May 13

Thrifty Things To Do This Week – Get Outdoors And Grow Some Food

Week 2 – May 13th, 2019

It’s the second week of the month: if you can make the time, Try A New Free Or Cheap Activity and Grow Something.

When we moved into our current home we left behind two large gardens on which I had lavished new plants and a lot of love. Our new home had a garden three metres wide that featured concrete slabs broken up by pebbles mulching a single bed. It was not a promising start to a new eden. A sensible home-owner would have popped in some spring bulbs in pots and maybe a garden ornament and left it at that. I decided instead – because moving house with a change-resistant two year old wasn’t complicating my life enough – to dig the entire thing up and start over. And because that also wasn’t complicated enough, I decided to turn it into a forest garden. Yes, that is a thing. Follow the link to read the second installment of how I turned a concrete jungle into a tiny urban forest garden. If you are looking for a big Grow Something project this month, or a way to turn your existing garden into an ultra-low-maintenance, food-producing paradise, this could be just what you are looking for. If you are not… go to your nearest garden centre and buy some potted herbs. They are always useful and grow anywhere you can catch some sunshine.

If you want to get out in the sunshine (or, you know, just out) this week, take a look at Hands On As We Grow’s post on DIY land art. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s creative and it’s outdoors – what’s not to love? And if the sun is not smiling on you this week… take the kids to the movies. It’s educational (it teaches them how to behave in public places), guarantees you over an hour of sitting in the dark not answering questions or adjudicating sibling fights, and, if you do it right, does not need to cost much. Click here to read How To Go To The Cinema For Almost Nothing.

I will be back next week with a fresh Thrifty Habits Planner and ideas for making the most of gooseberries and (free!) elderflowers.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

April 8

Thrifty Things To Do This Week – Get Big Savings From A Tiny Garden

Week 2 – April 8th, 2019

It’s the second week of the month: if you can make the time, Try A New Free Or Cheap Activity and Grow Something.

It is Spring! Officially!! No matter what the view out your window might be telling you today… I used to find this a pretty blah month before I got into gardening. Now I notice all the tiny little signs of life around me with keen interest because they are the start of the countdown to gardening season. But they are also the sign that our lives are poised to expand back into the outdoors, after months cooped up inside. I need no encouragement to get outside but the Tartan Kids are a little harder to persuade. When Tartan Boy himself was very wee he needed no further persuasion than a scavenger hunt. He would do anything for a clipboard and a pencil. Tiny Tartan is a tougher nut to crack – he still gets the clipboard and pencil but he also gets a Smartie for each item on the list that he finds. Tartan Boy also gets one, which motivates him to help his little brother find some of the trickier items. Even in the great outdoors there is a place for bribery and corruption… You can find lots of different printable scavenger hunts for Springtime and beyond on the Tartan Thrifty Do Something board on Pinterest.

It’s time to start thinking about your garden if you have one, or your balcony, or even your windowsill. There is no space so tiny that you can’t grow something in it. A few years ago I set out to turn my very small concrete jungle into a tiny forest garden, so pretty you could eat it.  I spent several months building up layers, starting with trees and other tall structures to add height. The idea is to grow a garden that looks good enough to spend time in but that also saves you money by providing some food. In a patch our size it was never going to make us self-sufficient, but it could give us a lot of fresh herbs, and some fruit and  vegetables.

Since then, it has been flattened several times by winter storms, trashed by several months of building work inside the flat, then neglected while I devoted the next year to redecorating the flat. Even the worms in the worm bin turned up their tails and died during a temporary spell in a patch of sunlight. But the bones of it are still there – the trees took root, my perennials are pushing up through the soil as I speak and my herbs are thriving even though they do need a good trim. I am looking forward this summer to getting it back on track. What are your plans for your patch – however small – this year?

I will be back next week with a fresh Thrifty Habits Planner and a suggestion about how to use the shopping you have already done to save you money.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

May 9

Five Principles Of Thrifty Living #4 Be Joyful And Generous Not Miserly And Miserable

Why Do You Want To Be Thrifty?


retro lady fro www.thegraphicsfairy.comAre you reducing spending so you can avoid debt – and avoiding debt because debt makes you miserable? Maybe you want to cut spending on some areas so that you can keep your money for the things that make you smile. Or do you just want to kick that anxious feeling that gnaws at you for the last two weeks of every month? Whatever your reasons – it’s a safe bet you are hoping that a thriftier life will be a happier one.

Saving our finances should never cost us our souls

But what if the process of reducing your spending makes you miserable? What if it turns out that you hate permanent self-denial, feel bad about exploiting other people/other creatures/the planet for a bargain and hate the drudgery of constantly cutting costs? What if, in pursuit of living cheaply you become…  cheap?

