Does gardening save you money? Well, it depends on what kind of gardener you are. Gardening can be an expensive hobby, if you're in to exotic plants, or a cheap hobby, if you shop farmers markets and pick up freebies from neighbors.
I do keep track of my gardening expenses so I know where the money goes. There are usually a few splurges each spring on a few new perennials, but those pay dividends down the road when those lily bulbs naturalize. To offset the cost of some fancy pants new plant, I do the math to figure out how much my vegetable garden produces.
Here are five ways I rationalize that my garden saves me money, both the quantifiable and the less tangible:
1. Vegetable gardens rock: If you figure one four-pack of basil from the farmers market costs about the same as one of those plastic packages of fresh basil leaves at the store, by the time you get to your fourth meal involving basil, you're definitely coming out way ahead. Plus, the basil in the store package goes bad quickly, while the plant outside stays fresh. One kale plant produces oodles and oodles of the equivalant of those plastic boxes you can buy at the store for more than $4. Packets of seeds are available for under a few bucks, and each time I go out to pick peas, I bring in fresh bounty that would fetch $3 at the farmers market. And being able to pick veggies at their peak when you're ready to use them cuts down on food waste.Yes, I know there are watering costs, but factored out over the summer, I definitely come out ahead, and eat healthier to boot.
2. Fitness regimen. Healthy eating may well save you on medical costs long term. And if you put your back into it, so to speak, you can skip the gym dues for the summer. If I ever really got my garden in shape, I'd get myself in shape, too. Weeding might not seem like a workout, but even my fitness fanatic husband acknowledges that yard work counts.
3. Gardens keep on giving. Naturalizing is just a pretty word for describing desirable plants that spread. That packet of oriental lily bulbs I splurged on 10 years ago? Double the coverage now. The mini "emerald isle" hosta collection I indulged in? I've divided it a couple times now, covering more of my gaps and using the extras to trade for some heirloom tomato seedlings, herbs and canna bulbs at the plant swap this year. The mallow I planted one of a decade ago may not always self sow in the places I want it to, but I just yank the ones I don't want and say thank you to the ones that I do. The price per unit comes down over the years, which is handy since not every perennial is a survivor.
4. Jumping off the hedonic treadmill. Humans supposedly keep needing more of everything to be happy: We quickly adapt to any increase in pay, new possessions, etc., and want more. Basically, new car smell only lasts so long. Put that up against the heavenly scent of a peony. Sure, the blossoms are fleeting each season, but the plants, as our grandmothers could tell us, will outlast us.Gardens help gratify our need for new things by providing fresh surprises each time you come around the corner: The peas are up! The delphinium are blooming! Oh, yeah, I planted a campanula there last year! With a ready supply of novelty, the need for newness is at least partially satisfied. To heck with new clothes; I'm just going to put on old ones to garden anyway.
5. It's cheaper than therapy. You may not always get tomatoes, depending on the weather and the squirrels, but the satisfaction of seeing reward for your efforts, and the tension-relieving benefits of garden work are worth a theoretical bundle. Plants really are good listeners. (Although the squirrels, not so much.)
How do you rationalize your garden costs? Do you figure you come out money ahead or do you care?