Monday, August 10, 2009

Creating Your Own Cottage Garden

How to create your cottage garden:

But first, why should you build a personal garden? We are all striving to save money on a day-to-day basis and keep our sanity in this stressful world. These are my two favorite reasons to build a garden of your own.

1. Grow your food (it’s more healthy and costs much less than the supermarket), herbal tea, and seasonings/herbs.
2. Sanity: gardening is meditation and exercise. It’s personal, exploratory, creative and good physical work at your own pace.

There are oodles of things that you can do yourself (without spending any money) to build your own cottage garden. I’ll share my favorites with you as we go along. My focus for is free/low cost methods. I’ve had enough cash to buy every plant I want, so I generally look for sustainable (so I won’t have to tend to it later or over and over again), green (good for the immediate and global environments), and easy (to find, use, build, etc) methods of gardening. Let’s start from the ground up.

What is the soil in your gardening space like? You may have tough soil like I do… Instead of fighting with the ground I’ve got, I opted for raising my beds a bit. I mixed rich compost and organics with some of the already existing soil and brought in a few bags from the store. If your soil is fantastic as it is, you are a lucky duck and can dig right in where you are! If you are using pots or need to use a raised bed because you don’t have ground space or great soil, the next section is for you.

Raised beds
This is the easiest method I’ve ever used! I could have fought with the very clay-rich soil in my garden space for years before working in enough organic matter to plant straight into the ground! But I wanted to start right away… So, I outlined the space I wanted my bed to take, broke up the surface of the soil a bit, and raked all the dropped leaves, grass clippings and such I could find into a low mound that was the shape of my raised bed. I evened it out, and added compost (good rich compost) and some store purchased soil. If I had access to more compost (I didn’t have my own composter and worm bins then), I could have skipped the store purchased soil. I pushed the edges around a bit until the bed was the shape I wanted and about 4 inches smaller at the edges. Then I scavenged bricks wherever I could find them (freecycle and craigslist postings, in the creek, asking at construction sites and house remodels in the neighborhood). The first layer of bricks fit edge to edge around the base of the mound, following the curves with broken bricks, and pushing into the mound a smidge. The second layer of bricks lay on the first but back a bit. The edges over lapped so that the top brick sat on both the first row of bricks and some of the mound. It’s important to note that you need to pack that bit of mound so the second layer of bricks is stable and doesn’t fall into the mound. You can do several more layers like this or just keep it at two (like I did).

Seed Saving & Propagating
The most economic, by far, way to start your garden is with seeds, divisions and cuttings from friends! Most people don’t use a whole packet of seeds and leave the rest of the packet sitting around to die slowly in a dark corner, drawer or tin. Talk with your friends and neighbors about sharing seed packets…
Also, check out the plants in their gardens. Ask if they save the seeds from the plants you like and if you can come back and collect the seeds at the end of the season. I’ve had neighbors ask me the same question, and I always have more than I need. Sometimes, I even have seeds I’ve already collected to pass on right then and there. You never know until you ask.
Cuttings from the plants you like are a great way to jump-start your plans as well. Make sure to ask before you snip at someone else’s hydrangea or rose though… It’s not worth starting a neighborhood feud! If you visit local parks and public gardens, you may also ask the maintenance staff when they plan to prune specific plants. They may allow you to come back and take a few of their off cuts! I’ve happened along just as a neighbor was trimming her lovely hydrangea one day and she was thrilled for someone to take away a bit of her yard waste. And a worker-bee at a public garden gave me permission to pocket a few seed heads another day. I was saving him a wee bit of work in the process.
And if you’ve ever divided clumps of iris’ or lilies, you know what a great deal it is to have help in exchange for part of the division. Older folks in your neighborhood may be especially grateful for the company and physical help… Knock on the door and ask!

Well, this is just an overview of the process. You can look forward to posts about collecting specific types of seed, varieties of raised beds and how to build them and so on… Thanks for reading!

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