What if the whole process turns out to be soul-destroying? Saving our finances should never cost us our souls.

Saving Money Without Selling Your Soul

Four of the five Principles Of Thrifty Living are about spending less. This one is different. It’s about exercising some choice over how you save money so you avoid the trap of putting your finances ahead of your wellbeing and your values.

Choose Joy Over Misery

RetroNewYearsGraphicsFairyFrugality has enormous potential to make us miserable – not least because focussing most of your time and attention on money is never terribly healthy. And cost-cutting that also cuts all the pleasure out of life is a waste of effort – we humans rapidly lose interest in doing things that make us miserable and stop doing them. (That’s why gym memberships when you hate going to the gym are always a doomed purchase.) If you want to make thrifty living an effortless habit you also have to find ways of making it a joy – or you will effortlessly fall into the habit of not bothering.

Click here for this week's free Thrifty Habits Planner
Click here for this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner

So find ways of saving money that also enrich your life. Grow some of your own food and enjoy a connection with the natural world. Make something you would otherwise buy and enjoy the glow of getting creative. Try a new free or cheap activity every so often and savour the variety in your life. Team up with other thrifters – in real life or online – and enjoy the company as well as the advice you get. Take time to applaud your own thriftiness – everything you do to cut your costs shows that you are resourceful, smart and determined so big yourself up for it.  Hold onto your values and do thrifty in a way that still lets you do you.

Choose Generosity Over Miserliness

The thrift that does not make a man charitable sours into avarice. [M.W. Harrison]

When you don’t have much there are two ways you can go. You can take the miser’s route – focus on what you don’t have and hold tightly onto what you do. Or you can take the generous way – focus on what you do have and use it to make yourself and others feel good. Being a miser may result in more money but it won’t make you rich where it really counts.

Tartan Thrifty Be Joyful And GenerousSo share what you can with other people, and take heart from the research suggesting that people who share their money feel happier than people who don’t. Don’t exploit other people to get the lowest price. Don’t exploit yourself either – by overloading yourself with budget-busting tasks or by endless self-denial. Be kind to yourself – buy yourself a little treat now and again. Don’t just set yourself savings goals – set yourself spending goals to focus on what your money is going to do for you. Find a balance between being careful with your money and being Scrooge.

Getting that balance right is the key to developing thrifty habits for the long-haul that truly make your life better.

Getting Into The Habit Of Being Joyfully And Generously Thrifty

These weekly, monthly and annual habits are the ones to get into if you want to embrace joyful generosity and avoid miserly misery.

Each week

  • how to buy happinessBuy yourself a little treat to keep your morale up

Each month

  • Share Something so your own thrifty journey does not stop you from connecting with other people on theirs
  • Grow Something  so you get food in a way that lowers your costs while raising your pleasure
  • Try A New Free Or Cheap Activity so that avoiding more expensive outings does not become boring

Each year

  • Set Savings Goals to remind yourself why you are trying to cut back your spending
  • Set Spending Goals so you are clear what your money will be doing for you over the next twelve months
July 6

Control Your Spending With A Free Thrifty Habits Planner For The Week Beginning Monday 6th July

Free Thrifty Habits Planner For The Week Beginning Monday 6th July

Regularly, Consistently, Habitually Thrifty

Thrifty Habits PlannerWe all want to know how to save money. After years of frugal living and not-so-frugal living I have come to the conclusion that the answer to the question of how to save money is… regularly, consistently, habitually.  It’s not just what thrifty tips you take on board, or how many money-saving ideas you pin to a Thrifty Living Pinterest board – it’s how easy it is to make those money-saving tips into regular, almost mindless habits.  We all spend without thinking:  my aim on Tartan Thrifty is to save money without thinking, to make thrifty living second nature. Because, the less effort you put into living well for less, the more likely you are to keep it up.  So here is the Thrifty Habits Planner I print off and stick up in the kitchen each week – yours to download for free and customise to fit in with your life.  I hope it helps you become regularly, consistently, habitually thrifty too.

This Week’s Habits

It’s time to grow something and to try a new free activity. As I am on holiday the only thing I am actively growing this week is my waistline. Orkney Creamery ice-cream is very, very good… If you want inspiration to grow something of your own, try my Pinterest Grow Something board. Much better for the figure.

How To Use The Thrifty Habits Planner

Click here to download your free copy of this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner. You can look up each habit in The Thrifty Habits in the sidebar to the right for more information.

Look at the Weekly & Monthly/Annual Thrifty Habits.  Decide which day suits you best for each one and pencil it in on that day. When you have done it, tick it off.  Pause for a moment to enjoy the little fizz of smugness this creates.

