Monday, May 17th, 2010...12:00 am

Frugal Landscaping

TheGardenLady’s Curb

TheGardenLady can say with confidence, you do not have to hire a landscaper to create your own garden. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a beautiful garden. I have created my own garden. And I cannot tell you the amount of compliments I get for my garden. Just yesterday, one neighbor told me what an inspiration my garden is. She is inspired to start a garden. Another neighbor, came over for advice on plants for a garden at his new home. I have done the work on my garden by myself; though now that I am getting too old to dig that much or carry and lay the mulch, I have someone help me. But I still dig holes, plant, weed, feed and water.

Remember that everything doesn’t have to be done in one day. Your planting schemes can evolve as mine have. TheGardenLady keeps on enlarging her beds each year to put in more plants. It is a work in progress so that every year it is beautiful in a new way.

TheGardenLady doen’t spend a fortune on plants. In fact, I am most frugal when it comes to getting plants. The reason for frugality is that plants may die or they may be eaten by deer or rabbits or voles and even if they are perennials, they might not return the next year for some reason, maybe because of a severe winter. If I were to spend a lot of money on the plants and the plants were to die, I might feel upset. If I don’t spend much for my plants, I have only wasted my own time and effort – and that is still cheaper than going to a gym. Most of my plants come from family and friends. If these die, my friends who are gardeners understand. And if their plants die, they can always come back to me to get some of their plants – usually because they have to be divided and given away anyway.

Friday’s Flower Power / Deutzia gracilis by Rainer Fritz

Many plants are bought at spring garden sales at this time of year. The Master Gardeners often have garden sales of plants donated from their own gardens. That is where I bought a Katsura tree Cercidiphyllum and my Deutzia gracilis. If the Master Gardeners sell the plants, you know the plants are healthy and hardy for your area and the Master Gardeners will give you directions on planting what you buy.

Many public gardens have plant sales. Some plant sales seem to be ongoing like at The Garden in the Woods near Framingham, Mass. or The New York Botanical Garden. And some public gardens like Bowman’s Hills Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, PA have both spring and fall sales. The end of the season is a great time for really good sales. Most nurseries want to get rid of plants so they don’t have to keep them over winter. And if you know what you are buying you can get great buys at local stores. I saw a sale at my super market for miniature rose bushes. At under $2.00 a small pot, I bought 5. I planted them and they have rewarded me for the last few years with loads of flowers. I later learned that these miniature rose bushes are among the hardiest of roses.

I don’t need instant gratification. I prefer small shrubs and trees. First of all it is so much easier to dig a small hole to plant the shrub or tree than it is to plant a bigger shrub or tree and. Second, these small shrubs or trees grow quite quickly. Many produce flowers when they are young and I don’t have to worry about serious pruning for a while.  And the smaller the shrub or tree is, the cheaper it is when you buy it or the lighter it is when you have to carry it. (If I were to ever buy a big, expensive shrub or tree, I would have the nursery plant it – many will guarantee it will grow only when they plant it. And if I were to spend a lot, I would be upset if it died. If you are planting a tree near the street, see if your township has a tree commission that will sell it to you for a reasonable price and plant it for you. That is how I got my crab apple tree. )

When planting my garden I strive to have as close to year-round flowers as I can have. So I mix the types of plants in my garden. For the earliest blooms I have hellebores. Since I love hellebores, I have been buying these on sale now in the spring. I also have bulbs for early and spring bloom. I look at catalogs for their sales. I know the bulbs will be fresh from Holland, guaranteed to grow and will be sent in the fall at planting time. I have early blooming shrubs like spirea and lilacs and dogwood. The spirea I got at an excavation site where the bulldozers uprooted it. Since I want to have color and because most perennials have a shorter bloom period than annuals, I intersperse annuals between other plants, either grown from seeds or bought in small pots. My favorite bang for the buck are impatiens. My yard is shaded so they can grow easily. I usually buy a flat or two of half white and half either the bright pink or the bright reddish ones and plant them in front of the daffodil green leaves to hide them as they flop or around my hostas. I shop around for the best price on a flat. In sunny spots, I love marigolds and cleome and mine have returned for the last few years from the one package of seeds that I originally planted of each.

Hostas are another favorite in my garden. The amazing amount of variation in leaf color and shape produces an artist’s painting. Hostas grow so fast, people are always dividing them and giving them away.

Don’t misunderstand, if I see something that I like at a nursery, I will indulge. But there are so many plants that I love, that I don’t buy the most expensive plant I like. I rationalize when I buy a plant for say $20 – which is my limit, should it die after one season, I would have enjoyed it for one season but if I bought a bouquet of flowers, it would cost about the same amount even though the flowers only last one week. And if the plant comes back another year, I will get more pleasure out of the plant. But I know that bouquet became compost long ago.

There are other plants that I have that have interesting leaf colors, shapes or textures. For example, I have four Japanese maples – two red and two green with red around the edges – growing in my yard even though I never bought one. Let me explain. I learned that when one gardens and amends and enriches the soil, plants will move in even if you hadn’t planted them yourself. Some of course, you won’t want. But some like the Japanese maple may find you as they found me. They started arriving about 8 years ago. And they keep coming. I found two seedlings the other day and I am leaving them with a little fence around them for safety. If they are happy, why should I move them? In a few years they will be a few feet high. I met a gardener who claims that azaleas have moved into his garden. I have not been so lucky.

I have not talked about propagating new plants from other plants as an inexpensive way of getting more plants because I wrote about it before.

One of the nicest things one can do for the flower beds is to use mulch. Mulch helps keep the weeds down and keeps the soil from drying out and if it is a good mulch, it adds nutrients to the soil. One of the best mulches to use, if you are lucky to be able to get it, is aged horse manure. Old time gardeners knew this. TheGardenLady is lucky to know an elderly gentleman who raises horses. He ages the manure so that when I get it, the mulch has no odor and is a lovely brown color. The plants love it and thrive and so do butterflies. I have already seen a yellow swallowtail basking in this mulch. See if there is an equestrian center or a zoo near by and call to see if they will sell you some manure. They may even give it to you free if you take it away yourself. You may have to let it sit for a long while on your property to age it. You cannot use it on the plants when it is fresh.

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1 Comment

  • Dear Garden Lady,
    You have a beautiful specimen in your garden that is in bloom with lovely pink blossoms and dark leaves (reddish). It has the general size of a flowering almond, but seems to be a different specimen. May I ask what this is. Your garden is a wonderful inspiration to me and I love your blog. Thank you. Nicky Katz

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