Apart from being therapeutic it can also be cost-effective. Granted, the tools, accessories, and plants we yearn for do demand an initial outlay, but that is so of many pursuits. However, this life skill, apart from physical and mental
benefits, offers opportunities to save on expenditure once we are up and running.
A typical weekly shop for food supplies will probably see vegetables, fruit and flowers on the list at modest cost but consider the annual expenditure. We can reduce that a little by growing all three in our gardens. This is not about year-round self-sufficiency, which is nigh impossible
given the modest size of most plots, rather of making an occasional contribution that has greater rewards than saving on the weekly grocery spend. Your vegetables and fruits can be consumed with confidence in knowledge that pesticides were not involved in their cultivation. They can
bestow a sense of achievement in the primaeval hunter-gatherer sense, and no air miles or plastic packaging are involved in their journey to the kitchen. For example, lettuce is popular, relatively inexpensive, and ever available. But there`s an alternative to constantly buying it – grow it yourself in a pot or container of choice. Not the heart-forming type that takes two months
to mature. Try leaf lettuce which is harvested on a cut and come again basis.
First micro-leaves can be gathered four weeks after autumn sowing, and the plants keep offering for months. Seedlings of `Salad Bowl` just planted in the unheated greenhouse border for winter harvesting, came from a packet containing 1300 seeds costing £1.99. That`s value for money! Perpetual spinach offers similar VFM at £1.99 for 250 seeds. Sown in March outdoors, harvest micro leaves within weeks and continue cutting non- stop until late autumn. The tall, ragged leaves are then removed with hedge clippers and the plants respond with fresh growth that is harvested until spring arrives.
Why buy supermarket soft fruits when they are so easily grown? Even in containers! Invest in strawberry, raspberry, black and redcurrant, or gooseberry plants now. Autumn planting will secure some first fruits next summer, and any surplus can be stored in the freezer. Then you`ll also benefit when prices rise in winter.
Propagating opportunities abound in autumn, and that leads to money-saving. Familiarise yourself with the cost of soft fruits, ornamental shrubs, and herbaceous perennials up for sale in pots or bare-rooted, and it should be enough to convince that the initial outlay is worthwhile.
For example, last September we bought six plug plants of the strawberry `Sweet Colossus` and tasted the first fruits this summer. More importantly, we`ve subsequently rooted eighteen young plants sent out as runners. Now there are two dozen set up for next year. The potential is endless!
Similarly, the large, thornless blackberry `Loch Ness` has increased year-on-year through layering, weighing down a growing tip with any handy stone nearby. Roots form eventually and another plant is born. Try this with shrubs e.g. viburnum, jasmine, and cotoneaster, whose branches trail close to the soil.
Division is surely the simplest way of propagating suitable plants with 100% success. Herbaceous perennials and several indoor potted plants lend themselves to it. So, rather than baulk at the price of Helianthus `Lemon Queen` just think of how rapidly the single plant becomes a dense clump that can be separated into many sections with a spade. The single ginger plant (Zingiber officinale) we bought in a 9 cms pot at Lost Gardens of Heligan has
become four large specimens one metre tall, worth goodness knows how much!
Don`t forget to utilise the precious debris that comes with autumn/winter shrub pruning! The summer growth has matured enough to stand up to winter in the open and will root over the ensuing months. Planting pieces circa 20 cms long, upright, with only one quarter showing above soil level, will do the trick. Now's the chance to root your own shrubs and fruit
bushes free of charge!