Friday, March 25, 2011

My simple garden gives us beauty, food without fuss

My life is complicated, with four kids and one very stubborn hound dog, and so I resist things that require fuss. I don’t buy clothing that needs to be dry cleaned, or even ironed for that matter. I don’t grow finicky houseplants or prepare recipes with long lists of ingredients. I won’t even wear a hairstyle that requires frequent trips to the salon.

In general, I make choices designed to keep my life as simple as possible. Not having to run clothing to the dry cleaner, for example, means I save myself time and money. The same is true for preparing uncomplicated meals at home.

My garden is no exception to my keep-it-simple mantra. Sure, it’s possible—even easy—to make gardening complicated, by growing varieties of plants that need pampering and by worrying about things like soil temperature and PH, for instance. But again, I avoid all the fuss. Instead, I get seeds in the ground when the weather becomes pleasant, and I grow tough-as-nails plants that can tolerate a little neglect.

I work with simple and inexpensive tools—a hand trowel, a spade, a hoe, and a rake—and use composted manure I collect from my neighbors’ horses to fertilize my garden. As for my garden beds themselves, they are built with rocks foraged from our property, and the paths are lined with reclaimed woodchips.

When I started gardening, I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. Though I had read a few primers and absorbed garden wisdom from my parents over the years, I had no formal instruction of any kind. Instead, I literally just dug in and got my hands dirty, learning as I went.

I quickly discovered which plants thrived in my garden, and I decided to “love what grows,” abandoning specimens that didn’t perform well or that seemed to require extra care. I also recognized that perennial herbs and fruits are good investments; my chives and rhubarb come up in early spring and produce all summer long.

Now six years later, I have a large garden filled with sturdy perennials and with beds devoted to growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables. And from May until September, I am able to gather fresh produce by taking a few steps outside my back door. (As an added bonus, my children will eat anything that comes from our little plot—even onions.)

This year, I spent $48 on new heirloom garden seeds, which I’ll plant alongside seeds leftover from past years. For the first time, I’ll be collecting and saving the seeds from these heirloom varieties, which means I’ll have an even larger return on my initial investment. I’ll also be devoting more time to learning about companion planting—placing certain plants next to one another to improve plant growth and to repel pests.

I started gardening with only a willingness to learn and a desire to use the resources available to me. Together, these two things have made it possible for me to enjoy a frugal hobby that is good for me and for my family. By keeping my garden plan simple, I enjoy the benefits of homegrown food, without having to spend more time or money than I want to.

If blooming flowers or picking garden-fresh tomatoes seem alluring, I encourage you to dig in and try it this spring. Start with the space and resources you have; perhaps a friend or family member will even give you some seeds or transplants. Investing in a garden, big or small, can bring you a lot of satisfaction without breaking your budget.

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