Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Economy of Gardening

"And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things"
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"

For anyone who has recently visited a local plant nursery and considered a large plant purchase, you may think that this week's update will be a lamentation on the great expense of gardening. There are times, especially when we are a little impatient, when gardening can be rather taxing on the wallet, indeed. When we want the landscape to look completely filled in, what we pay for at the nursery is the grower's time so as not to spend much of our own. But this week is all about how inexpensive gardening actually can be if we dedicate the time to nurturing a plant to its full maturity.

For those of you who think you have no free time, please don't stop reading. I'm not asking for much, and you may just be surprised.

My neighbors regularly stop to sing the praises of my Gaillardia to me. Oh, how they all wish they had some in their own gardens! A reasonably sized plant can be had for $7 or so. I purchased a packet of seeds three years ago for $1.19. Out of that packet, I raised about 10 plants, some of which I gave to friends.

The sunny flowers of Gaillardia

Here in Florida, those plants have never been without blooms, no matter the time of year. I've tried to tell all the neighbors who covet my plants to pull off the dried heads from the flowers and get some seeds for themselves. They all look at me as if I have three eyes. So rather than them benefitting, my garden continues to grow those wonderful plants on their own because I let them drop their seeds and continue their life cycle. $1.19 spent three years ago has yielded countless plants, and the only time they require from me is my deadheading them every two weeks for five minutes. If deadheading sounds boring, please visit this post.

I purchased two Canna bulbs two years ago. Two for $10. Here's what one of the bulbs has produced, but I have to confess this is one half of the story. I've lifted the other half to take with me to my new home. 

Canna colonizing the front beds

The mass that has been created by those two bulbs is so significant that I've decided I can lift more without creating any noticeable holes in the planting bed. The only thing I've ever done to help these plants is cut down the dead stalks at the end of the winter, which amounts to 10 minutes of my time. 

Am I winning you over yet?

I can't tell you how much joy the Vincas in the garden have given Turfman over the years. They appeared on their own one day, including one plant in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, which Turfman carefully mowed around for a year before it went to seed. He often spoke proudly of his "tuft of flowers" that he was protecting in his beloved lawn. They were always the dark pink you see in the photo, but a few months ago, the white ones appeared. Time spent cultivating these? None. Cost? Free.

The swathe of free flowers

For those of you who would prefer not to grow from seed and would rather go to the nursery, then here's another tip. Many containers of plants have more than one plant in them. Look for individual stems coming out of the pot. If you find them, you can divide the plants when you get home. I purchased a Salvia a couple of months ago at the nursery for $8. It had three plants in the one container. I divided them before planting, which gave them the space to expand quickly. Now they fill an entire corner.

My mass of pink Salvia

I may be preaching to the choir about this, and I can imagine a few gardeners' heads nodding in assent. For those of you who are considering gardening or are relatively new to it, I can offer you one more cost- and time-saving piece of advice. Make friends with a gardener. It will do you a world of good, and since we're notoriously generous, you'll likely get quite a few plants to help you get started for free.

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