The Money Garden

I have always been a gardener. My mother grew up in England during the war so I got a double dose of the English necessity to garden from her. Wherever she has lived over the years, it is easy to spot her house on the street because it’s the one with the stunning display of flowers in the front yard. But because she grew up in a time when food was scarce in England, the back of her house always boasts an equally stunning display of edibles. When I was little, her garden was a yummy and beautiful retreat. She grew the most delicious strawberries, rhubarb, and tomatoes. And she and I spent hours there weeding, making animated characters out of Snap Dragons, and eating strawberries straight from the vine. So I caught the garden bug early and have never been without at least a pot of basil in a window. My own daughter watches our blueberries go from flower to berry with anticipation every year and eats every single one off the bush while standing in the garden. And I grow enough basil to keep us in pesto all year. As I write this, my early tomatoes (in my greenhouse) are just starting to flower.

So when Burpee sent me a link to an article about how interest in vegetable gardening is huge this year because of the economy, I realized that this was a great Frugal Friday idea. I don’t garden to save money. I do it because it is second nature and because I love to eat what I’ve grown. But it certainly does save money. I hate buying tomatoes, basil, or any of the other things that grow easily in my garden – even at Farmer’s Market’s – because at my house, these foods are as free as air — and plentiful.

My mother always got her seeds from the Burpee catalog when I was a kid. Pouring over the catalog was a ritual we did when there was snow on the ground to get us in the mood for the work ahead. She insisted (and still does) that Burpee seeds grow the best tomatoes. She would love the new packet of seeds Burpee has just announced for the gardener who wants to save money by growing her own food. It has a catchy name, too: The Money Garden. Burpee also recently did a cost-analysis study and found that a well-planned vegetable garden can result in a 1 to 25 cost-savings. For an investment of $50 for seeds and fertilizer, you can produce $1,250 worth of supermarket-purchased groceries. Since planning the garden is the part that stumps many new gardeners they did the planning and put it all in on $10 seed packet – with directions for planting and replanting to maximize your garden’s yeild. I know I spend less on groceries when my garden is producing but I’m much too lazy to the math to figure out how much money. So I’m grateful to Burpee for helping me rationalize my garden purchases so neatly.


There is no basil in the Money Garden packet, though. And I think fresh basil is a kitchen necessity. It’s also easy to grow and expensive in the supermarket. Burpee certainly carries plenty of basil seeds but my favorite source of basil is Renees Garden Seeds. She carries my favorite and hard-to-find variety Thai Holy Basil, which she calls “Queenette.” (It gives Thai food one of its distinctive flavors and is simply all-around delicious in everything from a stir-fry to a salad.) I have also had terrific luck with Renee’s heirloom tomatoes and she puts together some nice vegetable garden packets.


I got my inexpensive greenhouse from a local hardware store but I dream of someday turning that metal-and-plastic bargain into a chicken coop and upgrading to one of the beauties at Charley’s Greenhouse. About this time of year, I make a visit to that site for inspiration the way my mother and I poured over the Burpee catalog. I have never bought more than a dozen seed pots from Charley’s but one day I hope to do my seed shopping from the steamy interior of the Cape Cod Greenhouse (shown). Would someone please calculate how long it would take for my garden to produce enough groceries to justify the cost of one of those?