It's that time of year again, when we get a warm spell unseasonably early and my thoughts turn to gardening. Logically, despite Friday being the first official day of spring, I know it is far too early to start digging out any new flowerbeds, and don't plan on taking off my snow tires until the first week of April. But that hasn't stopped me from spending an embarrassing amount of time poring over gardening magazines, seed catalogues and looking longingly at the new, still unused ergonomic shovel which I got for Christmas.
I had to start a garden from scratch a few years back when I bought my house: it's long-neglected yard was a mess of weeds and little maple saplings. It's been a long, hard process, but I feel as though it is finally shaping up nicely and can't wait to get back to it. The hardest part has been trying to stay within some sort of budget. When you start with a blank canvas, it is awfully tempting to go to the local nursery, open up the charge card and go nuts. But in these tough economic times, even those of us fortunate enough to be still employed are reminded daily in the news that things might get much worse and that frugality might be the better option. So what's a gardening junkie to do?
Here's my three part gardening-on-the-cheap plan for this year. First, I'm going to try to grow most of my new plants for the garden from seed instead of buying them from a nursery. For about the price of a couple of flats of annuals, I was able to purchase quite a lot of seeds- annuals, perennials, and vegetables. Seeds always come with instructions printed on the packages, but seeing as I haven't had much success with seeds in the past, I turned to The Plant Propagator's Bible for advice.
The first part of the book takes you through the process of starting a variety of seeds, describing in detail various techniques you can use before planting to get better results (leaching, soaking, scarification, stratification). I've got primula seeds in my fridge chilling right now! She outlines which seeds need light to germinate, which need darkness, optimum humidity levels, temperature etc. The book also tells you how to collect seeds from plants at the end of the season so the money saving can continue the following year. Each technique is described in detail with corresponding illustrations, appropriate plant lists, checklists and a trouble-shooting guide. For advanced gardeners, there are even instructions on creating your own plant hybrids.
Second, I'm going to split a few of my perennials and see if any of my friends, family, and neighbours are interested in participating in a plant swap. The main bulk of The Plant Propagator's Bible is dedicated to showing you how to divide established plants. The author breaks the process down according to the best method- be it cutting, grafting, layering, or dividing plants with bulbs, tubers, fibrous roots or suckers. This is a cheap way of getting new types of plants for your garden, and you might just be able to get the plant you've admired from someone else's garden. And it isn't just outdoor plants this works for- you can also grow and swap new indoor plants too! There is an extensive plant directory at the back of the book reviewing in detail the best propagation method for each plant, a plant list, glossary, North American hardiness zones and index.
Finally, I'm going to be paying attention to the local newspapers in coming months and doing some online searching to find out when the local horticultural societies, garden clubs and churches are having their annual plant sales. Most of these organizations have sales each spring, with members splitting perennials and selling them to raise money. I've had amazing luck in past years, finding lots of perennials for my mostly-shady garden- heucheras, ferns, hostas, primulas and more. From my experiences in previous years, I would highly recommend going to these sales ridiculously early as the unique and popular plants tend to go quickly. Prices at these sales are typically very reasonable (much less than nursery prices) and the people staffing the event are (in my experience) very helpful if you have questions about growing conditions, mature size etc. Make sure you have lots of room in your car (clean the trunk out before you leave) and if you have leftover plastic plant trays from years past, bring them along so you can grab multiple plants easily and get them back to your car.
I'd better get back to planting my seeds. Happy gardening!