Save the planet and a fortune with these clever hacks and you will feel more smug admiring your gorgeous garden
Gardening can sometimes feel like an expensive hobby. Big projects don’t come cheap, plants and tools can be costly and annual varieties need replacing every year. The good news is that there are loads of easy ways to save cash, whether swapping plants with neighbours, hunting out bargains or simply being canny. With clever money-saving tips, you can ensure you’re making the most of your resources and your garden will look terrific.
First up, next time you’re dropping off your rubbish, have a proper hunt around your household waste site. They often set aside items that can be reused and sell them for a charitable donation. These can include spades, forks, plant pots and old mowers. Buy them cheap and give them a polish and a brush-up and they will be good as new. Avoid items that are obviously broken or damaged.
Websites such as eBay and Gumtree can also be a rich source of kit. The Freecycle Network – freecycle.org – is a non-profit grassroots network for people who like giving, and getting, stuff for free. See if there’s a network in your town. If you insist on new, I’d always try to buy quality equipment – it will last longer and you will get better use from it. Next, if it can hold soil, you can plant in it.
You can use old tyres for pots, egg boxes for keeping seeds and even make buckets and barrels into water features. Old dustbins are great for growing potatoes if you drill some drainage holes in the bottom, and guttering can be turned into carrot planters. With some imagination, you will find the most random things can be useful. And keep an eye on the clearance section of DIY and garden centres. They are especially handy for plants that might look a little tired but can be coaxed back to life with a bit of TLC.
I’ve picked up some lovely varieties in the past, many of which are still going strong in my garden. You’ll also find discounts on compost, bulbs, plants and wood-chippings if you are prepared to buy in bulk or out of season. Bulbs, for instance, can be stored for months before planting as long as they are kept dry and in the dark.
To save even more, head off on a woodland walk. There are lots of tree seeds that you can collect up to use to grow your own plants. Look for acorns for oak tress, conkers for chestnuts, pine cones for pine trees and helicopters for sycamores. But don’t dig up wild flowers – you might be breaking the law because many species are protected.
A better way to start the day
Coffee mornings are also a terrific place to pick up cheap plants, especially if you are looking for houseplants. Keep an eye on your community, church or school noticeboards for details. Making your own compost is a brilliant way to recycle and save dosh at the same time. It can be great fun, too. You can compost anything from tea leaves in tea bags to cardboard, old fruit and vegetable scraps. Pick up a compost bin from the council for around £11 – check with them first. If you don’t want a bin, try leaf bags. Fill these with compost and leave them around the back of your shed for about a year and then you should be able to use the composted matter as soil. Make your own compost scoop by cutting diagonally across a large plastic milk carton, keeping the handle intact.
Join a club
Garden clubs are also a good way of sharing expertise, equipment and plants. Joining your local club or allotment society usually only costs a few quid and normally means you can borrow a load of stuff and get discounts at garden centres nearby. They can be super useful if you need to get your hands on large equipment like leaf shredders, blow vacs and rotavators. Garden clubs also provide advice and friendship. Many let you share cuttings, so if you’ve got a chrysanthemum, mint or rosemary that is growing wild, offer to swap some for a neighbour’s geranium, honeysuckle or azalea.
Take a look on my blog at daviddomoney.com about setting up a community garden. If your fence, shed or patio is looking a bit worse for wear, don’t spend loads of money redoing it, give it a revamp instead. For fences, get hold of a jet wash and give it a blast down. Then use a fence stain or outdoor paint to give it a bit of life – don’t just go for boring brown, either. You can pick up an amazing range of bright colours. You can bring a patio back to life with a jet wash and Jeyes Patio Power Outdoor Cleaner or similar and then replace cracked slabs. With a bit of elbow grease, it will feel and look brand new.
Free Seeds and Easy Plant Labels
Also, keep an eye out for plants such as poppies, hollyhocks and sunflowers and, as soon as they start to set seed, collect them. I like to use empty Tic-Tac boxes as storage containers – they’re the perfect size. Otherwise, freezer bags are good. When it comes to germinating, egg boxes, toilet rolls and newspapers rolled lengthways, then cut to size, are ideal. They rot away when you plant them. And head to a coffee shop where you can pick up some of those wooden coffee stirrers.
Get a marker pen and write the plant name on, then pop it in the ground next to the plant for a free label. You can use old wooden spoons for larger plants – it creates a great kitchen-garden feel. Hotel shower caps make super cloches, as do empty 1.5 litre pop bottles cut in half. And those free slippers you get on some airlines are perfect to stop you getting a slug stuck between your toes if you’re nipping outside.
Finally, be season aware. If you are not keeping a close eye on the weather, you will risk losing plants to drought or extreme heat or cold. In summer, a fairly cheap watering system can pay huge dividends when you go away on holiday. In winter, a cold frame can protect vulnerable species against the worst ravages when the temperature drops.
Remember, plants such as geraniums and fuchsias should be brought inside. Put them in a greenhouse or porch where it is cold and frost-free. They will survive the winter and grow bigger and stronger every year.