When I was six months pregnant with Tartan Boy we moved house. The next day Tartan Dad woke to find me and Tartan Bump carving out beds from the lawn with a trowel and hastily unpacked carving knife. The nesting instinct takes us all in different ways, I told him. Anyway, growing our own will save us money. Won’t it?
By the time we moved out I had a herb garden, salad beds, gooseberry bushes and currants of every hue. I had a raspberry cage: not one berry ever escaped but birds and squirrels regularly broke in. I grew beans and beats, peas and potatoes. Courgettes and rhubarb constantly battled to expand their territories. We had a strawberry bed and an evil bramble plant (Bedford Giant: the clue was in the name). It required SAS intervention to remove it when we began to feel like we were living in The Sleeping Beauty but the fruit was nice and nearly as big as the thorns.
I loved my garden and regret not one moment that I spent in it and on it. The money I spent on it is another matter entirely.
I am not convinced growing our own saved us much money. Some things didn’t grow: trial and error is an inevitable part of gardening. That’s fine because learning was part of what I was paying for when I started gardening. But if cheap food is your aim, onions grown by a farmer who knows his onions (sorry) are cheaper than taking three summers to work out why your garden is the wrong place to grow them. And no matter how easily I grew carrots or main crop potatoes in my garden, they never worked out cheaper than the economy ones in the supermarket.
On the other hand, buying new potatoes was never as delicious as digging them up and eating them within the hour. Ditto broad beans and sugar snap peas. Tiny, sweet,perky courgettes straight off the bush are a different vegetable from the supermarkets’ fat, flaccid torpedoes. Any vegetable whose sugars turn rapidly to starch as soon as they are picked is going to taste much better straight from your garden. So home-grown can be better value, even if not cheaper, than shop-bought. And when it comes to produce money could not buy you in the shops, home-grown is priceless.
Then there are the crops which remain cheaper to grow than to buy: for the cost of one bag of prepared salad leaves, for example, I can grow a whole summer’s worth from seed. And there are other benefits to gardening. Creating a nice outdoor space to relax in. Giving your children the opportunity to learn about the natural world, to understand where food comes from. Exercising outdoors. Feeling connected to the great cycle of life. Attracting wildlife. A creative outlet. Something to do of an evening. All of these things are worth paying for – but you need to be clear about how much they are worth to you. And budget accordingly.
So here I am, 11 years on. My big garden has been replaced by a tiny urban garden and a balcony. My convenient bump has been replaced by two busy boys. I no longer have the time or the space or the money for extravagant gardening experiments: everything I grow has to bring us pleasure or save us money. And in spite of all the money I wasted (?) on my last garden, I do believe it is possible to Grow Something and save money. This time, though, I will be sticking to my own Ground Rules to get the best return for my money and time. What will you be growing this year?