Got any thrifty ideas of your own?  Add them – and remember to comment about them here so I can steal them admire your cleverness.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Then bin this week’s planner and come back to Tartan Thrifty for next week’s planner.  I will post it on Monday 13th July.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyClick here to read my latest post Bere Meal Bread – Prehistoric Comfort Food

June 30

Growing Money On Trees, Or How I Turned A Concrete Jungle Into A Tiny Urban Forest Garden: Part 3

Making The Most Of My Frugal “Forest Floor”

arch in a tiny gardenI have reached the end of planting my little forest garden – the canopy and shrub layers are in and its time to make the ground multi-task for me by squeezing in low-growing plants beneath them and sending climbers up through them.


cosse violetteshiraz peasA climber clinging to the wall of your home could become the biggest plant in the garden. So I want mine to deliver in looks as well as taste. Runner beans and climbing french beans have flowers not unlike a sweet pea (not terribly surprisingly) and I have hedged my bets by planting Cosse Violette and regular red-flowered runner beans for a nice mix of flower colours. I have done the same with peas, mixing regular white-flowered sugar snaps with port-purple Shiraz mange tout.

oregon thornlessThe beans will grow over one of my two arches. Over the second arch I am growing a decorative bramble. What I actually want is a grape vine. This is because what I really want is to live in a little cottage somewhere mediterranean. Facing up to the fact that I live in a cool and rainy city I gave up on the grapes. A vine would certainly grow here, and produce lovely leaves. I am not convinced it would produce sweet fruit that we can eat raw. And cooked grapes don’t float my boat. So instead I planted an Oregon Thornless blackberry. This also produces pretty leaves not entirely unlike a grape vine in shape, which turn a lovely colour in autumn. If I screw my eyes up till everything goes blurry I might be able to imagine that the purple fruits hanging from the arch are grapes. I may even try making a traditional bramble wine with them! And we will be able to eat them raw – sweet but with a hint of mouth-puckering sourness. The taste of my childhood autumns.

mini kiwiHaving been sensible about grapes I have thrown caution to the wind, rain and short Scottish summers and purchased a mini kiwi fruit vine that will grow grape-sized, smooth-skinned little kiwi fruit. (Possibly.) This is partly because we like proper fuzzy kiwi fruit and there is no way I would manage to grow them here and partly because I am just intrigued to find out if they taste good.

mini kiwi fruit by Tartan ThriftyI am treating it like a clematis, planted in the shade at the back of my herbs with the balcony rails to twine up and over-run in time. In my head it is going to be just like the terrace of my imaginary mediterranean cottage, twined with white grapes. At present it has three tiny little green marbles clinging gamely to its skinny branches so I am hopeful of at least a couple of fruit this year.

My newly-planted trees I took pity on – I will give them a couple of years to settle in before I use them to host climbing and twining plants. Seems only fair.


312FvLhR-qL._SY90_I have my doubts about how much money growing your own vegetables can save you but no such doubts about herbs. There is no thrifty foodstuff so humble that herbs can’t make it taste fabulous. It’s a waste of money, if you have any bare earth at all, not to grow herbs. We had all the regulars – bay, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, chives –  already. (Yes, some of those are shrubs – I don’t quite get how this bit of forest gardening works…) This year I have added coriander in the balcony baskets, tarragon in a pot and lovage. By next year we are also hoping to have Sweet Cicely, a pretty, ferny-leaved little plant with mild aniseed-flavoured leaves that is excellent with gooseberries and rhubarb or chopped into egg dishes, and which self-seeds in shady corners. What I have right now is Sweet Cicely seeds. I have sprinkled them around to see where the little plants grow most happily but they will need a winter in the ground to stimulate them into growth next spring.

lovageLovage is a herb I cannot recommend strongly enough. It grows to about a metre tall and is content in less sunny areas than the mediterranean  herbs. Mine is tucked in behind the rhubarb. It looks a bit like a giant celery and has a lovely lemony-celery-curry-something-else-I-can’t-put-a-finger-on flavour. It makes cheap ingredients taste amazing and requires no maintenance at all. You don’t get much from it in its first year but from the following year on it is your dependable garden friend, always there when you need help in the thrifty kitchen.

