May 16, 2012

Planting is a Habit - Budgeting for Nature

Budgets bring to mind spreadsheets, bank accounts, and reducing expenditures.  At their root, I believe budgets are a tool we use for accomplishing a goal.  Whether that goal is to reduce our weight using a food budget, to save for a vacation, or pay off a mortgage budgets can be useful to ensure we stay on the right path to meet our goals.


Over the past few years I have developed an affinity for plants and working in the yard / garden / alley / apartment.  At some point along the way Amelia decided we needed to put a limit on how much to spend on plants so we created a plant budget.  (I admit I was not a proponent of this plan but life, and especially marriage, is full of compromises.)  We decided on a budget of $30 per month on plant purchases and any unused balance could be rolled over to the following month to allow for larger purchases like trees.  We've adjusted this budget over time and today it is $50 a month - the increase is partially because we have been able to reduce our food bill by growing a garden and partially because I have pitiful puppy dog eyes.

I wasn't very excited when we put the plant budget into place but my view has changed over time.  At first I looked at the budget as a limit on what I could spend on plants, which it is.  But it is also a commitment to regularly making an investment in our yard and garden.  Now we have a monthly trip to the nursery, farmer's market, or garden store and can plan for what we'd like to grow in our garden or what flowers would look good in the front yard.  It's good motivation and a reminder to think about the outdoors and engage on a regular basis.  I'm looking forward to when Eva can help us pick out which plants to try and help with watering and seeing them grow.

Another benefit of having this regular commitment to investing in our yard and garden is the opportunity to try new things.  We probably wouldn't be inclined to try planting borage or yarrow in our garden on a whim - I still don't know what they are going to look or taste like.  However, since we had extra funds in our plant budget last month we picked up these plants for a couple of dollars each and now can learn how they grow, what they look and taste like, and how well they do in our climate.  It's a learning experience in addition to being a part of our yard to enjoy.

If you're looking to learn more about plants, gardening, or landscaping I highly recommend creating a monthly budget / commitment to spend a set amount on plants each month.  Whether it's $5 or $100 a month it's a great reminder to get out in the yard and enjoy the weather.  Making regular visits to the nursery will also teach you a lot about the seasons what should be planted when.  If it gets too cold in the winter you can try something for indoors - an herb for the kitchen or trailing plant for the mantle or windowsill.

Another reason I think it's important to make a regular commitment to plants is to remind us of their importance.  We all rely on plants for food, air, shelter, many of our goods like furniture, to clean our air and water, and for many other purposes and uses.  Despite all that plants do for us I think we know relatively little about the plants that surround us in our own corners of the world, as well as plants that exist in other parts of the world.  Despite the importance of plants to all of us I think in general we spend very little, if anything, on helping plants to thrive and learning more about them.  Especially when compared to the amounts we spend on cable and other discretionary purchases I think spending a comparatively small amount on plants provides a handsome return of knowledge and enjoyment.

Suggested Action Steps:

  1. Create a monthly plant budget
  2. Spend your monthly budget at a local nursery or garden store
    1. Consider native plantings to attract local wildlife to your yard
  3. Enjoy the fruits of your labor in the form of fruits and vegetables, shade, a quieter yard, or more birds and squirrels
Here are a few of the recent additions to our yard.  Thank you to Seeds in the City and City Farmers Nursery here in San Diego for these plants, and for all the information you've shared with me and others!  If you live in San Diego you have to take a trip to City Farmers - it's an amazing place with so many plants (and animals!) to see and learn about.

Bush Monkey Flower (California Native) 
Basil, Mexican Elderberry (California Native), Eggplant - Rosita variety (Puerto Rico)


  1. Great Post! Thanks John. I especially liked the last line: "I think spending a comparatively small amount on plants provides a handsome return of knowledge and enjoyment."

    This is my first year planting anything in Chicago. I have a tomato plant in one planter and basil, oregano, and parsley growing in another. I'm thinking of getting a third planter. Any thoughts on a delicious fruit or veggie to try?

    1. I almost forgot - there are a lot of leafy greens that grow really well in summer also. I like Romaine but I would think that kale, broccoli, arugula, cilantro would all do well too.

  2. Andy,

    Thanks for the kind words - glad you enjoyed.

    For summer plants in Chicago I would suggest the following (assuming you like these items): squash, cucumbers (I like lemon cucumbers - small and round), eggplant (this is my first time trying but they love sun), peppers - could do jalapeno, bell, or habanero, melons if you have any larger spaces (cantaloupe, watermelon).

    Hopefully your garden will still be going in October so I can get a taste!