Our Flower Patch

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Ten ways to acquire plants for free (or almost free)

Nigella seedpod

Nigella seedpod, fab in a vase and a useful source of free seed!

If there are a few gaps in your flower patch and no cash in your pocket to go out and buy some flowery treats to pop in for instant gratification, do not despair. Here are our top ten tried and tested ways to bulk up your garden, plot or school flower patch without spending much or indeed, any money and have a fun adventure while doing so.

Plants for free, you say? Show me where to find them.

Read on.

  • Find them on Freecycle

I love Freecycle and not just to read with amusement the weekly posts from the member of my local community who regularly offers cardboard boxes, jam jars and bits of string whilst simultaneously posting requests for expensive appliances because they have accidentally dropped theirs in the sink/washing machine/toilet/driven over them in the car/had them eaten by the dog……..

Over the years I have acquired and distributed numerous plants on Freecycle. Often you have to dig up the plants on offer, but that is no great hardship. What’s more you’ll probably make a gardening pal for life, whilst helping yourself to their largesse. Win. Win.

  • Save and swap your seeds

It’s quick and easy to save some seeds from easy to grow flowers like poppies, calendula, nigella and cerinthe. One plant has more seeds than you will need to use at once or in a whole season. Nature is extremely generous and prolific. Make the most of it. You can sow some seeds yourself next year and save some to swap with others. Collect seeds on a dry day. Store them in labelled brown envelopes in an airtight tin in a cool, dark place until ready to sow.

  • Cultivate those cuttings

Learn to take cuttings. A small piece of stem is all you need, a pot of compost and some rooting powder, if desired. Pull off all but the top few leaves. Lots of leaves will make the plant work hard keeping them alive when it needs to put its effort into producing more roots. Place your cuttings into a pot of moist compost around the edge of the pot. Cover with a plastic bag to ensure moisture is retained and wait for roots to form. You may need to remove the bag from time to time to ensure that condensation disappears and prevent ‘damping off’.

  • Delve into division

From time to time plants have a habit of outgrowing their allotted space and they look like they will benefit from being dug up and divided into more manageable chunks. Replanting a ‘chunk’ reinvigorates the plant and gives you a few more plantable ‘chunks’ to fill it spaces elsewhere  or swap with friends and neighbours for different plants. Simple.

  • Set up a plant hospital

Large DIY stores with garden sections almost always have an area where they have plants marked down for sale.  This may be due to their slightly less saleable (or virtually dead) appearance,  or a genuine clearance of overstocked plants at the end of the season.  Plants which are pot bound need to be repotted or planted in the garden after their roots have been teased out. Dead head and prune back unsightly brown growth, feed and repot or plant out. I’ve rescued numerous plants which were destined for the skip and no money has changed hands.

Supermarkets too may be happy to let you take away pots of unsold bulbs after they have flowered. Take them home and plant them in your plot. Let them die back naturally and they’ll pop up hale and hearty next season. If you say that you are running a school gardening club, they may well let you know when there are freebies going spare in the future.

  • Volunteer in a community garden or help your friends with a bit of arden maintenance

Asking gardening friends, neighbours, family or work colleagues for any plant cuttings, extra plants they don’t need or seeds they may have is one of the easiest ways to grow your garden for free.Pruning, dividing and removing plants that have gone to seed are regular maintenance activities for many gardeners each season.  These are also prime times to add to your own (or your school) garden from what is often plant material that will go to waste in someone else’s garden.

  • Make friends with the local plant nursery 

Sometimes flower farms, local growers and nurseries will advertise end of season, closing down sales or stock at reduced prices. They may be wanting to clear out a greenhouse or warehouse or make a space for new plants, some may have been in pots too long and others are excess stock. My daughter’s school had a magnificent tulip bed last year planted up with bags of bulbs from the Sarah Raven warehouse sale.

  • Raid the local restaurants and cafes

Most businesses replace their plants as the flowers fade. Start a relationship with the businesses in your area. Let them know that you are willing to take the unsightly plants off of their hands after they are finished blooming. You know they will bloom again next year in the garden if you give them some time and tlc!

  • Bulk buy

Club together with friends and neighbours to order bulbs and plants. It will bring the cost down and you might well be the lucky recipient of a few freebies into the bargain for putting in a big order. Higgledy Ben our seed supplier is king of stashing in an extra pack of seeds for good customers. Long may he reign.

Cerinthe seed

Cerinthe seed, not quite ready yet. It will fall easily from the plant when ready.

Cerinthe seed drying

Dry the harvested seed before storing it.