gardeners like the fantastic Christine Walkden for example, her garden is a tribute to the slow approach to gardening and through her love of horticulture she has created an amazing garden that probably cost next to nothing!  My granddad was my gardening inspiration, and he was much like Christine in the way he propagated, reused, recycled, and grew from seed….and his Garden will always be my favourite!