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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in garden expenses (2)


This Visitor Deserves a Gardening Blog of Her Own

Front porch. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comA recent visitor to my blog has taken a very long journey through all of my posts. Sheila, who signs as Orchard Annie, leaves comments that reflect a reader with a passion for gardening who truly deserves a blog of her own.

The play yard. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comI was so impressed with the breadth of one of the comments she posted that I contacted her to ask permission to use them as a freestanding guest blog. Her advice, written in a unique, folksy style, was a reaction to Part 3 of a three-part post that first appeared here in 2009. In that series, I advise readers how to create beautiful landscapes using perennials and flowering shrubs. I titled it How to Paint a Masterpiece in the Garden.

A spring flowerbed. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and In Part three, I dealt with the monetary aspect of perennial gardening. Click to link to that article:  

Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comBelow are suggestions that Sheila added to my post about designing a perennial garden on a budget. Although I have done some minor editing for flow, most of the text is in its original form so that readers can get to know her, as I have, through the personality of her writing style. All of the images above that illustrate this post belong to her.

Expansion on your budget ideas.
1) Intersperse low, wide growing evergreens. The tiniest pots can be had for $5 at big box stores. They take being overrun or severe pruning so that in the case you have to move or get too busy or ill to take care of a flowerbed there is a gorgeous plan B waiting to be revealed.

You must look upon your garden as a hobby, not a property value return. I cringe to recall my sister-in-law sodding a beautiful yard because she wanted to spend time camping  with the kids on weekends and not to be stuck taking care of the yard. A high maintenance yard can actually lower the selling price of a home.

2) Multi colored collection of fall planted bulbs (crocus, Spanish blue bell, etc.) can be found at very reasonable bulk prices. Plant them wider than recommended and be patient, in 4 years you will be able to transplant them into those lovely solid colored drifts displayed on magazine covers.

3) If you see a garden you adore, make a habit of taking your walks on that route. Surely an avid gardener working in their yard loves a compliment and eventually will share their knowledge and their plants. I often supply grocery sacks for complete strangers. Take along some plastic sacks in your pocket (for the pooch right?) and a Sharpie to write on the sack the name and height of the plants you receive. If you forget the particulars, you can type in an image search on Bing for some good examples of what to combine them with, along with care instructions.

4) Alan Titchmarsh had a "Love Your Garden" episode (I love YouTube!) on a man's room after room of exceedingly formal clipped and topiaried gardens where monochromatics were stunning. You cannot convince me that formal gardens are budget though, how anyone keeps a whole yard of box or yew uniformly healthy is not possible to imagine.

5) Plant permanently. Some combos are low maintenance forever heaven. I bought bulk mixed, 4 months of bloom, daffodils from Brecks - (order a catalog, a coupon comes with it, and if you start an online order then decide the price is too steep and delete it before the payment is sent they'll sometimes email a coupon) -  and interspersed them with budget daylilies chosen for their bloom time, color and heights.

Gilbert H Wild and Son have hearty bare rootstock day lilies and though the new varieties are pricey, older ones can be had for $2.75. When daffodils fade, the day lilies completely cover the withering foliage (no clean up!) - both daffodils and day lilies are long lived perennials that tolerate total neglect. - (Don't put nitrogen on day lilies or you'll get all foliage and no flowers.) – Eventually, this combo will choke out any and every weed, even grass. As with all perennials after bloom, I chop the entire day lily plants down to the ground: they soon send up foliage as fresh as springtime. In this bed, I will be able to take the bagging lawn mower over the entire island.

6) Plant a hedge if you cannot afford a fence. An appraiser told me a board or like fence will retain it's value in resale, chain-link fences will recoup half of their cost, and a filled in hedge will add as much value as a board fence to your property's value.

Research what grows best in your area. I planted a big box emerald green arborvitae and then discovered a Wisconsin native, that I found later, that was much more vigorous and care free. I bought the smallest size shrubs and carefully plotted out placing them to compliment what my neighbors had in place so they would look less awkward while puny. The wind and sun scald they suffered [and which stunted them] stopped when I started applying Cloud Cover (a polymer that slows evaporation) before the temperatures dropped below 40F. The manufacturer of that product also recommends applications throughout the growing season to decrease watering.

7) Look beyond your own perimeter before planning. It may be tempting to nix an unattractive shrub but probably a previous homeowner put it there in order to hide an unpleasant view. Likewise, there could be an attractive view waiting to be borrowed from next door or the horizon if you carve out a frame for it.

8) Research the varieties of plants present in your yard. Many shrubs respond thankfully to renewal pruning, and many crowded expensive perennials look like a bed of weeds for want of transplanting.

9) Learn how to prune and don't be afraid of it! You will increase the beauty and lifetime of shrubs and trees twenty fold as well as keep the size in check, but it must be done before the point of no return.

Likewise, don't feel heartless about discarding the remnants of flowers you've divided. Overcrowded borders do not perform to their full potential: you will get frustrated and feel you must start from scratch with a whole new planting scheme.

