Q&A with Alex Mitchell, Author of “Gardening On A Shoestring”

By Shelley Pierce | June 12, 2016
by Shelley Pierce
June 12, 2016

Alex Mitchell is a journalist, author and garden designer. She trained at The English Gardening School in Chelsea, London. She is a former gardening columnist for The Sunday Telegraph and contributes to publications from Gardener’s World to Waitrose Kitchen, EasyJet Traveler and Sainsbury’s magazine. She has written four books on gardening. She has lived in London for many years and now lives in the Kent countryside with her partner, two kids, a dog, three hens and a rampaging cockerel. You can find out more about Alex at Alex-Mitchell.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @alexmitchelleg.

Her latest book, “Gardening On A Shoestring“, reveals that growing a pretty garden doesn’t have to cost a pretty penny and teaches you how to create a low-cost garden using a little elbow grease and a lot of creativity.  Read on for more information and enter to win one of five copies, courtesy of  Quarto Publishing Group!

What (or who) inspired you to garden on a shoestring?  And, how does your book inspire and help others to do the same?

My shoestring gardening adventures began with laziness. Living in London with small children, it wasn’t always easy to get to a garden center and I’m way too impatient to always wait in for an online delivery. So I soon improvised with what I had at home, sowing seeds in coffee takeaway cups, yoghurt pots and the punnets you buy fruit in (these are especially good when they have lids because they’re mini cloches). It wasn’t long before I started thinking about all the other expensive stuff we buy when gardening and how easy it is to come up with free alternatives from plant supports to feeds, pesticides and more. The day I protected my peach harvest with some pop socks (one over each fruit keeps the pigeon pecks away) was the day I was truly hooked on DIY garden techniques! And don’t get me started on the fortune we spend on plants when the gardens of our friends and family are a potential treasure trove of freebies!


Is it difficult to garden on a shoestring?  How does your book make the path to gardening frugality easier?

It’s not difficult at all, it’s really fun. If you stare long enough at the contents of your shed/cupboard under the stairs/attic, you will find countless excellent potential containers for growing plants in. Your kitchen cupboards have all you need to keep away slugs, caterpillars and greenfly. A trip to the park will furnish you with enough fallen sticks to prop up your lanky flower border. The book is not just packed with easy practical projects you can follow, but it also hopefully encourages you to free your mind from following instructions, from thinking you have to go to a garden center and pack your trolley with overpriced tat in order to have a beautiful garden.


Which upcycled garden projects featured in your book are your personal favorites?

I was particularly proud of the tyre stools especially when I found some round decking tiles that fitted exactly into the tops to make the seat. The low table made from a wooden palette I found outside my local hardware store is another firm favorite. But the succulent frame probably gets the most admiring comments from friends – garden art for peanuts – and it’s still going strong nearly two years on. If I lived in an immaculate city house with a tiny yard I would put one of these as a focal point above my outdoor dining table and it would look very smart.


What is one project in this book that you recommend everyone try and why?

Rubbing baking powder on your brand new orange terracotta pots really does make them look much more natural. But probably my top tip would be to grow a patch of flowers purely to cut for the house – save yourself a fortune by simply buying half a dozen packs of flower seed (lovely free-flowering colorful ones like cornflowers, cosmos, marigolds, corncockle, ammi majus) and sowing them in a grid, then keep cutting the blooms for vases in the house.


After reading this book I consider you to be the “MacGyver of gardening.”Â  When looking back at all the gardening projects you have ever done, what was your proudest MacGyver moment?

I love anything that involves clever use of old hosiery! From protecting my peach harvest (see above) to using them as a filter in my fiendishly clever invisible watering container, it’s these everyday items and reinterpreting them,that I find the most fun. Particularly if it saves me a few quid. For sheer MacGyver/Heath Robinson engineering, my favorite contraption must be my liquid comfrey feed dispenser. It’s made from a piece of plastic soil pipe and consists of a brick, a water bottle, and lots of squashed comfrey leaves cut from a patch I grow at the end of the garden. The black liquid that comes out the bottom is gold for plants, packed with all sorts of amazing nutrients. Any small garden could find a corner for this and you’ll never have to buy plant food. The only downside is that this particular contraption doesn’t involve using up old hosiery.

What advice do you have for those desiring to start gardening on a shoestring?

Where do they even begin? Start by splitting some supermarket herbs into five and repotting them. Once you’ve realized how easy it is to do this and raise successful herbs that won’t keel over and die on your windowsill like supermarket herbs usually do, you will be hooked and well on the road to shoestring gardening.

Vertical lettuce a3Sample a project from this book.  Learn how to make this living salad wall here!








