Creating a Dream Garden on $100 Per Year (part 2)

by Melissa J. Will

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When I started gardening, I had very little practical knowledge. I just knew I wanted something wonderful and I wanted it now!

I had visions of gorgeous trees and shrubs, flowering perennials, masses of fresh fruits and vegetables, nesting birds, wonderful garden art, and a small pond. In other words, I wanted my perfect secret garden.

But with all this desire, I was lacking two key ingredients: patience and money. Not knowing what things actually cost, I set my budget at $100 per year, and with some learning experiences (mistakes) and determination, I did end up with a garden I really loved.

The secret? It took creativity, a willingness to work hard and adapt, and time. A low budget isn't going to cover big structural changes like correcting a major drainage problem or building an elaborate greenhouse, but you can create a sustainable food and flower garden that will have your neighbors knocking on your gate to see more.

Here are my tips for creating a dream garden on $100 a year. See part 1 of this article and the first eight tips here.

9. Compost, compost, compost

As you start planting, you'll learn what your soil is like. I've had gardens in both hard clay and extreme sand and they have one thing in common. They each benefit from lots and lots of compost. Keep a backyard or balcony composter and make use of all of your fresh food scraps and egg shells. If your friends don't compost their scraps, ask for theirs too! I save them in the freezer when I can't get them into the composter right away.

In fall, run a mulching lawnmower over leaves to break them down and add them to the garden beds for the winter. There are nutrients in there.

Be wary of free compost giveaways. It may contain weed seeds or unwanted things like pesticides.

10. Collect water

Install rain barrels or water catchers to collect as much rainwater as you can. This will be used for watering potted plants. Some communities offer subsidized rain barrels each spring.

11. Use raised beds

Raised beds (made from untreated wood) are a great way to designate growing areas without requiring large amounts of compost. Instead of spreading compost over large garden beds, you just apply it right where you need it.

I use my raised beds year round, adding protective covers to them in the winter for year-round vegetable growing.

12. Garden art

I started making garden art from repurposed household items when my garden was young and I was so impatient both to be outside and make the garden look great. There are endless possibilities for things you can make at little or no cost. I've got dozens of projects with free instructions to get you started.

13. Give and take

Gardeners are very generous people, both with their knowledge and their surplus plants. Join a garden club and/or local horticultural society and get involved. All levels of experience are always welcome. Look for local plant swaps and trunk sales. And share what you're learning to pay it forward.

When I was starting out, several gardening friends offered me free plants. But beware! Almost all of them turned out to be invasive species. So do your homework first. Be gracious but say no if it sounds too good to be true. "Fast-growing" is a number one sign that a plant will take over your garden.

If you know what you want, tell people! It's amazing how many people offer items when you share your wish list. And be sure to reciprocate. Also, watch for and place ads for garden plants, tools, and decor. I find lots of great tools, flower pots, and garden art ideas at local yard sales.

14. Timing is everything

Know what you want but don't insist on having it now. In spring, garden nurseries are packed with so many gorgeous, expensive plants. Be patient and wait it out. You may not get your top picks, but the sales will come. I know when my local nurseries have mid-season sell-offs and their end of season sales. That's when I'm the first one in line.

15. Enjoy the journey

A common question is, "How long will it take for my garden to start looking good?" For me, starting from a bare lot, after about three years, my plants started to look pretty good. By year five or six, things started to really fill in. By year ten, new gardeners would knock on my gate and ask for a tour and advice.

Along the way, I learned that it really is a journey, not a destination. There's no end goal. A garden is, of course, a living thing that will continue to change and grow and tell you what works . While I wanted a certain established look, I soon learn, beyond the perks of growing fresh food, gorgeous plants and intriguing birds, it's simply a wonderful way to spend time.

Melissa J. Will (Empress of Dirt) is a blogger and writer living in Middlesex County, Ontario, Canada (garden zone 6). She likes any excuse to be outside gardening, hiking, and making garden art from repurposed items. Please sign up for her free newsletter here.

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