Other Herbaceous Plants

strawberry plug plants in balcony basket51m7Ay3JweL._SY355_Strawberries:  they taste delicious, are just the right size to pop into a lunch box as a treat, are easy to grow and they make lots of little baby plants for free. How thrifty is that? But I know from experience that, without netting, they will all be eaten by birds. And by the slugs and snails which regard my garden as their fridge. As a compromise I have planted trailing strawberries with bright pink flowers in the sides of my balcony baskets. I am hoping they will be inaccessible to the snails and too close to the humans for the birds. I suspect I might be kidding myself on both counts… I have gone for tiny plug plants because they are cheaper and easier to insert into the sides of a coir growing basket. By the end of the summer, hopefully, they will have bushed out.

download (1)I already had a rhubarb plant. It was not happy where it was so I have moved it. This makes it difficult for me to persuade you that rhubarb is the world’s easiest plant to grow and will produce tasty stems pretty much anywhere you plant it. All I can say is that other people seem to be able to grow rhubarb pretty much anywhere they plant it… The moral of that story is make sure it gets a little light but don’t waste a prime position on it. And avoid the kind of stony soil I planted mine in originally. I have stuck it towards the back of a bed so it can provide a lush, dramatic background to other plants. If it grows this time.

seeds and stonesAnnual plants – like salad leaves, courgettes, tomatoes, etc – are the mainstay of a traditional kitchen garden but annuals grow less happily in a forest garden.   They need space and sunshine and forest gardening limits both for low-growing plants. So as a compromise I planted trailing cherry tomatoes and peppers, salad leaves, annual herbs and baby carrots in my balcony baskets and containers. Then I went nuts and planted annuals in among my newly planted shrubs anyway by sprinkling a mixture of seeds. Here’s my excuse: the seeds together came to only a few pounds. If I get enough to make five salads out of all that I will at least have covered my costs. And they will cover the ground to keep weeds in check while I wait for the perennial plants to spread out.

Ground-Cover Plants

Christmas-Fairy-Image-GraphicsFairy-597x1024Alpine strawberries. You start with just one, cheap plant – and then lots of little plants appear on wiry little runners around it. The next year they grow their own runners. Within three years they are everywhere. Their little leaves stop stray weed seeds finding their way to the earth beneath. Their pretty little white and yellow flowers brighten even the dullest corners of the garden all summer long. And each plant produces handfuls of tiny, sherbety fruits. If fairies grew strawberries, this is what they would grow.

alpine strawberry plug plantsThe thrifty trick is to buy just a few plants, make a little hole in the ground, and pop a plant in its pot into the hole. It will draw moisture from the soil so you can ignore it unless you have a drought. By the end of the summer it will have put out little runners in the soil around it. Next spring, snip the stems attaching it to the runners, lift it and replant it elsewhere in the garden. You can’t keep this up indefinitely but each potted plant should manage a couple of summers before it needs to be removed from its pot and planted properly. Thriftier still is to beg some stray runners from a gardener who already has them.

fruit-straweberries-beetons-graphicsfairy005aI am ahead of the game with alpine strawberries, having stuck in a couple two years ago. They are the only officially ground-covering plant I plan to grow in the hope that they will draw all the other bits of planting together and unify the look of the garden. That’s just a cover story: they are the only ground-cover plant I plan to grow because we love eating their dinky fruit. Simple as.


retro-mom-worry-images-Graphics-Fairy004So am I living in a lush forest festooned with frugal fruit and veg? Not yet but I have moderately high hopes for next year. As for this year… I have a garden that looks nice, that came in (just) within the budget I had set for a decorative garden, but with the distinct potential to give us a steady drip feed of food to supplement our grocery budget. That’s good enough for me.


Affiliate Links:  please note that this post contains affiliate links to products at Amazon UK.  This means that if you click on my link and buy the product, a small percentage gets paid back to me. Alternatively, you can look up the same product on Amazon independently and none of your payment comes to me.  Or you can find a similar product elsewhere.  Or win maximum Thrifty Points by not buying anything at all….  It’s your money, your choice



June 8

Growing Money On Trees, Or How I Turned A Concrete Jungle Into A Tiny Urban Forest Garden: Part 2

A Feast For The Eyes And Free Food For Our Bellies

Choosing Shrubs For An Urban Forest Garden

640px-Forgard2-003I have started to change my tiny front yard into an urban forest garden full of free food. That’s an ornamental garden in which every square foot of earth is expected to grow at least two plants, in layers stacked one above the other. A garden that looks pretty and is a pleasure to spend time in but also produces free food for my frugal kitchen. Last month I created my “canopy layer” by planting trees, building two arches and sizing up the potential of all my walls and railings for supporting climbers. Next up is the shrub layer beneath it.

I want some soft fruit that will fit into the spaces left below my new trees and arches; fruit that won’t get eaten by the birds faster than we can pick it – without ugly netting; fruit that will look reasonably pretty; that is fairly low-maintenance  and that will produce food over as many weeks as possible. Here’s what I finally settled on.