To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, June 19, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Have you ever created an upcycled garden project?  If so, what was it?“

The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 7/16/16: Congratulations to Poshan Or, Tami Shaughnessy, Deana Hirte, Vicky Haynes and Jessica Schmonsky.






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  • Laurie Frisbie
    Comment added June 19, 2016Reply

    I have hardened for years and wait till the local garden centers have sales then I buy and garden. I also find great garden buys at garage sales.

  • Maria
    Comment added June 15, 2016Reply

    I haven't created an upcycled project yet but I do want to build some raised beds with reclaimed pallets. They're just really hard to find in my area so I would love to win a copy of this book!

  • Linda
    Comment added June 15, 2016Reply

    I wouldn't call it a project but I do pour spent coffee grounds and leftover tea at the base of my cactus and money tree and it seemed to revive them. I would love to duplicate that comfrey contraption! Thanks for another great giveaway!

  • Julie Benoit
    Comment added June 14, 2016Reply

    I am always looking for new ideas for my flower beds and gardens and would love the opportunity to read your book especially if it helps me do things cheaper :)

  • Kelly P
    Comment added June 14, 2016Reply

    Moving to teach at a new school and love to garden with the kids. This will help us with our "shoestring " budget get started.

    • Kelly P
      Comment added June 14, 2016Reply

      We have used water bottles to make hummingbird feeders and shredded paper to make seed bombs in the shapes of hearts.

  • Deana Hirte
    Comment added June 14, 2016Reply

    My upcycled project that I'm most proud of right now is a vintage bird cage that I now have peas growing up on as a trellis. The cage a gift from a neighbor that didn't want it and knew I was interested in it and the seeds from a giveaway. No cost just effort :-)

  • Daniel La Costa
    Comment added June 14, 2016Reply

    I've taken cuttings and divisions from friends gardens, cut bamboo for garden poles,make weed tea and started a comfrey patch.

  • Annette
    Comment added June 14, 2016Reply

    I used a rock with a large hole in it and planted a bonsai in the big hole. It was about 8" tall when I first planted it and dried out. Today, the tree stands 8.5' tall and still growing. It's beautiful!

  • Poshan
    Comment added June 13, 2016Reply

    I am a new gardener with a low budget to start a garden so I haven't had a chance to upcycle anything yet. I have been thinking about using free five gallon buckets for container gardening but I definitely need some help with creative gardening ideas so this giveaway came just in time! Thank you!

  • Pam Potwin
    Comment added June 13, 2016Reply

    I seriously love the Succulent frame, I am so wanting to make something like this however in my area there are not alot of places to find the variety I see in many of the ideas online. I would enjoy your book to dream and scheme about gardening gardening gardening:)

  • Felicia Shaw
    Comment added June 13, 2016Reply

    I have! I once took an old metal chair, it was very dainty, like it should go with a nice vanity. It was already missing a seat, so I merely spray painted it and put a pot in the circle where the seat should have gone. It was so successful that my mother snatched it from me and it sits at her entry full of beautiful flowing pansies!

  • mags
    Comment added June 13, 2016Reply

    I have a compost bin in my yard for all the kitchen scraps; grass; leaves etc etc. so I have no need to buy much fertilizer for my plants - plenty of 'black gold' full of nutrients!

  • Melody KirkWagner
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    Love the comfrey idea! One question I hope the book answers: does it smell? My comfrey stinks when I cut it!

  • Jessica
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    Unfortunately I've been stuck in a city for too many years but we are moving to a small property in a few weeks and I look forward to gardening and up cycling like crazy!

  • Vicky Haynes
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    Love the idea for the baking powder. Sounds like this book has lots of great info.

  • Tanny Martin
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    This book looks like lots of fun!

    This year I used the trimmings from an overgrown hydrangea to trellis my peas. It looks really natural and nice against a granite wall. I've used driftwood to support the base of floppy lilies in the past as well.

  • Carol Deeb
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    I have turned a commit tomato cage upside down string lights around it and made a Christmas tree from it.

  • Bebe
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    I love recycling things into fun garden projects ~ I re-used an old chair and put pots of flowers in it; made wooden planters from pallets and repainted old tires for colorful flower pots. Gardeners are the ultimate recyclers! :)

  • Kristen
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    I haven't been gatdening for long so I haven't upcycled anything yet,but I would love this book to get some inspiration!

  • tami
    Comment added June 12, 2016Reply

    I've been gardening on a shoestring ever since we built our house 3 years ago. With an acre to fill, it takes a village. My favorite project ever has been a moon gate made from a $20 craigslist trampoline.

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