Gardening Without Shopping


I became a gardener through shopping.  It was all about going to the garden center for me at first.  Buying stuff.  Plants, fertilizers, tools, compost bins–I just LOVED all that STUFF! I still do.  The ideal day in the garden, as far as I’m concerned, begins with a trip to the garden center.  Whatever bright shiny things I’m attracted to there will drive what I do in the garden for the rest of the day.  Plant the flowers I couldn’t resist, build the raised bed, etc.

But there’s a lot of belt-tightening going on these days, at my house and at yours, I suspect.  And my garden is almost too full of plants. And I have too many tools.  So I’m just buying the stuff I use up: fertilizer, new gloves when the old ones wear out, etc. Which means that there’s not as much retail-therapy-driven-gardening going on for me.

Today, however, a neighbor offered to share the truckload of mulch she’d brought to her garden.  She had way too much and wondered if I could take the rest off her hands.  That truckload of mulch reminded me how much I loved to start a day in the garden with STUFF.  A big, luxurious, rich pile of dirt that absolutely must be used up before the sun goes down.  Motivated me to clear some beds, transplant some perennials, and generally get busier in the garden than I have been in months.

I miss it, buying stuff.  New stuff inspires me to do cool things in the garden.  But even a truckload of mulch is a luxury I’m doing without right now. What about you?  Are you spending less at the garden center?  (Elizabeth and her bulb addiction notwithstanding) And if you’re not doing as much shopping– does that change what you do and don’t do in the garden?



  1. I have seen people spending less in my garden center. After all the strange thing about being in the garden biz is we do not sell anything anyone needs.

    We supply only wants.

    To transform this want into a need is the marketing trick evryone on Madison Ave strives for.

    We all need to eat. We all need to save money.

    So we need to visit the garden center to buy seed to grow food to save money.

    The TROLL

  2. I checked “other” because I’ve never actually spent much money on gardening (sorry!) and still don’t. Not picking on gardening, though. Ditto for clothes, furnishings, etc. Always been a tightwad; now I’m a tightwad less than fully employed.

  3. This a time when the astounding generosity of fellow gardeners can make shopping completely unnecessary. There are more passalong plants growing in my garden to be, than purchased ones. Now if I can just set up a small greenhouse for cuttings and seed starting, that generous flow could turn into a torrent.

  4. The issue for me is not that I shop less, but that all the retail centers are closing! I would presume that reflects the general economic state of gardening / gardeners.

    My five usual haunts(one great mom and pop that changed hands to an idiot investor who closed it, one so-so local nursery that is now a parking lot for a Super Target, two outlets for local chains that are pretty good, and one oddly pleasurable big box – a Home Depot Landscape Supply Store) all closed. I am left basically with a Lowes and long drives.

    I love buying on-line for variety, but it lacks that instant gratification and sensual experience that a good nursery provides (but I have kept my on-line spending at about the same pace).

  5. I go less often than I did in my early years of gardening, more because I have so many plants already than for belt-tightening reasons. When I do go, I don’t scrimp but I do choose plants that will give me more for my money, usually perennials or flowering shrubs that are well-adapted to my growing conditions.

    Living in the burbs, I see a lot of yards planted with flats and flats of annuals. I’ll have to look around and see if folks are changing theirs out for winter color. If not, that might be a good economic indicator.

  6. My situation is like Barry’s. The good nurseries in my area are all a serious drive, so going there tends to be a special occasion. And it’s usually a spring thing.

    The stuff I tend to spend money on in winter is all in the Fedco Trees catalog or St. Lawrence Nurseries catalog–cold-hardy fruit trees and shrubs. I’ll be restraining myself this year.

  7. I voted for other because I’ve never spent much on gardening. My biggest splurge every year is seeds, and I don’t want to cap that. After all, seeds = plants! Other than seeds, I make due with homemade compost, scavenged leaves, old tools and composted horse poop from my cousin.

