Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Marigolds in an old camp coffee pot!

I can't say that I have a green thumb because true gardeners are committed to the science of things like soil acidity and cross pollination.  Not I.  No, I like things that are low maintenance and old fashioned.  Peonies, geraniums, marigolds and evergreens are my speed.  The main reason I have a berry patch is t they grow and spread with very little attention and no expertise. And you know how I love a forsythia! 
Here then, are some gardening ideas for the low maintenance and humble budgeted amongst us. 

Herbs!  Plant herbs in pots or in the ground and pay attention to choose perennials.  You've love the amazing taste of fresh mint, parsley, rosemary, basil, cilantro, dill...Just a few plants will quickly spread and as you use them throughout the summer, they will keep right on growing. 

Perennials!  Just a few dollars more than annuals and you have a one time investment with years of benefit.  Every year we have added a few perennials.  Now we pick up just a few annuals for accents but the work and money are done for the greater part.  And there are few things more satisfying than walking around your yard in the spring seeing those miraculous little buds!

Clearance plants!  Yes you heard me, even garden centers have clearance racks.  True, some of the poor boogers on these racks will never bloom again.  BUT!  People pay lots of money for full blooms when in fact, all flowering plants need pruning and deadheading and they'll come right back brighter than ever.  Ignore the blooms.  Bring those little rejects home,  transplant them into a larger container or the ground (sometimes their roots are outgrowing the tiny containers) and trim away the brown.  You will be utterly amazed at how quickly the plant will revive.  This year I chose most of our perennials and annuals from clearance plants and the most I paid was $1.39 for a large Blazing Sunset Chlian Aven.  It had not a single blossom and was wilty and sad.  I put it into a larger pot, trimmed away the brown leaves and deadheaded the old blooms and within 24 hours I was enjoying a beautiful plant that was $7 on the full price shelf.   I paid 79 cents for a flat of marigolds, $3.50 full price.  Everyone one of them is now in big  yellow bloom.  Gabera daisy?  $1 on clearance.  And speaking of saving money...

Shop but don't buy!  There is an astonishing variation in the prices between different stores.  Not just high end low end,  but from item to item within a store.  Hanging plants at Lowe's, $7.99-$20.00, at Aco they start at $12.99.  HOWEVER!  This year's must-have was a patio table umbrella.  Lowe's was middle of the line, starting at about 60 bucks and going up from there.  K-Mart, K-Mart, K-Mart...who do you think you are?  Started at $89.99.  Family Dollar had them for $14.99, too small for our needs but a good bargain for someone.  And back to Aco where the hanging plants and flowers are ridiculous...$39.99 for an umbrella comparable to Lowe's and nicer than K-Mart.   Umbrella stand, plastic one for $12.  You can spend upwards of $50 on an umbrella stand but not worth it to me.  Take your time looking around when you don't actually have the money ;) You'll avoid impulse purchases and make some worthwhile discoveries.  Another of my relatively insane theories, decide before you leave home how much you think an item should be.  When you shop, if you have really low-balled it, it might give you pause to consider if it's still something you want at that higher price.  It'll also give you something to shoot for, keeping an eye out for that item but buying only if it's closer to the value in your head.  In my case I wanted a small plastic watering can with a narrow spout.  In my head, this item should be less than $5.00.  In reality, closer to $20 in most places. Well, for $20 stinking dollars,  I'll use a lemonade pitcher or plastic water bottle or hose.  Back to the clearance rack idea; found exactly what I wanted on clearance at Aco for $!

Smaller is better!  It's easy to be taken in by larger shrubs and bushes but there is no real value unless there's a pressing reason for an adult plant right now.  The smaller shrubs will grow faster than you think.  We paid $6.98 for the accent shrubs on our berm.  The same plant in a larger size?  $35.  By my estimation with the growth rate on the tag, we'll be there in about 3 years.  And don't be tempted to over plant those bad boys.  Pay attention to the spacing.  They'll need every inch. 

Patience baby! Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a beautiful yard.  You might even find that the impulsive plans born in the garden center won't age well.  Slow down, look around and consider what you want a particular space to ultimately become and then figure out how you can accomplish it with a budget.  My experience has been that the most satisfying projects have evolved over a few years.  I knew I wanted a patio but being a pretty expensive step in the plan, I had to save for 2 years to get there.  I was tempted more than once to compromise and do something cheaper so I could have it right now but I held out and I'm so glad I did.  Although still not complete, the patio area is starting to look like what I was hoping for.  HOWEVER, it was pretty ugly along the way!  When the patio finally went in in 2011, it busted the yard budget for the summer.  So we had this lovely patio framed by a mound of dirt we called a berm. 

Know when to compromise! I wanted a fire pit area but the side of the yard where it would be is smallish and  in Michigan, there aren't that many fire pit evenings.  I considered a permanent fire pit but it would have eaten up valuable space so I compromised and got one we can move around.  When it's cool out and we are really only outside for fires, the fire pit is moved into the center of the patio and surrounded by chairs.  As the weather warms and we start using the picnic table, it's moved to the side to share space. And when it finally becomes really and truly summer, we move it to the side to make room to spread out on the patio.  I have future plans for a pond with a fountain or small waterfall. We've chosen the product we want but it will be a 2013 project (the berm completion having absorbed 2012's money.)  Still, with such a great space to enjoy I find myself still thinking about that water feature despite how much we've accomplished.  So when we ran across a bird bath fountain for $29 on clearance, it was a compromise I was thrilled to find.  For the price,  I don't feel I've spent so much on it that I can no longer consider the long term goal and for now, it provides a smaller version of my vision.  The tinkling water is soothing and sweet and in this case, I can enjoy it now.  Next year when we are ready for the larger water feature, I'll find my birdbath fountain a home elsewhere in my yard or perhaps even pass it on to someone else.  The temptation was to purchase an expensive fountain because this would still be cheaper than the water feature on the to do list and it would be easy...bring it home and plug it in.  That would have been a mistake.  With a few hundred dollars invested, I'd be giving up what I really wanted. 

Find the sweet spots!  Look around and see if you can't find some small space that would be relatively easy and inexpensive to change and make that your first project.  By giving yourself that first experience of "instant gratification,"  you'll either be inspired for future planning or truly satisfied and consider yourself done!  For me, my back porch remains my sweet spot despite a double lot and new patio.  Nope, I still walk out onto my grampa's deck which is only large enough to accommodate a 2 chair bistro table and there I have my coffee.  Five hooks around the deck display asparagus ferns because I love the feeling of sitting inside of their lush green-ness and they soften the sun's heat.  They are cheap...$7.50 each.  That's my first yearly project, get the back porch ready.  It's the cheapest quickest fix on the list and once it's done, I can enjoy my sweet spot while I dream about the next project. 

As you see, I have offered no technical gardening advice.  I'm just not interested in the science of it.  I know what I like; informal cottage farmhousey bungolian. :) It follows then, that my simple casual style would be expressed in low maintenance plants and flowers.  I don't particularly like the manicured look of professional landscaping.  My yard is an extension of my home so why would it be anything different?  Once you've identified what makes you feel at home, you're on your way. 


Jada's Gigi said...

excellent advice! All around!

Mrs. Mac said...

For someone not owning up to having a green thumb, you sure have GREAT gardening advice!

Margie said...

what a great post! It's so true, sometimes we need to make small moves, plan out, wait. I know nothing about gardening. I learn most by messing it up one year and fixing the next (and reading Mrs. mac's stuff!)