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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money
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The Frugal Gardener

I love growing perennials in my small suburban lot. But I'm very cost-conscious about it. I've sometimes thought about giving my garden a name, but The CheapSkate's Garden doesn't sound too appealing. However, I thought that readers of this blog might enjoy hearing about some of the things I've done to cut costs in my garden.

Edging: One garden chore I don't enjoy is edging beds and pulling grass out of them. To cut down on both those tasks, my goal is to have a physical barrier around each bed. Last year, a neighbor was tearing out a brick patio that, after 25 years, had started to disintegrate. But there were still lots of intact bricks, too. With their permission, I began carting the good ones back to my house and lining them up around my flower beds where I later set them into the ground as edging. It was a win-win: if I had not taken so many bricks, they would've needed second dumpster to get rid of everything. After hours of hard work, I now have lovely brick edging around all the flower beds in front of my house. I estimate there are 750+ bricks out there!

Yard and garden waste: I have two motives for keeping as much of my garden waste on my property as possible. There's a financial incentive because I pay by the bag for any yard waste that I have the waste hauler pick up. And second, I hate to see all that potentially valuable organic matter leaving my property. I started by corralling all of my leaves inside a circle of hardware cloth one year. In the spring, I spread the partially decomposed leaves on my gardens before I put down new mulch. As the trees grew and the volume of leaves increased, my husband got me a leaf blower/mulcher that let me pack lots more leaves into the same space. (Tip: get one with a metal impeller to withstand the unseen twigs and other things you'll suck up.) Then I added a compost bin.

As the amount of leaves continued to increase, I began double-processing the leaves to reduce the volume even more. Nowadays, any garden waste that won't spread disease or re-seed, and all my fruit/vegetable kitchen waste, goes into the compost bin or the leaf pile. That includes grass clippings when it's just too heavy to mulch, hedge trimmings, etc.

At some point during this process, the village started offering "free" leave pickup in the fall, but I was already hooked on the idea of keeping all that good stuff for myself.

Despite all this leaf collection and composting, I still don't seem to have enough compost for my horrid clay soil. This spring, I was thrilled to find a local non-profit that offered food-scrap amended compost for a nominal cost. The only challenge was coming up with enough large containers to get it home. Next year, I'm ordering double the amount and making two trips.

Mulch: I like mulching my plants, but I don't like the cost of buying it by the bag. I've found a local source of free wood chips, and make annual trips there to get enough to mulch my beds. (I know there is a debate about whether wood chips are good or bad for your plants. I'm no expert, but I've decided to trust the advice that as long as the wood chips are on top of the soil and not worked into it, I won't be depriving my plants of nitrogen.) I also like the idea of keeping all this stuff out of the landfill.

Plants: I've purchased lots of plants, but I've also received many of them for free. My garden efforts started years ago when a dear friend said I could divide her peonies. Those are still the gems in my spring garden. A few years later, a house with lovely gardens was being turned into a rental property, and I was allowed to dig up any plants I wanted. Other gifts were less successful; when someone offers you some of their plants, it could mean that the plant spreads like wildfire.

Rabbits were a huge problem in the early years of my garden. I still remember the year I planted nearly 100 marigolds, which rabbits aren't supposed to like. When the rabbits were done, I had four plants left. After that experience, I decided not to spend much or buy a lot of one kind of plant until I knew how it fared with the rabbits. I often picked up plants at the end of season when prices were reduced, or bought smaller sized plants.

Labor: I have never paid for any labor for my garden. The labor has all been my own, or sometimes that of a family member. My brother-in-law kindly helped my husband and I dig the deep holes needed for eight arborvitae. My sister helped me excavate the space for a small paved walk and sitting area. A job may not get done as quickly as if I hired it done, but I will eventually get the plants planted or moved, the bricks set into the ground, the wood chips transported and spread on the ground, and the leaves shredded.

Being the financial person that I am, I keep track of my garden expenses. Compared to the enjoyment it brings me, I think my garden is a steal.

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The pictures are gorgeous! Click on the image to see all of the photos.
by Kathy Sweedler on Thursday 6/19/2014

Yes, there are several pictures, but you might not realize it unless you click. Thanks for pointing that out.
by Karen Chan on Monday 6/23/2014

Thanks for sharing the gorgeous photos and the excellent gardening advice!! Well done Karen!!
by Gail Schrader on Tuesday 7/15/2014

Thanks, Gail. I had fun combining my passions for personal finance, gardening, and photography.
by Karen Chan on Wednesday 7/16/2014