  8. I’m still buying wholesale plants and bulk manure and mulch, and I am for my clients, too – but there’s a bit less of the fall bulb frenzy and everyone’s scaled back somewhat – no matter – spending will be back next year I suspect.

  9. I have always gardened as a “poor” person, not as a shopper–so my habits haven’t changed. My plants come from passalongs, self-sowns, and division. I grow almost everything from seed. I buy some seeds and sometimes splurge on bulbs.

    And no, I don’t have an impressive garden with a lot of hard-scaping, furniture, or watering systems. What I get out of gardening is not a place but the activity itself. I just enjoy puttering around with plants.

    If anything the downturn in the economy makes me shop more at my local independently-owned garden centers. My goal is to spend money in my own community, whether that’s a garden center, local craft fairs, or local restaurants.

    I choose to invest my dollars in my community and in small–rather than corporate–businesses.

  10. I envy your gift of mulch Amy! I have been really thinking a lot lately about how to stretch the landscaping dollars (since I’m currently unemployed). So I’ve been much more judicious about sending extra seedlings to the compost (I scout for other places to plant them or pass them along instead). The hardest part for me is when I want/need mulch or dirt. They’re now charging about 9 bucks for one bale of pine straw here! So I’m eagerly awaiting the rest of the leaves to drop so I can use that instead.

  11. Purchasing plants for clients remains at a steady pace but some of the larger big ticket landscape industry related items have cooled down a bit.

    My own personal nursery shopping visits have not come to a halt but I am a lot more selective of my purchases and the purchases are less frequent.

    As an example , this past weekend was absolutely gorgeous. Normally I would have whizzed off to my local retail nursery to purchase that flat of annuals to dress up my entry containers.
    Instead I stayed home and planned a trip to the plant wholesaler this week so that I could save a few bucks on those same annuals.
    Impulse purchasing is not so impulsive anymore.

  12. I’ve cut way back on purchases and am with you — only buying the things I use up (or lose like gloves).

    And, I’ve been doing a lot of division parties ( “free” sidewalk sign & craigslist donations of divisions to my fellow gardeners. I’ve always given away divisions, but I’m finding more folks are willing to come dig their own these days.

    And, as I clear out more space, I’m putting in more edibles or renovating beds for edibles next spring. The more we grow to eat the lower our food bill!

  13. My situation is a lot like what MSS describes above. I started out gardening on a tight budget, and that hasn’t changed for me. I do a lot from seed, a lot of division, and am very happy to give a home to any passalong plants that come my way.

    What has changed is that I have started to grow fewer ornamentals and more edibles. Grocery prices are ridiculous, so the more food I can grow for my family to eat fresh and put up for the winter, the better.

  14. I don’t have the greatest garden centers near me. I have found two that have at least a few of the natives I try to plant. This year I added two trees, replanted the front foundation bed with shrubs and added some native groundcovers in a front bed under the mountain laurels. I don’t buy annuals and seldom buy perennials in pots. I bought the ground covers as plugs from several online sources.


    Front bed

    My biggest expenditure this year was the garden shed I had built. And of course I have to buy fertilizer and mulch. I spent all yesterday afternoon spreading mulch and used about half the heap.

  15. Some of our spring purchases – even from usually reliable sources – turned out to have been rushed through the growing process – local retailers blamed it on high energy costs. Anyway, we had a few sad looking little plants and we wasted a bit more money than we expected and learned from that. So now I’m a much more careful and thrifty shopper.

  16. Free mulch is beautiful, given the cost of transport is now built into anything ordered in bulk.

    I spent $170 dollars on four yards of compost this year. That’s pretty insane.

  17. We just got a free load of silt from the flood that passed through our garden last week. It’s not exactly a new out fit, but it’s as good as a haircut. Sometimes I feel all the garden needs is a little cleaning up and I feel a sense of renewal. Hopefully spring will offer some renewal to the nursery business, because I have a lot of friends who depend on their income form us garden shoppers.

