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.” 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.
Sample a project from this book. Learn how to make this living salad wall here!
“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.