The city garden Spring ,gardening on a budget

This is the first full year  I have had to plan and plant the garden and the new plantings and wildlife friendly features such as frog niches and new trees will have  a chance to take effect .I am also starting to see the aesthetic results of much of my plantings ,last year I sacrificed flowers and height to prune shrubs and hedges into a bushy shape and cut back some to allow others space to fill in gaps .This has made the dividing hedges and back wildlife  patch much bushier  and deeper with many more birds using both.

bacl artbour spring.png

I  lost a huge number of plants to slugs and snails which has meant I had to adjust my planting schemes to plants less attractive to slugs .I also added a lot more trees this year which should fill out in the next few weeks and improve the views and privacy.

back woodland garden towards house.png

I have spent overall very little to make the changes and mostly using cheap budget options so I thought reviewing the usually frowned on plastic planters, supermarket and bargain store plants and trees would be useful but first a quick garden update.

We have no longer got the wide range of winter visitors to the bird feeders the siskins have left for their summer feeding grounds and all the continental blackbirds left for home ,though we have two pairs which visit the front and back gardens  and the bullfinches may also have left ,though they usually visited the feeders at dawn ,which has the days lengthen I no longer see.We still had the goldfinches and they have increased to a small flock from just a pair ,the greenfiches  occasionally visit ,the gold crests are nesting and the assorted sparrows ,robins blue tits ,coal tits ,great tits etc all still visit while the woodpecker visits with its new mate.

The hedgehogs have all woken from hibernation.and for the first time we are seeing frogs in both the back and front garden.


unfortunately thus far they have only appeared at night so I am using a photo from wiki photo credit

Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak Image:MFB.jpgOwn work

The foxes have cubs this year and are just starting to let them stray out of the den and romp about in the back small patch of woodland behind out house.

The woodpecker has acquired a mate and the goldfinches are still regular visitors in much greater numbers than last year,all the bird clearly enjoy the new trees and shrubs hoping from one to the other our back hedge is usually full of sparrows and the gold crest is still in the conifer .

Bees are starting to appear as are the first butterflies ,the first to appear was a peacock butterfly several weeks back ,then the small whites and most recently the speckled wood butterfly

speckeld wood

Photo mine though from our last house as thus far this year I havent managed a photo of any butterflies.As far as garden design goes ,we were lucky enough to have the large shed taken down ,this has left a fairly decent sized flat patch at the top of the garden which I am planning to use for a hidden patio ,though it’s currently rather bedraggled looking .

top patioo from wodoland garden.png

I also planted  up a new hedge and made a curved bed which will eventually be a birch arbour,though it’s looking pretty grotty at present ,the back “soil” is odd ,I think its made of a several year old pile neat grass clipping and ideally I would have dug it all out but the elder tree and roses from the back field are growing into it and the ground is several feet higher at the back than in our garden so I scooped out as much as possible added decent soil and compost to a narrow little bed for indestructable plants such as the pink gernium and some periwinkle and put gravel and stones on the base I will add a plain planks bench and train the two sapling birches to make a curved arch which will cover it without growing anything into the dodgy dry mess at the back ,once I have some free chas I will add further layers of stone to cover the “soil”

future birch arbour.png

Our front garden is finally starting to fill out

front garden front wall spring.png

For more or less all these changes I have had to compromise and do things which I know are far from ideal.

For several reasons ,one probably common to most gardeners lack of spare money and for other reasons ,several of which are likely to be shared by some of my readers;

Lack of any transport other than public transport ,lack of  close by ,reasonably priced garden centres ,most importantly I don’t own either the house or its garden,though I plan to stay some time,I am conscious that anything spent on plantings is money that wont be retrieved and which I may never see the results of and as a rented property whatever is left behind must not need regular maintenance but still provide food and shelter for as much wildlife as possible.

Any changes that the landlord doesn’t like or which will be high maintenance must be easily removed by us when we leave ,hence flower beds in the front garden need to be removable so they are built over the top of a thick plastic membrane and could be scooped up and placed in planters then the spaces filled with gravel.Likewise back shrubs or trees need to be removable  and beds easily grassed over where needed.In the front this meant working with mostly gravel ,slate and tiny beds

front garden front wall spring

Lastly despite plans to stay  its possible that I wont see the results of any plantings even from winter to spring so even when we do have funds major spending has to be restricted to plants for pots .

Making  a flower or veg bed

In an ideal world this involves lots of hard work to create nice deep rich fairly wide beds lots of digging especially ,plus improving and enriching your soil, in our easy to remove front garden this is impossible.Even had we owned the house the front garden would be a problem ,its crisscrossed by assorted pipes are very close to the surface ,while the main water pipe runs along the top,deep digging ,beds that cover the pipes heavy paving slabs or anything too big ,anything deep rooting or permanent fixtures are all out .When we arrived it was just gravel.I figoured anything was better than nothing .

front garden


I got permission to make some narrow flower beds as long as they could be undone completely if needed .The new beds are certainly an improvement but follow none of the rules

front garden front wall spring

The beds are almost grow bags shallow plastic bottomed and narrow,they were made using some soil added with compost and bone meal ,fish and blood meal and coffee grinds which seems to produce quite good results but does mean that most plants cant put down deep roots and they need a lot of watering as theres only 18 inches of soil at most and in some parts less than a foot ,theres are some shrubs and roses that hug the hedge and will be allowed to stay and for which I cut holes into the plastic membrane but everything else had to rest in this shallow soil .The front side garden above  was created and planted up for less than £1oo which includes the slate chips compost and planter ,I used barerooted shrubs and bulbs and plants from bargain stores and took cuttings from the hydrangea ,fuchsia and flowering currant to use in other parts of the garden ,while using pink geraniums from the back for the front .The gardens now a regular spot for blackbirds ,gold finches sparrows ,hedgehogs and frogs ,its also the only part of the garden we havent restricted the foxes from .

