By Christina VanGinkel
Gardening as a hobby or as a part of your daily life does not have to be a bind on your budget. Gardening cost can add up, what with buying flats of plants, additives for the soil, specialized tools, and features for the garden such as pond pumps and bricks and stones for walkways. At the same time, gardening can be accomplished by creating a garden with nothing more than what you have or can obtain from friends and family, or a visit or two to a secondhand store such as Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul. Both of these stores, along with dollar stores, are ideal spots to find good buys on small hand tools, planters, knee savers, and even garden ornaments.
While my husband and I have purchased plants through the years, a good many of our favorite plants have come from either two of my dear friends or my mother in law. We have also shared plants from our garden with them in return. Our Bleeding Hearts have been split so many times, it is amazing each spring when they spring back to life and are always one of the first plants to flower in our garden. When I think of how many plants are out there from our two original, it is miraculous.
As for tools, we have had the same two handheld garden trowels for as long as I can remember, with our only real splurge in the tool department a set of mini tools that we bought for our grandson from the Backyard Bunch. Tools that are put away when not in use, and generally taken care of, will last for many years.
Growing plants from seeds is always cheaper than buying plants that someone else started. If you have the room indoors (or a greenhouse!), go this route whenever it is feasible.
Another good place to get plants inexpensively or free besides family and friends is from a farmer's market, or through a plant exchange set up by various organizations. Churches, garden clubs, even members of a book club might occasionally host such an event. They are usually straightforward affairs, where you bring in plants that you have an overabundance of, as do others, and you trade amongst each other to build up a variety in each other's gardens without having to spend money. If you have an abundance of plants, you could even set up a stand at a local farmer's market to sell your extras, and with the money made, purchase whatever your garden needs. A garden is truly a self-sufficient endeavor if given a chance. Besides thee exchange or sale of plants at these events, extra seeds are just as popular. They can be ones that you harvested yourself, or if you bought a pack and only need half, better that someone else gets to use them than letting them go to waste.
If you have a true green thumb, and do not mind, even enjoy, bringing plants that appear to be ready for the trash back to life, ask at the nursery you shop if they would give you any deep discounts on plants (perennials especially) that have seen better days. They might even offer you them for free and that is as good a budget saver as you will ever find!
Another way to stay within a budget when gardening is to know what is worth spending money on. If a plant is doomed from the beginning, not fit for the zone you live in for example, then no matter how beautiful it looks at the garden center or nursery, it will most likely not thrive in your yard.
Every gardener has their favorites, and that often includes annuals. However, if you plan to be in the same place for a long time, other than a few annuals for spots of color on occasion, you will obviously get a better value from perennials.
Gardening for little or no money can happen. It usually takes some planning, along with the opportunity for some good old-fashioned swapping or buying and selling at a farmer's market or similar place. If a garden is in your dreams, do not let a tight budget squash those dreams, just be sure you check out all the opportunities that are available to you.