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The Frugal Gardener
by Jerry Filipski
by Jerry Filipski


Gerald (Jerry) Filipski is the gardening columnist for the Edmonton Journal, a position he has enjoyed as a freelance writer for the past 12 years. Jerry also writes for Canadian Gardening, the new Alberta Gardener as well as for the lifestyle magazine of P&O ferries. Jerry also does numerous public speaking engagements including some major gardening conferences and workshops as well as question and answer sessions for Wal-Mart and Rona.

May 4, 2008

Recently, a reader wrote in with a question on the cost of gardening. Her problem was that she had recently moved into a downtown high rise condo and had tapped herself out financially with the move. She was a little down because here she was in her first home of her own and she could not afford to do much in the way of gardening as she planned for the spring. Her concern was that she needed to spend a lot of cash on things such as pots and containers, decor, plant stands, and plants. While it is true that gardeners have never had more choice the prices have risen right along with the choices. I thought it time to address this issue and offer a few tips on how to create that balcony or deck garden you have always wanted without a large outlay of capital.

Pots and containers continue to evolve. In the past, your choices were limited to terra cotta and ceramics along with some very basic plastic varieties. Today, the myriad of choices in containers is a reply to the requests of gardeners for more practical solutions to container gardening. The solutions include cast resin pots that are as light as a feather and yet look every bit as real as true ceramic containers. Cast resin pots are one way of economizing. They usually cost far less than real ceramic pots or even better quality terra cotta. I have converted nearly all of my containers to this type of pot. I love being able to move my containers around. When I tire of looking at the same arrangement on one of my decks I will move it and replace it with another container. The lightweight resin container and lightweight potting soil enable me to easily lift and move even the larger containers.

I can attest to the economy of such containers by relaying a personal experience. My wife bought me a ceramic pot in my favourite colour, namely green. Go figure why a gardener would like green? But, I digress. The pale green container planted with deep purple petunias is one of my favourite containers but it is also the heaviest because of the weight of the pot. Lat year, I ran across a container that was exactly the same as my green one but it was made of cast resin. It cost only $12 as opposed to the nearly $30 the original cost. The original weighs approximately 10 lbs while the cast one weighs approximately 1 lb. The added bonus is that making extra drainage holes in the pot are a breeze because the resin is easy to cut through with a utility knife.

Another way of saving financial resources is by growing your own bedding plants. Far too many gardeners are scared away with the prospect of planting seeds and then caring for your own plants. The fear is that the process will require far too much time and effort. This is simply not true. The task is a very rewarding one for several reasons. Firstly, you grow only the varieties that you want and not the ones that greenhouses force you to buy. Often the greenhouses only grow the plants that are best sellers and not necessarily the shape, form or colours that you want. Secondly, you grow only the numbers of plants you want to grow and keep only the healthiest ones. For example, if you only want 2 tomatoes you grow 2 tomatoes and don't need to buy 6 tomatoes in a pack from the greenhouse. Finally, there is a great satisfaction in growing your own plants from seed to planting. By recycling things like plastic bakery trays as seeding containers and using an inexpensive potting soil you can grow just about any bedding plant you want to for very little money. Seeds are reasonably priced to start with so all you need is a sunny window and some water.

Many gardeners are concerned about the appearance of what I call the 'infrastructure'. This term refers to things like plant stands or garden d├ęcor. These items can be pricey but there are ways around this as well. Instead of buying expensive plant stands to display your plants on different levels why not use something as simple as bricks. By layering inexpensive bricks at different heights you can add the interest to your display by having your plants at varying levels. The bricks look attractive in the early stages and as the season progresses the plants grow to cover the brick anyway and you will not see them at all.

By using cedar planks and paving stones you can ever create a plant shelving system. The stones act as supports for the planks and the whole system is weather proof and attractive while being very inexpensive.

I hope that the few tips offered today inspire those of you who think that having that green oasis on your deck or patio is too expensive.

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