This chapter deal with the cost of perennial flower gardening and concludes a three-part series on how to create a garden that is not a hodge podge.
Budget: Most of the great gardens that inspire us were created for landowners with budgets exceeding the annual earnings of many private gardeners. For those of us who need to exercise fiscal restraint, here is a list of some money-saving tips.
A. Create a long term planting plan. Make a scale diagram on graph paper indicating the location for each plant. Shop for plants with a list generated from the master plan and stick to it.
The garden should be realized at whatever speed the budget allows. Some readers will create theirs in a flash; most will need several years to accomplish that goal. That’s OK! Beautiful things are worth the wait; the journey will be as pleasurable as the destination.
B. Make friends with gardeners who lift and divide their perennials regularly and then offer them to others. Take only those plants that fit into the master plan. Don’t take plants that won’t work just because they are free.
C. Purchase the smallest size perennials available. Use them to propagate more plants over time. Many big box garden centers sell vigorous growing perennials in tiny 2-inch pots, at low prices. If these plants are part of the master plan, the big box store is a good place to start because vigorous plants can grow exponentially in the first season. Most other small plants need only three years to reach maturity and to deliver impressive results.
The sizes of potted plants vary from one retailer to another and from one species of plant to another. Get to know the inventory of local nurseries. Some are more likely than others to stock the needed size. Avoid higher priced mature products until the garden is complete and no additional budget for gardening is required.
D. When three or more perennials of one kind are required, consider buying a single mature perennial in a larger pot. Some plants in large containers propagate themselves while still in their pots. It might be possible to make three small plants out of one. Do the math to determine if one large split-able plant will cost less than three smaller ones. If in doubt, consult the sales staff to confirm that the plant can sustain division.
E. Find out when local nurseries reduce the price of their inventory and reserve some cash flow for that time. The discounts are usually around 20% at nurseries, sometime higher at big box stores. In some areas, discounts become greater as the weather gets colder.
F. At regular retail prices, locally purchased plants are better value than those available on-line or by mail order. The exception to this rule applies to growers that offer plants on-line, at wholesale prices. However, most growers specialize in one or a few species only and all of them insist on a minimum dollar value per order. Do the math to determine if the savings are real.
G. Consider joining a local garden club that schedules plant exchanges between members.
H. Rural fields and undeveloped urban land are good sources of free rocks and stones that add architectural detail to a garden. A few strategically placed boulders will fill up negative space while adding a “wow” factor to a modest garden. Large rocks make the scrawniest plants look good and give the garden a “professional” look.
I. Good quality commercial fertilizer is expensive and, in the long term, not as effective as compost. At retail, compost is also costly. The Public Works Department of municipalities that collect kitchen scraps often distributes free compost to homeowners.
J. Be on the lookout for local renovations and demolitions. Landscapers and builders find it more cost effective to remove plants, rocks, patio stones and other debris with a back-hoe that empties into a dumpster. Try to negotiate with the homeowner or site manager for permission to take these items as they are being uprooted.
Creating a garden that is a masterpiece will always be a work in progress. Plan ahead, be patient, persevere, take pride and expect to rearrange a few plants when a composition doesn’t work out.
Click here to read Part Two
Click here to read Part One