Fine Foliage, Flowers And Frugal Fruit – The Final Cut For My Urban Forest Shrub Layer


plants4less sambucus nigra“Black Lace” is easy to grow, produces striking blue-black, feathery foliage and frothy pink flowers with a sherbet smell, followed by berries. The berries I will mix with my crab apples for an autumnal jelly. The flowers I will use to make (pink?) elderflower champagne. You know, when I figure out how it’s done.


raspberry valentina from Thomson And Morganraspberry 'all gold' from Olive Grove on AmazonRasps are tasty and easy to grow, but birds love the red berries. I am hoping that the apricot and yellow berries from a little thicket of “Valentina” and “All Gold” will escape their attention.  “All Gold” is an autumn-fruiting variety, to extend the number of weeks we can eat fresh raspberries.

Blueberry “Top Hat”

blueberries from j parker I had intended to pop in a hebe for its foliage. I have replaced that plan with a dwarf blueberry. It will give lovely foliage colour in autumn and a handful of fruit every few days over several weeks. Enough to pop in lunch boxes and pancakes.

Dwarf Peach

peach crimson bonfireI was planning on planting a smoke bush for it’s lovely purple foliage. But then I spotted this gorgeous purple-leaved “Crimson Bonfire” peach. It is a dwarf tree, so fits into the same vertical space as a shrub. And it is a standard (a lollipop-shaped tree or shrub) which means that I can grow other plants beneath it.

Japanese Quince

chaenomelesI have planted this low-maintenance chaenomeles against a low wall, partly for pretty flowers in springtime, and partly to make fragrant jelly from the little quince-flavoured fruits. They are easy to grow and come with flowers of red, pink or white. Good news if you have a not-very-promising spot in your garden; bad news if you are working a strict yellow and blue colour-scheme.


"Brown Turkey" figI have an awkward corner – a square space tucked in the lee of two walls, with paving on the other two sides. The soil is not deep and anything substantial will struggle to spread its roots very widely. I have never grown a fig before, but all the experts say that the way to deal with these handsome plants is to restrict their roots severely so they grow lots of fruit. I am taking a punt on my tricky corner being perfect for a fig. If nothing else, it will at least provide privacy. If all goes to plan, it will also provide us with FREE FIGS!! Thrifty score!

Although I have provided links to buy a fig at Amazon, I have to advise you to check out your local supermarket first – both Morrisons and Asda are selling Brown Turkey figs right now for a few pounds a plant. They are the same size as mine and in the same glossy condition. Bargain.


red gooseberryI have planted two bushes – a green fruiting one for crumbles and preserves, and a red fruiting one that will (theoretically) give us fruit we can eat fresh. I suspect the red ones will catch the birds attention. With that in mind I am growing it between the garden bench and the edge of the balcony, in the hope that the amount of traffic both areas see from us will scare them away. If not… I like birds.

I am wall-training the gooseberries by pruning out any branches that grow towards the wall or directly away from it. sleeping+beauty+vintage+image+gfairy2I used this method to grow gooseberries in my last garden. “Grow” is a euphemism for “stick in the ground and never feed or water again”. They produced kilos of fruit every year, and the wall-training made it a good deal easier to pick the fruit without pricking my fingers. Although, had I pricked my finger, I might have fallen into an enchanted summer slumber from which a handsome prince would eventually have awoken me with a kiss… A wasted opportunity.

The Next Stage

So that’s all my shrubs and trees in place. I now know how much support I have for climbers, and how much soil-space I have left over for herbaceous plants. And, although the proof of the food forest is in the eating, I am beginning to feel like this is, maybe, possibly, going to work. Time to finish planting.



May 16

Growing Money On Trees, Or How I Turned A Concrete Jungle Into A Tiny Urban Forest Garden: Part 1

Free Food From My Garden: Start At The Top And Work Down

DSCN0029I blogged recently about my plan to get free food from our tiny urban front garden using forest gardening principles to create a pretty and productive garden. When we started turning our concrete jungle into a garden three years ago, my first priority was to create a layout that maximised the space.  I wanted a lawn, a herb garden, some fruit and veg beds, a children’s play area, maybe a shed… in a tiny space. Oh, and kerb appeal. And privacy.

boring gardenI knew careful planning was required so I carefully planned it on paper. And as a result, the garden now feels… two dimensional. A flat space, with no shelter from the sun on hot days. It needs vertical features to increase the sense of space; it needs vertical features to provide the canopy layer that will provide tree fruit, attract birds, give us shade, and provide variation in light level to support lower growing plants, as well as giving support for climbing plants.

So I plant lots of trees, right? Easy!