Cheap bulbs and plants in bags

Most of my garden plants and bulbs and some shrubs are from discount stores or supermarkets often from their reduced corners.This is without doubt the less politically correct way to buy your garden bulbs plants and shrubs .All the books and gardening magazines ,gardening shows and radio programs advise against it and admitting to buying plants from poundland is probably akin to admitting you buy porn on the scale of moral decadance.I love to shop at a family owned garden centre with a huge range of excellent plants which are also very reasonably priced ,but its an hours drive when we don’t own a car ,its half a day and a hugely expensive trip  on public transport involving three trains and it would be impossible to bring home anything large and despite its very reasonable prices I could never afford to fill the new beds from it.

What we do have walking distance away are supermarkets and bargain  stores  which by contrast let me fill a new flower bed with 4 seasons of plantings  for under £10 Eg the front garden beds wich iincludes queen of the night tulips ,hyacinths ,dwarf and large  daffodiles  scented narcissus ,some dutch  iris ,gladioli and crocosimia plus 2 hostas and two hardy fuchsias  these were all not just from a bargain store but most came from its clearance section .I have rarely had bad results from bargain store bulbs usually most come up and look just as good as those I buy from garden centres .I bought snowdrops for the back  and side gardens for 5o p and didn’t really expect any to grow as snowdrops can be picky even when bought in the green but 3/4 came up and looked brilliant while the bargain tulips from our front drive side bed have come up twice looking great both times .The exceptions were some lily of the valley which never appeared and some Nerine bowendi which also never appeared ,,though it possible in both cases they were eaten buy snails or slugs before I noticed them as both were under shrubs in quite parts of the garden and often plants only get a couple of days before they are munched (I had a crown imperial fritillary in the Front garden which had put up a decent sized shoot before I checked one morning and it had been all but destroyed with just a tiny chewed up stump remaining )

The bagged up barefooted plants are more of a gamble with around 1/3 not doing anything or looking sorry for themselves .I had no coneflower or poppy come up and only one of the three phlox and lupins .However unlike potted plants they are easy to carry back from even the most distant store and very cheap from £30 of bagged bargain store plants I did get a clump of lupins healthy as any bought potted ones ,a very perky clump of phlox ,a green hosta which despite poor soil ,slug attacks and deep shade does fairly well 3 variegated  hostas which are forming decent sized clumps already in the woodland bed  and 7 peonies  all except one which gets dog trampled fairly often are doing well ,though none of which have flowered yet  as most peonies don’t like being moved its not unlikely that any potted peonies would have flowered in their first year .And some spiky purple plants the name of which escapes me .I have bought several bare rooted barins store roses ,all but one are doing very well and look no different to potted ones ,though they did need some cosseting ,In our last house one poundland Zerpherine Dourhin rose lasted 17 years and spread the whole length of our back fence which was in deep shade.The store bought pair £4 bargin corner apples are meanwhile doing fine though thy are are rather odd shape as I am training them as espalliers that doesnt really matter .

I tend to see all the bagged up store plants as the plant equivilent of battery hens ,they  have been abused ,are likely to be in poor condition and it make take time to get the same results you would get straight away from potted up garden centre plants.

Planters and the joys of plastic

As for bagged supermarket plants buying plastic planters seems to be frowned on from what amounts to pure snobbery.I buy a lot and they are great .I would like to have a collection of spansih and potruges pots ,hand thrown terractotta plant pots ,huge leaded planters ,half barrels,but then I would also love a Stoves gas range,a bean to cup coffee machine and an antique oak  kitchen dresser but I am not getting any of those any time soon so just as I put up with my electric cooker and use a caffetier instead of de longi coffee machine I look for the best planters in my price range and theres a lot to choose from many of which look as good as metal ,terracotta or stone for a tiny fraction of the cost .



Plastic fake terracotta pots are cheaper ,easier to move and need less watering ,I was very lukcy to find a number of hand thrown terracotta plant pots which look brilliant but do without a shadow of a doubt need more watering than my plastic ones and I have laready had losses ,while the dogs,squiresl and birds  can knock over a plastic pot with just some spilled soil ,the small terractotta ones often get cracked or broken .I am increasing my stock of terracotta plant pots because my main seedling area is at the front of the house so I wanted something more attractive but its at the cost of both more money and more time spent watering.

Plastic lead style and metal planters are even better much much cheaper ,much lighter and without the assorted problems of having plants baked by metal heated in the hot summer sun ,or frozen by chilled metal in winter.

I recently also found some amazing very cheap fake cast iron wall baskets and hanging baskets ,needing less heavy and intrusive wall mountings and again avoiding the metal heating up and drying out the compost problem.

Most useful of all are the cheap poundland or bargin stores planters in fake ceramic or terracotta or in assorted colours ,I use green ones which are easy to hide in grass or foliage to create changing plantings and buy the huge plastic ones for vegetables ,trees and the more slug vulnerable plants ,while the terracotta ones I mix with genuine terracotta planters.Probably my favourites where some shiny black deco style ones which I used ast our old house to make a patio on our garage roof

iona garage


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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