If it makes you feel better put divided plant discards in a cardboard box at the end of your drive marked "free, variety, color and height."  If they don't disappear, which would surprise me, take them to the municipal yard waste site and set them slightly apart from the pile. If no one takes them, the pay loader there won't object to adding the cardboard box to the compost heap. A friend with a lawn care business collects all the plant divisions he can get, piles them into his work yard and waters them until he gets a request for a garden.

10) Pruning lessons: I got over my fear working at my father-in-law's apple orchard "Don't worry, you can't kill them," he said. Volunteer at a municipal garden, where you will be greatly appreciated and where you find out which tools suit you best before you buy any. YouTube has several wonderful tutorials from all parts of the country on every variety of plant.

11) Scour the classified ads in Spring. Garden clubs hold plant sales as fundraisers, and the prices are so right! Arrive early if you can: members pot up slips from their own gardens, sometimes it's the "I shouldn't have splurged" rarest, priciest plants that they share.

12) Consider long-lived edible plants. I have ruby stemmed rhubarb at the end of a ferny asparagus hedge. The rhubarb stays lovely as long as I reach in to bust off the flowers stalks as they appear, and if the leaves get tired or crowded looking, they make swift single layer mulch that dries to earth color in a few days. The asparagus backs an Asian gravel garden with stone "islands", a Buddha temple, and bamboo fountain, redbud, Siberian iris, and dwarf conifers. Both the asparagus and rhubarb blend nicely with that theme....and the best part is that both plants are the first flavors of Spring!

Thank you, Sheila/Orchard Annie, for your input. To introduce her to my readers, I requested that she email some photos of her garden and a short biography. I was not prepared for what I received. She sent me enough mouth-watering images of her horticultural work to create many interesting garden blogs and her biography revealed a romantic narrative about the role of men in her gardening life. I will share that lovely story in a future post.

Readers who recognize Sheila's talent from the photos she supplied, and from her original and intimate style of communicating, are invited to leave a comment below to encourage her to create her own blog.

Visitors who missed out on my three- part series can link to Part 1 and 2 here:

How to Paint a Masterpiece in Your Garden Part 1

How to Paint a Masterpiece in Your Garden Part 2


The Elephant in the Garden Room

Gardening is not an equal opportunity hobby. Perennials, roses, rhododendrons and flowering shrubs can be costly to some, yet inconsequentially inexpensive to others. In some countries, even organic-rich black earth is considered a luxury.

When I first began gardening, beautiful plants were available only by mail order. Each season, I would budget for plants a portion of the college money that I had earned during the previous summer. Because these funds had to underwrite an entire year of school, the amount I spent on gardening was modest. As a result, the number of perennials that I was able to add  to my garden each season was paltry.

Occasionally, a neighbor would give me a cutting of a perennial, but since city gardeners in those days knew of only twelve perennials, flowerbeds were uninspiring without supplementary mail order plants. Later in life, when gardening became a second career, I was able to comfortably buy plants to my heart’s content because I now shopped wholesale, But until then, all garden purchases had been measured and re considered, ensuring  that my resources were wisely spent.

The other option that was always available was growing plants from seed. However, urban living in a crowded, central-heated home, in a cold climate, did not offer the appropriate physical environment for the successful germination of seeds.

Ordering expensive plants by mail was the only way that I, and most other people, could expand our flowerbeds. That option remained constant until the arrival of two commercial phenomena that changed the way ordinary people gardened.

The combination of the credit card and the big box store brought ornamental gardening to those with limited resources. All that was required was to select a desirable object, place it in a shopping cart, and pay an ostensibly modest, but deceptively high, monthly charge to the credit card company.

Big box stores also brought seemingly affordable and eye catching horticultural products to the mass market. By displaying temptingly, blooming plants to a consumer who had arrived to buy light bulbs, these behemoth retailers instantly, turned unsuspecting do-it-yourselfers into gardeners, and a new target market of gardener-consumer was born.

This historical commercial development deflects the fact that without the generosity of others who offer free plant cuttings, and without the opportunity or time to grow perennials from seed, ornamental gardening remains - in real dollars - an expensive hobby for a sizeable portion of the population.

Publishers and writers never acknowledge this enormous elephant in the room – the fact that some gardeners can’t afford to buy the plants we write about. We discuss “how-to”, and “what is new”; often we recommend spending more than necessary because a costlier plant will yield out-of-proportionally spectacular results -  for only a few dollars more  In our sincerity and zeal to share all of our best gardening tips with as many people as possible, sometimes we forget that our advice is not appropriate for all gardeners.

That is because ornamental gardening crosses socioeconomic lines; it gives pleasure to everyone, regardless of one’s station in life. Consequently, there will always be some, desiring to recreate that pleasure in their own back yard, who will find themselves hard pressed to allocate finite resources to infinite garden dreams.