Not so much. The garden wall is only 3 metres from the flat – I don’t want to plant trees close enough for their roots to damage the building, or plant so many that they block out all sunlight from the plants below. Or from our windows, come to that.  So my trees need to go along the garden wall, with enough distance between them to let some light through once they fill out. Realistically, that means two tree. Hardly a forest. Clearly I need other ways of growing up.

Forest Gardening Without A Forest

Vertical Garden Structures

arch in a tiny gardenI decided to copy Lia Leendertz, who treats vertical structures in her urban forest garden as tree substitutes. I put in vertical supports in the form of two arches and a couple of obelisks, and will exploit the structures that are already there by training plants on the walls of the building and up the rails of the balcony. This means screwing vine eyes into the walls – I was a little apprehensive about this as I have never drilled into masonry before but apparently it just involves screwing directly into the mortar between the bricks. Tartan Towers will probably still be standing when I am finished…

Buying Fruit Trees

Malus "Laura" dwarf crab appleI have now added three trees. (Not two – no self-control!). I want small trees that will give a little privacy, provide fruit for us to use, and also attract birds into the garden by providing them with food and perching space. My original plan was to use fruit trees like plums and apples. But we reckon the pleasure of watching the birds is as important to us as getting food for ourselves. So I chose a rowan and a red-flowered hawthorn to give us berries for jelly and pretty flowers and to attract wildlife, and a naturally dwarf crab apple ‘Laura’ that sits in a tricky corner and will not grow too wide or overly tall.  It is already producing pretty pink blossom and will hopefully produce lovely mauve-skinned crab apples. Why sour crab apples instead of a proper eating apple?  I reckoned one apple tree would not come close to providing the amount of apples we get through.  But a single crab apple tree will keep us in herb, hedgerow, elderberry, sloe and bramble jellies because of the apple’s pectin content. I am still wondering if I could fit in one more eating fruit tree though… As I said, no self-control.

boxed treesI bought my trees from Mail Order Trees  They have a wide range, and in particular a range of trees with short height and narrow spread – very important in my tiny garden. Plants were lifted straight from the ground and dispatched immediately which meant they were much cheaper than pot-grown trees from my nearest garden centre. The trees arrived quickly, packed in impressively sturdy boxes and in excellent condition.

Adding Vertical Structures On The Cheap

I was more thrifty with my arches, getting them for £9.99 in Aldi.  That’s significantly cheaper than adding height with another tree, but less thrifty than re-purposing old wood to make my own.  In such a small space, though, a visually delicate structure will feel less cluttered. I also bought obelisks – and these, I admit, were a mistake. They came from Aldi so were cheap, and look perfectly nice but there are tall hazel suckers coming up from my corkscrew hazels and I could have cut these out and made simple plant supports with them. Frugal fail.

Laying The Groundwork For Free Food

worm binGetting the soil right is essential if my little spot of earth is to support layers of productive growth above it. And my soil isn’t right yet. Bags and bags of topsoil and the painstaking removal of bricks and shale have done a lot to improve it but it still needs a lot of organic matter. I am currently paying for compost and pelleted chicken manure. At the same time, weekly, we throw out straw and droppings from our guinea pigs’ hutch, not to mention all our vegetable peelings. So we have bought a small worm bin from Argos to make our own compost with this waste. Initially this is a big outlay but should, in a few years, pay for itself in improved yields.

So now my “canopy” is in place. It’s time to turn my attention to choosing shrubs to underplant it with.


Affiliate Links:  please note that this post contains affiliate links to products at Amazon UK.  This means that if you click on my link and buy the product, a small percentage gets paid back to me. Alternatively, you can look up the same product on Amazon independently and none of your payment comes to me.  Or you can find a similar product elsewhere.  Or win maximum Thrifty Points by not buying anything at all….  It’s your money, your choice

April 3

Forest Gardening – How To Grow A Garden So Pretty You Could Eat It

Forest Fruits – The Easy Way To Get Free Food From An Urban Garden?

What Is Forest Gardening?

eastyondertonI first came across the idea of Forest Gardening a few years ago when I read this article about Lia Leendertz’s back garden.  The idea comes from agriculture, but not agriculture as we usually know it – vast, mono-cultured fields in neat rows divided by bare earth.  No, a forest garden is based on those diagrams of the rainforest I remember drawing back in S2 Geography. On one patch of earth you will find a canopy of tall, spreading plants, with shorter trees beneath them, and shrubs beneath those. Under the shrubs will be low-growers, and crawling up through them all will be the climbers.

