Balancing the Gardening Budget

Those of us whose parents lived through The Great Depression and/or the Dust Bowl know that they survived, went on to marry, raise families, and lead normal lives. Despite the dismal economic forecasts, we will too.

But what should we do in the meantime? How do we decide what is necessary and what is frivolous in the garden? That depends on why we garden.

Here’s an example. Last year, as an experiment, I bought six tomato ladders (http://www.gardeners.com/Tomato-Ladders/VegetableGardening_Supports,37-793RS,default,cp.html) and raised two types of indeterminate tomatoes. When they outgrew the ladders, the tomato plants flopped over, pinching the stems at the top and putting the fruit within easy reach of rabbits and groundhogs.

This winter, I needed to decide whether to buy extensions for the original ladders, as well as add a few more (they’re good for cucumbers, too). Not an inexpensive proposition. But the results of my experiment were great-tasting, plentiful tomatoes, grown in a small space among my ornamental plants. Since I plan to continue growing these vegetables indefinitely, it made sense to buy the hardware now. I won’t save a ton of money at the grocery store; I will be able to walk out into the backyard and pick a tomato that tastes like a tomato.

But there is a less tangible factor, too. Most gardeners derive a great deal of pleasure from this pastime. Caring for favorite plants, the earthy smells, the colors and fragrances of blooms, the respite from day-to-day problems, working outdoors, and enjoying the fruits of our labors, all soothe the soul.

Creating a balanced gardening budget means weighing the financial cost of proceeding, against the psychic cost of denying oneself a meaningful pursuit. It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition, of course. If funds are really tight, instead of buying plants, grow your own from seed, or focus on dividing existing perennials. Or, instead of planting out a whole new flowerbed, buy just a few colorful annuals to create a spectacular, overflowing focal point container.

Just make sure to nourish your soul.

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