I have a sneaky suspicion I've said this before but ...
I'm not sure my garden saves us money. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is a drain on the budget. When I visit frugal living sites I read people singing the praises of gardens as a way of feeding the budget-conscious family; Digger's Seeds offers a special deal to health card holders, offering enough seeds to feed a family for a year for a very small sum (the sociologist in me notes that health card holder = renter = someone who might not have the freedom to dig up their landlord's neglected roses, but it's a nice idea).
But for us the sums don't add up. There's the cost of improving some pretty gutless soil, especially before the compost bins and free manure source happened. There's the cost of the seeds which, though minimal in terms of dollars per unit, soon adds up when you're looking at multiple varieties for diversity. Plus, we still have to buy a lot of food - self-sufficiency isn't possible when someone works and the other one has two tiny kiddies to care for - a garden for self-sufficiency requires time we don't have, especially as we are still setting up the system. And there's the cost of labour - I do the garden work and the time spent tending the seedlings could be used to grow my career, which will provide more potatoes in the long run. Plus, my daily rate for freelance work is large enough that my brain is always going to be worth more than what I stick into and pull out of the ground - I'd be better off sitting at the desk each night tapping away than I ever will be trying save thousands on organic lettuce (hi, Phil, if you're here reading despite the focus on rhubarb and babies).
I'm aware that each person, each group, has set of things it's okay to spend money on, and a list of things that are definitely trashy - consumption is, after all, not only how we keep up with the Joneses but how we differentiate ourselves from them, how we make a claim to moral as well as social superiority. I think organic gardening, just like eating 'healthy' is an arena in which this can play out. It's nice to pat myself on the back for doing something so worthy as saving seed (read: saving the world) and just as nice to be a little shocked at the number of people who eat at Hungry Jacks and garden with pebble mix from Bunnings.
Today, while watering in the evening, looking around at my domain with all its heritage varieties, and doing a sketchy calculation of amount of money we've poured into the plot, I was reminded of the comments of David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise
I get the feeling that organic gardening can be a bit like spending thousands on a slate shower or an aga cooker: it's just fine because it's so very authentic, in a way that all that money going on high heels and designer jeans just never can be.
But of course it's not just that - how painful (how much more painful?) I would be if it was. That garden gives me sanity, it lets me feel like I'm contributing to my family's wellbeing by feeding them food I have control over. It's a place where the unloved species of my neighbourhood are once again loves. Plus, it's what I like to do, and as hobbies go, it's still on the cheap side.
Also, gardening is a way in which I can leave my place a little better than I left it. When we came, the ground was more dog sh*t and sand than it was soil, there were no birds, and the beds were planted with UDL cans. Now, it's an oasis in the street, a place of richness and productivity. At the risk of sounding unbearably worthy, I'm well aware of our luxury in purchasing a home and in having a garden to plant as we will, regardless of cost. There's a responsibility that comes with such good fortune, I think, to make sure we not only protect but nurture the things we've been given. I've been given a garden - sometimes one more item on a long and crushing list of things to do, sometimes a joy and a delight - and it's only respectful that I treat it right.
And of course, there's lot of free things to join the scrap garden (thanks, Victoria, for that beautiful phrase). The borage from the now built-over wild space up the hill and down the dale is blue, blue, blue
and these - what are they? - are the very essence, the heart, the idea of pink.
And they didn't cost a thing.