640px-Forgard2-003Forest gardening aims to recreate that way of using a patch of soil but with every plant producing a crop of one kind or another – so the canopy might be fruit trees, the shrubs might be currant bushes, underplanted with herbs and perennial vegetables like rhubarb.  Under the herbs could be alpine strawberries keeping the ground covered densely enough that annual weeds can’t settle there.  And climbing up through them all would be beans, peas and squashes.

Gardner-vintage-image-Graphics-FairyTraditional gardening is about patrolling boundaries – the right plants in the right beds, bare earth for easy weeding between the plants, plants in neat rows so you can run a hoe quickly between them, insects and pernicious weeds sprayed firmly away… Forest gardening is about directing growth and otherwise letting plants do their thing naturally.  There is no digging (breaks down the soil structure), no weeding (your ground-cover plants deal with that), and no pesticides because the micro-system you create keeps itself in balance.  Uh-huh – and if you believe that….

An Accidental Forest Garden

Tartan Boy ClimbingI kind of do believe that, and here’s why – my ornamental garden in my old house accidentally became a forest garden. Not because I understood the theory but because I am really greedy. Every time I went near a garden centre I brought more plants home and had to squeeze them in under the existing shrubs and trees with which I had already (over) planted the garden.  I did weed a lot, because the ground cover plants didn’t so much catch my eye and I never planted them. Big mistake.  But I never removed pests because the birds and beneficial insects did that for me.  And I mulched it once a year and did no digging or fertilising or other feeding. It was a pleasure to be in – a slightly wild little clearing all to ourselves. So, yes, I think it might be possible to have a garden that more or less takes care of itself.  Maybe. Is it possible for it to also look presentable? Well, presentable is quite a subjective word…

Can I Turn An Urban Yard Into A Productive Forest Garden?

download (3)That garden is history and I am now working with this.  Not such a paradise, huh? Our new ‘garden’ consisted of a rectangular bed mulched with pebbles and surrounded by old cement paving slabs. In our first year we dug up the slabs that made up most of the ‘garden’, and the layer of shale below them, and the closely packed bricks below that. We used the bricks to edge beds and a tiny lawn, and the pebbles to make a path.  The shale we mostly dumped.  The soil beneath was dead so we added a lot of topsoil and compost. The two thirsty conifers we chopped down to make way for a path.

imagesI say ‘we’ like I am CEO of Tartan Horticultural Enterprises, with a team of diggers on board.  I actually mean me.  I did all the digging myself.  I hauled buckets of shale and smashed up big cement slabs. And then I ran out of enthusiasm… For two years. But I am back up to full steam again and ready to finish planting my garden.  I want the Tartan Weans to have somewhere fun to play without worrying about stepping on the plants. I want an outside space that looks lovely so we can enjoy sitting in it.  I want my neighbours to enjoy walking past it on their way in and out the building.  But I also want it to save us some money by growing produce. Is that too much to ask of a concrete box 7 by 3 metres?

Retro-Kids-Gardening-GraphicsFairy2Well, I think Forest Gardening could be the perfect solution for tiny urban gardens like mine, (grown by greedy, erratic, lazy gardeners like me).  Granted, it won’t provide the same high yields as if I filled it with raised beds and used them to grow neat rows of carrots and cabbages. But it might give me the kind of child-friendly, pretty garden I want with the additional benefit of some food we would otherwise have to pay for – without becoming a chore I resent. Watch this space…

Want to explore the idea yourself? Here are some good starting points.

Want something more hardcore than the Forest-Lite approach to urban gardens I am dabbling with? One couple’s journey from empty field to productive forest garden is described here. Or read about how one family turned their average urban backyard into a forest garden in a year here.

perennial vegI have no trouble understanding the idea of permanent plantings for fruit and herbs – an apple tree, some raspberry canes, rhubarb, sage and rosemary, and so on – but the idea of veg that doesn’t need to be sown each year is more unfamiliar to me. An introduction to Anni Kelsey’s perennial veg garden is available here or you can delve into Anni’s own blog about her garden at Anni’s VeggiesBackyard Larder has a good list of perennial vegetables to get you thinking. Or you could splash out on this book, as I am (unthriftily) considering doing…


HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyClick here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner.


Affiliate Links:  please note that this post contains affiliate links to products at Amazon UK.  This means that if you click on my link and buy the product, a small percentage gets paid back to me. Alternatively, you can look up the same product on Amazon independently and none of your payment comes to me.  Or you can find a similar product elsewhere.  Or win maximum Thrifty Points by not buying anything at all….  It’s your money, your choice

September 17

Make Thrifty Use Of Your Garden Trimmings: A Herbal Wreath For Christmas And Beyond

Herbs:  The Frugal Gardener’s Go-To Plants

Gardner-vintage-imageHerbs – as long as you don’t have to buy them – are one of the big players in thrifty cooking, adding flavour to cheap ingredients.  They are also big players in the garden – happy in average soil, content in containers on balcony or windowsill,  cheap to purchase as young plants, providing colour and shape year-round and bringing the garden alive with bees and butterflies.  They definitely satisfy my Tartan Thrifty Ground Rules.

