Austerity Fatigue


Now, here's a depressing bit of news:  The White House announced this week that we probably won't hit 5 percent unemployment again until 2017.  That's right.  Happy Labor Day.

At least gardening generally gives one the sense of being rich, particularly a vegetable garden, particularly at this time of year, when even my new-this-season, smaller-than-usual vegetable garden is now an explosion of food. And vegetable seeds, thank God, remain the greatest bargain on earth.

Still, my garden is getting tired of the sour economy and so am I.  I'm tired of buying fewer plants than I otherwise might–and apologies to Plant Delights and the Mettowee Mill Nursery in Dorset, VT for that–tired of not fixing the fence around my yard.  And let's not even mention one of my major life goals–swimming pool–which was put on hold by Lehman Brothers and AIG.

What have you given up, garden-wise, in this downturn?  And what WILL you give up, if we still have years of austerity to go?



  1. 2017? That’s positive. When Americans wake up to the situation, we’ll see that relatively high unemployment is the new norm. 8-9% every year, with a certain amount of unrecorded unemployment quietly boosting that number. In other words, like democratic socialist Europe, but without the benefits of social policies.

    That’s the new America. Super rich, a good amount of high end middle class, and lots and lots of folks ready to clean that swimming pool.

  2. I want to be a gardener. I want that to be my full time job. But the recession has made people realize having a gardener is a luxury, so I’m stuck in a boring job and tending my own small garden.

  3. I garden so frugally anyway, that I haven’t given up much. But, it’s so HOT in central Texas that I have given up driving to my favorite garden store. It’s just too far away. If we ever cool off, I’ll go back.
    I love seeing pictures of your vegetable garden. It’s lovely. It looks very rich.

  4. Tired of austerity? Not yet. Gardening is one of those things that one is supposed to do when being austere, right? And I kind of like it.

    In some ways the downturn is kind of refreshing, I was too young to really benefit from the artificial wealth created by the tech boom, then I was burned by the housing boom, so I kind of like the new austerity. As a bonus, veggie gardening is now considered hip. I would do it regardless, but it’s nice to have the extra cache. So bring on the austerity. I think it’s fantastic.

  5. My bulb order has been axed this year. Self imposed. There are other things that need to be taken care of.

  6. Actually, I think this is a time to focus on the garden, invest in it after careful thought, because the pay-off is likely to be well worth it. As you note, seeds are still a huge bargain (when sown and nurtured) and I’m ordering some more varieties of veggie cultivars as well as some perennials I’ve been dreaming about. There’s something so energizing and hopeful about improving your garden. As far as doing without, that’s a life style I’ve been practicing for a long time–it’s been a matter of prioritizing. What is more important to you than anything else? What is at the core of your being? A couple other thoughts: let’s not forget to help each other(take part in community projects or reach out to a neighbor in need) and remain engaged in the World as well, perhaps by sending a bit of cash to feed the victims of famine and participating in some small way in trying to improve the lives of others, far away. About the swimming pool: is there a possibility that your block could build a cooperative, joint pool? The potential for community, and fun, is tremendous.

  7. Good landscape design includes the Poverty Cycle. Look at Monet, Sissinghurst & etc. If they’d had $$$$ those gardens would be boring.

    Restrictions increase creativity.

    Results are obvious over centuries, the observation is original.

    Glad I’ve never had the attitude fabulous landscapes need a lot of money.

    Ha, Jimmy Carter was president when I graduated college. Remember 21% interest rates, no jobs? Could find no work with my engineering degree, worked at a garden center, went to night school and got the horticulture degree.

    Now? Landscape design pays my mortgage, insurance, car, pet food, clothes on my back & etc…. Who knew a bad economy was a GOOD time to be a Landscape Designer/contractor !!

    Perhaps it’s because I’ve always included the Poverty Cycle, organic, Tara Turf, & etc…

    Good Landscape Design increases crop yield 60%-80%? Do you know why?

    This is too long, as always, thank you for your forum !! Must get out to an appointment.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  8. I dug the pond and am currently working on excavating a patio (the backyard is on a slope, so “excavate” is the term…) by hand. And those are my hands. (Oy, My back muscles are killing me. Got a little too enthusiastic with the mattock yesterday…)

    Possibly if the economy were better, I would hire somebody, but on the other hand, I’m pretty damn cheap about things I feel I can do myself, so maybe I wouldn’t. But I know that the patio will be brick rather than flagstone, which might have been in more profitable times.

  9. I no longer buy perennials just because they are pretty. But that could be partially because I am at the point that for something new to go in, something old has to go, either dug up and given away or it just died.

    A good point of the downturn is I think more people are looking at buying and swapping plants through garden clubs and master gardener groups. I also did a tomato seed swap with a friend this year for the first time, and my master gardener group in going to organize one for our members next year. Frugal,fun and you get to try out lots of new veggies.

    The MAJOR cut back for me has been on garden related travel. I didn’t go to Buffalo’s Garden Walk this year (I live 100 miles away) and I didn’t take day trips just to go to the big garden centers that are in nearby cities.


