10 Tips to Help You Become a Student Gardener

Student Gardener

Being a fresher at university means you will find yourself bombarded by drinks offers, nightclub wristbands and pizza price-bundles, alongside discounts at retail outlets and restaurants. These are all well and good if you’re a very sociable person who loves drinking and pizza but I am neither of these. I find solitude in gaming, reading, writing, and most recently gardening.

In April, I moved out of my parents’ house into my first independent home which included a paved yard. When I found out from my landlady that she was happy to let me pull up the flags I was so happy, that I could make my boring yard into my very own little garden. So, through curiosity and guidance from family members and books, I now find myself sitting in a garden watching bees suck the nectar from my buddleias and tadpoles wriggling in my small pond.

I understand that gardening isn’t everyone’s cup of joe. But I find a certain comfort in the, often therapeutic hobby and as always, I spent this summer skint, so here’s an easy guide to making a garden of your own or just adding some green into your life without spending a shedload of money.


1. Need-to-Know Knowledge

Place That Plant

The first thing you need to do is find the right book. As I was working with an often-shaded patch of land I looked for guidance in “Place That Plant” by Frances Welland. This book is my bible. It basically explains which plants need more sunlight, which ones don’t need sunlight at all, which plants prefer climbing walls and which ones are best for bedding. It’s kind of like a dictionary for plants; it explains how tall they will grow, how far they spread and what time of year they bloom. Some pages are even colour co-ordinated for those of you who would like a colour scheme, which I chose to do I got this book for free because it was my grandmother’s, but you can grab it on Amazon for as little as £1.99.


2. Organising Your Garden

Gardening plan

For once you’ve chosen the types of flowers or plants you’d like, or even just the colour scheme you want to think of the seasons. Some plants bloom mostly in spring or summer, whereas others can be evergreen or burst with colour during the winter months. Personally, I have followed a white, purple and pink theme, with some yellows. Before planting anything, I chose where to place my plants and drew up a mock bird’s-eye view of my garden, I wrote on it where I wanted plants and when each one will bloom, so I could imagine the colours during seasons before I’d even planted them. You can organise your garden by drawing a plan with your bare hands, or get techy and make one on any creative software. I simply used Powerpoint: £0.00


3. Tools of the Trade

Gardening tools

From start to finish (there never really is a finish with gardening), you will often find yourself saying things like “I wish I had secateurs” because really, scissors aren’t good enough. Make sure that before you start gardening you have some basic supplies; I started with a 3 pack of gloves (Taskers), a trowel and a fork (B&M). But before you start buying, don’t forget to ask family members if they have any spare, you will not believe the amount of tools your granddad will have stored away in his shed. Two other really important tools you need are patience and motivation; lifting and moving is involved but you don’t need to be Superman to top soil a garden.

If you’re lucky enough, this step could come to you at no expense. However, this and the next step are probably the most expensive. eBay offers tools from as low as £1.39 and finding tool sets on Amazon is easy as pie.


4. Barter for Bargains

Don’t be taken aback when you go to your local B&Q and find out a small white hydrangea is £30. Take yourself to the sale section, or “end of season” clearance and watch the price drop in time with your jaw. Buying plants from end of season often means that they have already bloomed this year. But do not fear! If you’ve followed the first step, the plants and flowers you choose will most likely bloom again next year. Although some can look sad and droopy, this only means they need your attention, something they’re deprived off in a garden centre or shop, which has to cater to a plethora of plant-y needs. B&M, Home Bargains and sale sections will soon become your best friend.

I spent around £70 on my plants and soil, at my local Taskers, Bents and B&M. But since, I have found out that you can receive soil for FREE! Yes, zero cost. If you search on Gumtree “Free top soil” and your local area, there is often people replanting or re-landscaping their gardens and want to get rid of the old soil. I heard somewhere that councils can also give away a number of bags for those that need it, but I don’t know anything about eligibility (you may need to be on benefits). The only downside to the free soil is that it is almost always pick up only, so you might need a friend with a car and a favour. This section has no specific price range.


5. Make it a Project, NOT a Chore

gardening yard

If you like writing lists of what needs to be done and when, go ahead, but I often get frustrated if it takes me a while to get the list ticked off. By making your garden a project, you don’t feel so inclined to get things done by a deadline. I often find myself outside with a smoke, training my clematis and trimming the grass; it’s easier to get things done this way. Just go with the flow, but DON’T forget to water! Feeding your plants is really important, and for the more lazy gardeners, using “Slow Release Plant Food” works a dream. Simple sprinkle some by the roots of each plant when you top soil them, and water (but don’t drown). There is such thing as too much water, and your plants will let you know about it.

garden project

Here’s a kilo of plant food for £5, but if you want something smaller or cheaper, head over to the shops I mentioned in step 4.


6. Be Creative and Upcycle When You Can

Gardening trellis

My first port of call was to buy a trellis to train my wall climbers, I got two for £8 in B&M but you could literally use anything. I also used an old metal bookcase. I took it apart, painted it and weaved in some chicken wire. Chicken wire on its own can make for a cheap trellis, sedum trainers, gate and drain guards, recently I added some to my wall by using plastic cable clips. I nailed it into the brick in no time. Chicken wire is also a great tool for getting creative, it can cost as little as £5 for 10 meters and it is manipulated so easily. Be careful when cutting it though, I have found many nicks and bruises since starting my garden.

Finding some old furniture, bits of wood, metal, anything hardy, can make for easy landscaping or interesting designs. My next plan is to create an overhead trellis that I can hang my wind chimes from. Upcycling can cost you nothing, whereas buying some of your design materials can vary in price.


7. Make it Personal


This step is non-compulsory, however as your garden grows you will find yourself drawn towards making your garden your own. I’ve added Owl-shaped planters, stuck to dark wood edging and wall trellis; anything that is metal is painted white and I’ve always got something yummy outside for the squirrels. I use a decorative plant pot as an ashtray, and have a small handheld metal greenhouse with tomatoes and peppers in. Finding decorations for your garden can also be inexpensive, by using your own hands you can create. It sounds so cheesy but I’m a very arts-and-crafts kind of person, so making my garden more me was a lot of fun.


8. Learn How To Take Clippings

gardening climber

Knowing how to take clippings in a perfect skill to have and it costs you zilch. You can gain knowledge from family members or just by searching online. Whatever you do though, do not steal plants without permission. Taking a “clipping” or a “strike” is basically cutting off part of a plant that is already thriving, whether it is by the root or from a branch. Make sure you know what you’re doing as each plant gets its nutrients in different ways. Then you need to know how to integrate it into your garden, whether it’s by potting, planting or leaving it in water for a period of time. All of my clematis’ and honeysuckle have come from clippings and now they’re strewn across my walls like one of Jack’s French girls. Climbing plants are perfect for adding green to your bare walls and they need little to no attention.


9. The Veggie Life is a Green Life

Personally, I have never grown veggies, but purchasing small pots of peppers, tomatoes, basil, strawberries and other low growing edible plants can add great smells to your garden (or kitchen) and also cut down on your weekly shop. However, having an actual veggie patch can be very high maintenance and needs much planning as certain fruits and vegetables are seasonal. In this department, you will need to confide in a book or family member, because this is where my experience is flawed.


10. Stay Positive

Sometimes your plants might wilt, keep going. Sometimes your clippings wont take, keep going. Gardening is a process and not a task. Gardening is for life and not just for Christmas. Take time with your planting, think before you do, and don’t stress when things don’t go right, nature always sorts itself out. Life always finds a way.

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