Most gardeners are by nature both frugal and generous, writes FIONNUALA FALLON
‘Home virtues without which no household can prosper” wrote Mrs Beeton in 1861 in her famous Book of Household Management, before adding the strict admonishment that those very same qualities “must never be allowed to degenerate into parsimony and meanness”. Reading her stern words recently, it occurred to me that I know very few mean or parsimonious gardeners, the reason probably being that nature is so bountiful. Most gardeners are by their nature both frugal and generous, happy to swap leftover seeds, fresh produce, cuttings and divisions, to recycle and upcycle, just as their grandparents did, but with a great modern advantage: the internet. Thrifty gardening has never been easier.
Top 10 thrifty tips
1. Plant propagation is the essence of thrifty gardening, but if you find it difficult, then avail of some horticultural expertise. Organisations such as the RHSI ( rhsi.ie), the IGPS ( irishgardenplantsociety.com) and GIY Ireland ( giyireland.com) offer courses, seminars, talks and local gardening groups where you can learn from very experienced gardeners and swap plants or seeds while benefiting from membership discounts.
2. Grow some of your own food, even if it’s just a few window boxes filled with salad leaves and herbs, you’ll still save yourself money. See giyireland.comfor further information.
3. Make your own sowing/potting mixes. Pile fallen autumn leaves into black plastic bags (puncture a few holes for drainage) and within a year or so you’ll have leaf mould, while a mix of nitrogen-rich green material and carbon-rich brown material can be transformed into homemade compost. If you’ve space for a patch of comfrey, add a few armfuls of its nutrient-rich leaves to the mix. Combined with some sieved garden soil, both leaf mould and garden compost are the magic dust of any homemade sowing or potting mix as well as being organically-friendly. Best of all, it won’t cost you a cent.(See askorganic.co.ukfor details on the different ratios of materials required for homemade potting mixes).
4. Make your own liquid organic feed.Chopped nettles, comfrey leaves and seaweed can all be used to make nutrient-rich liquid plant feeds that are the equal of their expensive shop-bought equivalents. Stuff the leaves into a bucket/bin with a hole drilled into the bottom, cover with a lid, hang from a hook, and place a smaller container at the bottom to collect the liquid. Use diluted at a ratio of 15:1.
5. Save your own seeds. This only works with open-pollinated/ non-F1 varieties but it’s well worth it. A guide to saving vegetable seeds in Ireland is available for €5 plus pp from brownenvelopeseeds.com. The Irish Seed Savers Association’s Seed Saving Manual is also available for €3 plus pp ( irishseedsavers.ie).
6. Buy off-season and watch out for special offers. Many gardening goods are offered at a discount during the autumn and winter months, especially seeds ( theorganiccentre.ie) and garden furniture ( outdoorfurniture.ie).
7. Save on water charges by fitting rain barrels to house gutters. A 190-litre water butt kit including stand/fittings will cost you €54.95 from purchase.ie.
8. Grow a gift. A pot filled with ‘Paperwhite’ narcissi or a home-grown posy of sweet pea will always trump shop-bought equivalents, while foodie friends will appreciate a present of homemade jams, chutneys, preserves or liqueurs (try creme de cassis). Home-grown lavender flowers can be harvested, dried and used to make scented lavender bags, while many flowers can be picked, pressed and dried and used to make greeting cards or gift tags.
9. Make your own health tonic. Make your own health-giving pick-me-ups using common garden weeds. Co Clare-based medical herbalist Vivienne Campbell writes a blog called The Herbal Hub ( theherbalhub.com) where she gives recipes for meadowsweet cordial, fresh weed tea and elderberry syrup.
10. Recycle or upcycle where possible. For example, old scaffolding boards can be used to make raised beds, glass doors or windows can be made into cold frames, plastic drinks bottles into temporary plant cloches, loo roll inserts and empty yoghurt containers into plant pots. Gardening goods can sometimes be picked up for free on websites such as freetradeireland.ie.