  18. When I first moved to California, I was living off of savings and looking for work. My sweetie (now husband) and I had a tiny raised bed in the back yard. I spent my last disposable $25 (the weekend before I started a new temporary gardening gig, so it wasn’t as desperate as it may sound) on lettuce starts, spinach, carrot and beet seeds. All was purchased from a small local organic garden center. So I can safely say that in a pinch, I’d spend my last $$ on plants.

    We need to support our local garden centers during the bad times if we want them to be there for us in the good times.

  19. I buy from the discounted plant rack to save a few $$. I recently painted old plastic pots to give them a new lease on life. They shore are pruty.

  20. I have only been to the garden shop a handful of times since the spring. The budget restrictions have helped me become a better gardener. I’m trading seeds and divisions with people, working my homegrown leaf mold and compost, and asking for plant gift certificates for holiday presents!

  21. I went to an arboretum opening in my area where they had a plant sale, and I laid down almost 50 bucks for 3 Florida natives. That’s pretty extravagant for me, but I was very excited to get a couple plants I have been wanting. The biggest gardening expense I’ve had recently is a large delivery of soil conditioner. Didn’t want to wait for the leaves to break down.

    Otherwise I go to the garden center every couple weeks and try not to pick up a plant or two to play with, unless anything catches my eye. But my eye is a LOT more elusive these days.

    And of course, composting, hoarding leaves and grass clippings, etc. are musts.

  22. The most flexible and entrepreneurial garden shops will take advantage of tight cash and redefine their marketing toward growing food. Supply not only the seeds, berry-producing bushes, and fruit trees, but also hold seminars to help folks get started. Maybe work with neighborhoods to start community gardens.

    Like others have mentioned, I support local garden shops because I want to see them survive this financial crisis. Money talks.

  23. Hi Brie,

    I assume you were at the Jacksonville Arboretum’s opening. I was there too and I also spent a bunch of cash on native plants. There’s a link on my website to photos I took there. Maybe I captured you buying a plant!

  24. I’m in the middle of creating my gardens, and buying all of the plants at my local garden center is just not feasible financially. So this year I shopped at a non-profit plant sale (cheaper, better plants), helped a friend divide plants and kept the divisions, asked for garden center gift certificates for my birthday, saved seeds, and planted more of my veggie garden from seed. In the spring, I plan on purchasing bare root trees and shrubs, rather than more expensive container-grown plants.

  25. I voted other since normally I don’t buy a lot at the garden center. This year I’m actually going to be doing a little money saving by growing more of my own plants, but not through choice. My favorite local garden center is closing down (costs too much to heat the greenhouses) so I need to fill the gap.

  26. Hi Ginny! I was indeed at the Jacksonville Arboretum opening. It was quite a success.

    I actually saw you but I’m shy so I didn’t say anything, and you were taking pictures so I didn’t want to interrupt. I did not make it into any of your photos (although I am in a photo on the arboretum’s website from a volunteer day). I should have said hello, and if I see you around again I will!

    My purchases include florida azalea “flame” and a darrow’s blueberry, both of which I’ve been coveting for a while. Very exciting.

  27. If the current economic mess had been in full swing in the spring, I’m not sure my answer would have been the same. I think I’m being a little more careful with my dollars, but now is not the time I’d generally be spending much money in the garden center anyway. I spent a good bit back in August/early Sep, but November is downtime – it won’t get to 40 here between now and Thursday, so I’m not gardening. Ask me again in the spring – I’ll probably be buying seeds instead of plants.

  28. Since 90% of the plants I buy come in the form of seeds, or 4″ pots which cost just a few $, there has been no holding back on my part lately.

    (I paid for my insane bulb order when I was flush last spring. I can’t help it if everything arrived during an economic meltdown!)

    I generally do not buy gloves, tools, or fertilizer. Just a $6 bag of mulch from time to time. And I’ve been living off the same bale of peat and bag of perlite for a year. I have a shovel, pitchfork, 2 pair of hand pruners, a trowel, and a watering can. That’s all I use.

