When I posted about my plans for replacing the rest of my front lawn with garden this year, I got a comment from a reader that seems to indicate she thought I would be spending a fortune. My husband read the post as well (how unfortunate! he almost never reads my blog) and he seemed a little worried about how much I might be spending on the garden this year.
Let me assure them - this is not only going to be a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance garden, but a lost-cost one as well! Of course, it takes a little time and planning, but anyone can put in a new garden with lots of plants for very little cost. Here's how:
1. Be patient: do it in stages. The area I am turning into garden this year will be the last step in a 4-stage process of turning the whole front yard into garden (actually it will be 5-stages if I manage to get rid of that tree next year!)
2. Plant mostly perennials. They are generally more expensive up front, but will come back year after year.
3. Don't overplant. Perennials will take a few years to really get going so be sure to leave an appropriate amount of space for them to reach their full size without getting over-crowded, otherwise you will have to move them in a year or two. In the meantime, you can throw some easy-to-grow annual seeds in the ground to fill empty spaces.
4. Divide existing perennials from other areas of the yard and plant the divisions in the new space. This not only satisfies the low-cost critiera, but will also help you have repetition in your garden, an important design principle for unity. Some of the plants I am using from my own garden include: bergenia, daylilies, bearded iris, lilies, sedum, and russian sage. If you don't have a lot of plants to go around, become friends with someone with an established garden and take some of their excess plants off their hands! And/or join the Calgary Horticultural Society and attend the spring and fall plant exchanges - a great place to get started with easy-to-grow plants!
5. Buy bare root perennials. This requires a little extra planning and work, but is so worth it. Many common plants can be bought this time of year in bare-root packages in the garden centers or ordered mail order. I just picked up 3 large echinacea roots for $7, and they're already growing in a sunny basement window (above). These plants would cost me $10-20 each if I bought the same sized plant already potted and growing in a month or two!
6. Buy small, cheap perennials... especially if they are relatively fast-growing ones. I hate to say it, because I do like to support the local garden centers, but in May you can get good deals on common perennials at the big box stores. I wouldn't buy from these types of places later in the year because generally the plants have been sitting around in some parking lot enclosure being taken care of by people who probably don't know what they are doing. But if you catch these places just after they receive a shipment, the plants are usually in good shape and much cheaper than garden center plants.
So, here is approximately what I am spending for the plants I listed in that previous post:
$0 bergenia (divisions)
$0 bearded iris (divisions)
$20 catmint (3), this is a guess as I hope to find small plants in spring
$9 campanula glomerata (2, bare root)
$0 lilies (divisions)
$15 sea holly (a guess, I haven't bought it yet)
$10 sedum autumn joy (4 bare root, plus I will divide some of my existing ones for more plants)
$0 russian sage (division)
$7 echinacea (3, bare root)
$3 liatris (10, bulbs)
$0 curry plant (division from a friend)
$0 ornamental grass (division from a friend)
TOTAL = $64 for a half front-yard's worth of plants!
BTW, I am also not spending a penny to get rid of the grass. I'm also not planning to expend many calories this time!! I'll be smothering the grass for these first few months of spring using some old carpet. By early June I should be able to lift up the carpet, and the grass will be dead. I'll turn over the soil using a garden fork (the dead grass will stay in place and break down to naturally feed the soil), mix in a little compost, and I'll be ready to plant! I am sooo not into hard labour any more...