  10. My cutbacks have been in other areas besides gardening. Gardening has been my “luxury” this year. I’ve cut back on travel. I’ve cut back on the curriculum I use for homeschool, but I have not cut back on the garden. I spent more on the garden this year than I ever have before. I find it relaxing and love to watch things bloom and grow.

  11. Landscaping and maintenance of the small bit of yard at my business (which is all done by me) comes first; my veggie garden comes second in priority, and the size and scope mostly depends on time available, so this year it’s tiny; and the last thing on the list is the annual decorative flowering plants and pots, which fell by the wayside (I planted greens and herbs in some of the pots). Just couldn’t get excited about paying so much for annuals this year. But a couple of weeks ago I discovered the “Annuals Sale” at my local IGC, and bought a bunch of leggy, over-the-hill petunias for very cheap. I’ve been nurturing and enjoying the heck out of them–these are plants I never buy normally, but the blooms are scratching a definite itch for colorful flowers! And interestingly, the deer haven’t found them yet.

  12. I started my garden during my own personal economic downturn. I wanted to know that there was something in this crazy world that would work, no matter what the outside situation. Albeit, I have managed to keep a sustainable level of income through freelancing, but the garden is where I really invest my time and energy.

    I think a lot of getting out of this economy will be returning to our hands and learning how to labor for our fruits, and not just paychecks.

  13. I only buy plants that are on sale, or that can be divided. I’m dividing or taking cuttings from my own plants more (it’s good design anyway). I’m thinking VERY hard about ordering bulbs this year, and I gave up getting my hair professionally colored. Which is why it seems to be a different color every month.

  14. Once again the bulbs are put off until another year. Probably won’t get that new set of electric Stihl hedge clippers, either. (Though if everybody wanted to getogether and get that for my one andonly xmas gift I would be quite happy.)

  15. John Michael Greer, post-peak-oil blogger extraordinaire, says, “The good times aren’t coming back.” I think he’s correct in the sense that we’re seeing the end of an era where thoughtless use of what was once called a “wasting asset” made life easy for at least a small segment of the the globe.

    What have I given up? Lighting in my garden, for the time being. A piece of sculpture that would have “made” the garden. I may soon be giving up some ancient oaks if global climate change keeps bringing hurricanes on Irene’s scale to our area. I can’t afford to wait for one to go over on top of my little cottage. If that happens, I’ll give up a large chunk of the shade-friendly plants that I’ve come to love.

    Far less than many people in developing countries, in other words.

  16. I feel very fortunate–both of us have kept our jobs! Nonetheless, we spent money on fun stuff (travel, new tree and perennials this spring) and not-so-fun (vet bills, but with good results!) so I won’t be getting as many bulbs this fall. I must replace some tulips I dug up this year, but I’m holding myself to that. Overall, we work hard to live within our means, and save for stuff. That way I don’t feel too deprived when I have to say no.

  17. I’m grappling with the new economy in a different way than most folks I know – I’m spending like a wild man. Just about every dime I’m spending has to do with the garden. I’m in my early 50’s and I’ve been gardening most of my life and I’ve always grown food. In recent years I’ve paid off all debts, sold an old house that I fixed up, bought a much more fun older house with more yard and more sun and hired professionals to fix it up while I worked on the small orchard, veggie beds and a site for a pond and greenhouse.

    When friends visit they always gasp at how much I’ve accomplished in just one year and they comment on how big the project is. They wonder why I am working so hard and spending so much money. It’s simple – I believe we are on the road to some really hard times. I can’t count on my job to last til I reach retirement age so I’m spending, rather than hoarding $$$ and hopefully setting myself up for a better life of just scraping by.

  18. I’ve given up buying a new pair of “mud gloves” just because the current pair has a crack or tear & those new garden tools that aren’t absolutely necessary, but would make the work go faster/easier. And re-doing the front yard (I’ll put the blame on the economy, rather than my husband’s stubbornness – the economy doesn’t change the oil in my car). I’m turning the larger trimmed branches into trellises for vining annuals & veggies. Plus it’ll be a while before we can add to the garden @ my kids’ school (everybody’s hurting), though more & more people are asking me if I have a home for this perennial they just divided, or bulbs that have reproduced wildly, or seeds …

    I guess I’m just dusting off my frugality (inherited from my mother – thanks, Mom !) and seeing what else I can do with it.

  19. 90% of the population have jobs. The financial news is good one day, bad the next. The media has to shake you up to get you to pay attention, but I say turn off the talking heads. I’m always careful spending $, but occasionally the simple things that enrich our lives: a good brew or bottle of wine, a nice meal now and then, and of course, a new plant to treasure are necessary rewards.

  20. Both of my kids are affected by the downturn in the economy so while I have a job, I’m supporting them both.–One has a degree, a baby, but no job or husband and is back in school. The other has a part-time job while she goes to school full-time. To pay for books (twice) and tuition (once), garden-wise this month I have given up buying bells and whistles from e-Bay to decorate my bells & whistle trellis, good compost, fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, pink turks caps, and hiring someone to help me with the yard. Wish John (comment above) would come to Texas and help me with my old house! 🙂

  21. I’ve started propagating more for my garden and for clients. I get recycled garden soil from local nurseries and snip cuttings from my own own stuff and off of the street.