    What I desperately want to buy right now is a new $500 camera to take pictures for my blog. The lens on the old camera is full of dust and economically irreparable. Holding back from that purchase is a daily struggle. It’s an hourly struggle. I want a new camera. I want it really, really bad.

    Note: Keep your digital camera in a protective case.

  29. I answered “other” because it IS November here in zone 7 and so there’s not much action in the garden right now, but this year I have definitely spent less at the garden centre. I took a class last year in rooting cuttings, and got all my impatiens, pachysandra and coleus from my own rooted cuttings, plus I started seed for tomatoes, lettuce, basil, carrots and stuff like sunflowers, nigella, larkspur etc. And last week when I stopped by a fancy nursery in a ritzy part of town, their perennials were half-price, so I am the proud custodian of three trycirtis “Sinonime”. I use lots of leaf mould — free but for a nominal delivery charge — and buy only necessities. But next spring — ahh, that’s a different story! Can I resist the siren song of all those adorable annuals? Oooh — I forgot. I traded a white ginger rooted cutting for pansies for my winter garden.

    But — I have an established garden which doesn’t need many additional plants, except when I want to replace something old with something new and sexy. People with newer gardens have to spend more, I know.

  30. I used to sneer at the people in line at the nursery holding a six pack or two and maybe a 4″ pot. I wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $100 worth of gardening goodies.

    I’m buying mostly at plant sales these days, but am purchasing much less all around. It’s partly the economy, but most just trying to break the cycle of ripping out and replanting just for the heck of it.

  31. Lucky you with the mulch sharing. I have found that since I have filled nearly every inch of the garden with plants, there is not much shopping that can be done. The trees and shrubs are filling in so plants are actually being removed. We need to edit more and buy less or even nothing. Not good for the economy I know.

  32. Do you think you can post some more chicken photos? I very much approve of chicken photos–gratuitous or otherwise.

    Robin Wedewer
    Ntl Gardening Examiner &
    Chicken lover @

  33. I’m spending less, though more from a re-evaluation of habits than from the economic downturn. I love stuff, but it had really gotten to the point where I was sort of sickened by how much of it I own. So I decided to become more frugal as an experiment.

    But now the economy is in a crises, and people everywhere are scaling back. This makes me worry about all those businesses (and employees) that depend on my dollar…What to do, what to do? Sigh.

    Plus, like others, my garden has grown to a point where I don’t need to add as much to it…

  34. My business is installing plantings at about the same rate or higher this fall, and so luckily this gives me a reason to be at nurseries shopping. Professionally I need to keep in touch with new varieties, trends, sources etc but mainly I just love plants. Nurseries I deal with seem to be down in sales volume. Personally I buy much less annuals or froofy perennials (no heuchera here), spending my $$ on sturdier shrubs/woody perennials and venturing further into natives.

  35. Hi Amy,

    LOVE your chickens!

    I’m spending a lot less at the garden center these days, despite being adjacent to some of the coolest nurseries and botanical gardens in Southern California. BUT I did manage to refinance my house and now I can actually sleep at night. So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be playing with the toys I’ve got.

    Chloe M.

  36. I’m in the businesss so I primarily shop for clients at family or smaller chain garden centers.

    In regards to my own garden I’m a very patient person and other then the odd package of unique bulbs (like Tarda Tulips for ex) which I will purchase for myself I get all my starts, seeds as leftovers from client gardens as deadheaded seedheads, division or unwanted seedlings.

    I don’t mind waiting a couple of season for something that is tiny to grow into a full size plant.

    Where I’d like to spend my money is on more hardscaping like additional flagstone & three tiered stone fountain.

  37. I still spend on plants, but not as much as I used to. Local garden centers have raised prices a lot in the last year and a half or so, and that’s had more of an impact on my spending than anything else. I will not pay $30 for a tassel fern–sorry.


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