The notion of ‘freecycling’ is a great motivator for people to learn good environmental awareness and nowhere is this more possible that when establishing a new garden. So you have invested in your new home and now there is no budget for landscaping! But as long as you have some reasonable soil, you don’t need to buy expensive plants. Even if you DON’T have good soil you can make it in a short time with just a small outlay of money.
Here’s what to do:
Draw up an ideal plan for your garden looking at your terrain and following the levels. Or reshape it if you have time and energy.
Stop putting your newspapers in the recycling bin and layer them page by page, sprinkling between each, where you want your garden to go. You can outline your shape using a garden hose to mark the curves or do that Jamie Durie thing with the pink spray paint. Build up the layers and keep it wet. (Avoid this entire step on windy days for obvious reasons!)
Next order some bales of hay (Lucerne would be even better, being high in nitrogen) and place that over the paper. Again, water. Leave it to sit for a few weeks.
If you need soil, then look around for someone building a swimming pool and ask if you can have their topsoil and also the grass that they are carving off the top. They will be happy to let you remove it. You can actually hire a tool that slices the turf and rolls it for you and all you then need to do is put that where you want lawn in your landscape design.
With your new soil, make little soil pockets in your hay layer wherever you want a plant. Leave one section of your garden for a green manure crop and plant something leguminous such as broad beans. These grow all year and when you have eaten the beans, run the mower through them and dig them into the spot you will have a fabulous base for a garden, rich in green manure. Perhaps plant tomatoes there.
If you do this in winter, take note of people pruning their gardens. Ask if you can take cuttings or the whole plants they may be pulling out. Watch the green waste collections around your stomping ground. There are often bundles of grape vine cuttings and these strike particularly well. Plant near your patio for that Italian terrace effect. You will be amazed what people heave out. I once picked up a healthy cumquat tree, root-ball and all. Ask neighbours and family for cuttings that strike easily such as geraniums, nut trees, fruit trees, roses or something more appropriate to your climatic region, and you will start a microclimate of your own. Continue to watch for trees that are being pruned or just heaved out and poke them into soil pockets in your no-dig garden. Soon you will have something alive around your house and over the years you can modify it as your taste and budget change.
While natives are admirable in the country areas, they don’t go well with city blocks. Better to avoid them and go for something hardy, productive and shady such as olives, citrus or apricots.
Don’t plant trees near foundations.
Top up your hay layer from time to time.
Move your leguminous crop each year and make this the tomato garden the year after.
Make friends with gardeners in your neighbourhood – these people are always generous to a fault with sharing cuttings and seedlings they may have left over.
Make garden borders of parsley, coriander, and other yummy herbs as it looks and smells great and will save you money. Contain mint by growing it in a tin drum (hammer holes in base) sunken into the ground and it will cascade over and look pretty without strangling the rest of your plants.
Growing from seed and cutting may take longer (a season) but you would have to work for more than a season to get the spare cash to spend on mature plants and besides, the achievement is quite awesome. Be proud of it!