  22. I haven’t invested in any new sculpture or big beautiful ceramic containers for the garden.
    No new palm trees, fancy orchids or impulse plant shopping.
    Resources are going toward water, compost and maintenance.
    The frills are on hold the the thrill is still here.

  23. I have learned to grow from seed and we have not purchased the dump truck of mulch I have wanted. We are waiting for some free much from local tree trimming companies.

  24. Laura – I would love to help out but I came from that area (one state north) and do not miss the weather at all. Not that the weather out here on the east coast has been perfect lately either.

    Having to work til I’m 70 or older isn’t the most scary part of the future – it’s that the only job available will be low wage, part time, bad work environment.

  25. I live in Michigan. I want to put a privacy fence up and that’s on hold. I also decided to transplant stuff rather than buy more. So this has been and economical year as far as the garden goes. I have learned to be thrifty, that’s not a bad thing. I dont blame the president at all, but do blame those in congress who put their careers ahead of service to this country. I believe that a lot the President has done has worked. We just need to spend more money right now to create more jobs. This will not be an easy fix and maybe its good for all of us to learn how to make do and get by on less. Thats what got us in this mess to begin with. JMO

  26. I live in Pa and I am doing the same thing, transplant and divide instead of buying. I have always been thrifty in the Garden so, no change there. My clients also benefit from that so my services are less likely to be cut.

  27. This year I bought exactly one flat of annuals to intersperse with my perennials. I bought one bag of mulch for the front only, one bag of starter-soil for seeds and only used seeds I had saved from previous times. There are also a couple patches of unplanted space and some overgrown corners.

    Indoors I am slowly going back to being as frugal as I should have been. I use the reusable cloth grocery bags for a lot of things. I reuse plastic bags instead of tossing them into the recycling. Made old t-shirts and jeans into rags using less paper towels, that kind of thing. Hopefully my husband will be employed again by next year, but I believe we have made several good changes that will continue to save money and be more environmentally friendly..

  28. we have a roof over our head, food in the pantry, clean water (from the well) and so much more than 99% of the rest of the world.We have the opportunity to grow our own food, to create beauty in our gardens. Yes, we share plants with our fellow gardeners because gardeners are sharing sorts of folk. We really need to get our priorities in order, and be thankful for where we are and what we have.

  29. Started growing my own instead of buying from the guy on the street corner. Discovered new strains of penecilin in the powdery mildew on my phlox. Slug stew with a touch of salt instead of french escargot……………..
    Egg clusters of aphids or scale have replaced caviar.


  30. Our big splurge of the year is the garden. We’ve putting our back yard to work, turning it into a garden oasis. We’re pulling out the grass, leveling the yard, putting in a raised bed with a stone wall. It’ll probably take years to recoup the investment.

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  32. I am tired of not buying annuals, but I see an end in site. I have decided to buy tons of ornamental cabbage to decorate my front bed.

    I am going to trick it out this fall.

  33. When I stop and think about it, the best times in my life have not been times of plenty, but times when I have had to struggle financially. Appreciating what I do have, a healthy body and mind, family, good friends…I’m happier in my own back yard with a glass of cheap red wine that I would ever be on an expensive vacation! As far as gardening goes, I now hunt for treasures in thrift stores and garage sales. Plus, I don’t buy anything that can’t be divided or won’t re-seed itself next year. My gardening friends and I also trade cuttings to fill out our yards.

  34. I’ve given up dreaming that I will ever again own my own property. Therefore I am now and forever a pot gardener.

    This means I get to watch a lot of stuff die as I experiment what works in the Phoenix hellbowl of Arizona.

    So I only buy plants one at a time, testing.

    Those that last more than one season I replace when they die. Those that don’t I try not to miss.

    I’ve also given up, in this political climate, ever retiring. Maybe by the time I’m no longer able to work they will allow us to euthanize ourselves.

    Yeah. I’ve pretty much given up hope, too. Does it show?

  35. It has taken me a day or two to realize my austerity measures- I was debating whether I was going to cut down my ugly juniper foundation plantings myself, or hire it out. I had about decided to hire someone until we had to buy a new water heater last week, now I may have to either do it myself or wait another year.

  36. I’ve spent more on the garden this year. Constructed 5 new raised beds with chicken wire surrounds, constructed a lean-to woodshed, and purchased a battery-powered electric lawnmower. Going greener in a big way: raising many more vegetables, heating more with wood, and goodbye to gas mower for my (ever-shrinking) lawn.

    I have been giving away lots of native perennials and grasses. I speak to local organizations about native plants and ecological gardening, and I always take a free potted native plant for every person in attendance.

  37. The downturn has not hit us yet, though our field is likely to take a strong turn for the worse in the next few years. When/if that comes, I will remove the bookmarks for some of my favorite online catalogs (no, I don’t need another agave, but I always want one) and concentrate on making more plants via seeds, cuttings, volunteers, etc.

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