runner beansI get so cross when I hear people spreading misinformation designed to make gardeners give up or, worse still, to deter would-be vege growers from ever starting their own plot. One particularly common piece of nonsense is that growing veges isn't cheap. " By the time you've paid for everything you need," say the spoilers, " you'd be better off buying what you want at the supermarket". How ridiculous! I can count on one hand the number of trips in a year I make to the garden centre ā€“ and that's because, apart from finding much of my garden paraphernalia at the dump-shop, I also grow or gather almost everything I need.

Expensive frost or shade cloth isn't necessary when a bracken patch is within walking distance of the garden. Light to lay over plants, sticks of bracken protect young plants from freezing temperatures or scorching sun and, when no longer required, can be simply added to the compost pile. My willow trees (I grow basket willows because of their long, straight branches) are pliable yet strong enough to serve as hoops which, when their ends are pushed into the ground, form the framework for a plastic cloche. They also make excellent pegs for holding down plastic or netting. Willow also serves as the framework for tripods for climbers such as peas and beans. Used fresh, willow will sprout and continue to grow so that, at the end of the garden season, the wands can be pulled and replanted. Dried flax caddies, wired together, also serve as frameworks for climbers and I am forever gathering them from the flax "hedge" which shelters much of my vegetable garden.

At the bottom of my section, where the leaves don't annoy me as they blow off, I have two sturdy cabbage trees. Their dried leaves are a constant source of "string" which I use to tie up of plants. Longer lasting than flax (Maori preferred cabbage tree to flax in the making of sandals) I usually get a good couple of years service from a piece of cabbage tree string. I also grow a plot of bamboo from which I harvest stakes for tomato and cucumber plants, or use as supports in the flower garden.

Lucky enough to own a hectare or two just down the road, I grow a plot of comfrey which I pick to add to the liquid fertilizer barrel (I'd like to have comfrey closer to home but its invasive nature puts me off). On the same piece of land, I have a stand of manuka which is excellent for making gates which are both decorative and also useful for keeping the chooks out of the garden. When I require mulch, I head for the neighbour's pine tree to gather needles. And, fortunate to have the space, my two lovely donkeys provide all the manure the garden needs. Having said that, however, I once knew a gardener with limited space who kept several rabbits in his backyard to fill the same niche!

So, where's the expense in all of this? The answer is, there isn't any. And how much more satisfying, not to mention convenient, it is to gather what I need for the garden from right outside my own back door!

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