IMG_2251Shrubby herbs (bay, rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender) require very little maintenance – a trim in spring and autumn keeps them in shape and provides lots of flavourful young leaf growth.  I have just trimmed mine and am left with huge bunches of bay, rosemary, sage and thyme – which are definitely NOT going on the compost heap!  I am going to dry them for use in the winter kitchen – and at the same time create a festive wreath to decorate in December.

How To Turn Your Garden Trimmings Into A Thrifty Herbal Wreath

IMG_2244To start you need a twiggy wreath base.  I have been using mine for years so consider this an investment buy.  Better still, if you have larger twig and branch trimmings from your garden make your own using this instructional from moderncountrystyle.

IMG_2253Take your first stem of rosemary and push the stalk into the base.  Push in a second about an inch along and bend it over the first to hold it in place.  Push in a third just past their meeting point and bend it over the second.  Keep going, weaving the stems together for a neat finish.  Don’t worry about making it perfect – a bit of imperfection adds to the charm.  When the circle is complete, use smaller stems to criss-cross over any unruly stems.

Next weave bay stems into the outside of the base.  I started with two stems crossing each other in opposite directions at the top.  (And cheated by tying them down at the back with a piece of string.)

IMG_2259Now, fill the centre of the wreath with sage.  I find this less easy to weave with as its stems are softer than the other two herbs.  I use shorter stems and simply poke them in randomly to fill the space. I finish off with little bunches of thyme pushed straight into the base.  Alternatively, you could bundle all your herbs into little bouquets garnis and tie these all over your wreath.  It depends how you like to use your herbs in the kitchen as much as on how your want it to look.  At this stage the wreath looks messy.  That’s fine because as it dries it will shrink inwards.

IMG_2261Finally tie a piece of string across the back of your wreath and hang it, face down, somewhere dark and dry.  I have mine above the boiler to speed the drying process.  Drying it upside down will avoid a droopy look to your finished wreath.

That’t it.  Come December you can take out your fragrant wreath and decorate it with ribbons, baubles – whatever takes your fancy.  And in January, ditch the decorations and hang up the wreath in your kitchen to keep you in dried herbs right through to the spring.  Not bad for garden waste!

June 12

Grow Something: Pea Shoots On The Kitchen Windowsill

IMG_9619It’s been a month since I introduced the Grow Something habit.  I decided to start with pea shoots.  A bag of supermaket pea shoots costs at least a pound.  A bag of  seed peas specially bred for shoots cost me just over two quid.  They contain enough peas to keep us in shoots for years.  And they claim to give fast results – first harvest in just 3 weeks.  (Actually, according to Vertical Veg, I didn’t even need to buy special seed peas –  cooking peas are fine.  When my special peas from the gardening centre finally run out, I will raid the kitchen cupboard.)

I’m going to level with you:  I wasn’t full of hope.  If pea shoots cost that much to buy,  I figured, surely it’s because they are tricky to grow?

IMG_9465Tiny Tartan did all the work.  We started by filling a seed tray with compost (any container a couple of inches deep will do).  Tiny Tartan sprinkled peas on the surface of the compost and then covered them with a second layer.  Then he watered them and put them on the not-very-sunny kitchen windowsill. In a matter of days he could see green shoots cautiously lifting the surface of the compost, then poking through, before gradually unfurling their first little seed leaves.  He took great pleasure in checking their progress and watering them every day.

IMG_9626After three weeks the shoots were 6 inches tall and ready to eat.  Tiny Tartan took a little bit of persuading at this point but eventually agreed to chop the tops off them if we left the rest behind for him to keep growing.  (Which is fine:  they will continue to produce tips for us to harvest for several more weeks.)

IMG_9625We cooked a batch of gnocchi and flaked some lemon and parsley smoked mackerel fillets from Aldi.  Then we tossed the gnocchi and fish with chives from the garden, butter and a generous handful of oatmeal before we added the pea shoots.IMG_9630  Boiled potatoes tossed with butter and oatmeal is a traditional Scottish accompaniment for fish.  Sounds odd, tastes awesome.   Try them with whole smoked mackerel and a green salad.  We were too impatient to wait for potatoes to boil, hence the gnocchi.   It was delicious.  Tiny Tartan  was very proud of himself for having grown the whole family’s dinner.