My top 7 gardening hacks

July 27th, 2014
Posted In: Gardening on a budget

A ‘hack’ is a low-budget tip or trick. It may be cheat or a workaround. It’s often about money-saving – because you use something you already have, instead of going out to shop. Or it’s about making something cheap look classier than it is. Some people buy chain-store furniture and ‘hack’ it to make it look like a designer one-off. There are websites devoted to this. And there are ‘life hacks’ – involving unusual uses for tea bags, drink can tabs, and paper-clips.

We middle-sized gardeners do a lot of hacking. We never seem to have time to go to the garden centre, so our potting sheds are woefully equipped. We may flick through catalogues wistfully and plan to order labels, plant supports and salad seeds, but somehow we just don’t get round to it.

So we hack. And here are our best:

1) Paint roof tiles or pots for fade-free DIY plant labels

I first saw broken roof tiles used as labelling on another blog, but can’t remember which (so do let me know if it was you). And, visiting Hampton Court Palace this year, I loved seeing ‘cabbage’ and ‘kale’ painted on terracotta pots in the newly opened veg garden.

roof tile painted label

I used paint from an old sample pot to turn this broken roof tile into a label.

It’s not quite as easy as it looks – make sure you use a very slim paint-brush, preferably with a pointy tip. Now that we are no longer keeping our pieces of broken pottery to improve drainage (apparently it doesn’t work), you can practice your sign writing on pieces of broken pot.

painted plant pot label

For some peculiar reason, I suddenly went dyslexic when I painted this. But you get the idea.

2) Stockings or tights as ties

I love this one. I’ve used an old pair of tights, cut up, tied to a stake, to support a young silver birch. It has much more give than rubber ties, but seems just as effective. It’s a tip from professional gardener, Stephanie Wolfe, from Gardens to Love.

old stocking tree tie

An old stocking used instead of a rubber tree tie. It’s been there for 2 years – working well.

3) Twigs to deter pigeons and rabbits.

This one is from my friend, the actress Suzanne Church, who lives out on the Dickensian marshes of Oare. Her garden is plagued by rabbits, pigeons and other wild-life, but she says that if you can deter them from settling, they won’t munch. She places bare twigs at intervals – and it looks more attractive than netting, too. I’ve tried it out and no pigeon has nibbled my lettuces for two weeks.

Anti pigeon sticks

Suzanne planting sticks to deter rabbits and pigeons.

4) Tins as planters

I often regret having to throw tins away as some designs are delightful. So this tip from Posy Gentles on using soft drinks cans as planters has been great fun. And lots of people have commented.

tins as planters

I love these San Pellegrino tins planted up with diascia and violets.

5) Wilko gardening fork

I haven’t done anything clever with this, but it’s so cheap that it counts as a ‘hack’. Wilko sent it to me to try out, but as it only costs £4, I don’t think this counts as heavy-duty bribery. My fairly heavy clay soil means I go through garden forks quickly, but this has survived 3 months of being used almost every day. And I think it looks a lot classier than the price suggests.

Wilko gardening fork

Wilko gardening fork after 3 months’ use – classier than the price (£4) suggests.

6) Branches as bean supports

I saw this in Little Bredy Garden in Dorset, and loved it so much that I scoured the edges of a friend’s field for fallen branches. Mine turned out to be a bit more solid, but I like both effects:

Twigs tied up to support beans

Twigs tied up to support beans, in a mixed flower and veg bed.

Bean wigwams

My bean wigwams are a bit more substantial than Littlebredy’s – but I like both effects.

7) Seaweed as fertiliser

This one is for those of us who live near the sea, although James Wong has a recipe for making your own seaweed liquid fertiliser that would be worth trying even if you only visit the sea once or twice a summer.


seaweed as fertiliser

I picked some seaweed off the beach to make my own fertiliser and found this pretty heart shape.

James Wong’s recipe is to rinse seaweed off, put it into a bucket, weigh it down, and fill with water. After two weeks, you’ll have an extract that you can dilute with water. Feed it to your plants. However friends down here (where seaweed comes from) say that you can also just put seaweed into your beds, and fork it in. Land-lubbers can do the same thing with nettles.

What are your gardening hacks? 

Let me know any good gardening hacks that you’ve found useful, and I’ll link to your blog or website. Leave a comment below or contact me through Twitter or Google+.

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4 comments on "My top 7 gardening hacks"

  1. Matt says:

    There are some great ideas here. I think the San Pellegrino tins look fantastic.

    I used a tile cutter to cut up a load of old slates into strips for plant labels. Writing on them with a liquid chalk pen or paint pen (which you can find in most stationery shops) is a lot easier than trying to use a brush.

    1. That’s a really good tip – using a brush was extremely difficult. I had lovely chic writing in my mind, but all that came out were thick, blunt strokes.

  2. Inspiring list of garden hacks you’ve put together! I’ve completely neglected our this year, alas. I really like the twigs to deter critters and the tins as planters, because as you mention, those tins can be awfully cute. (I’m using a pretty olive tin as a pencil holder on my desk right now. Hubby laughs at me, but I love it!)

    Anyway, I dropped by from #wwwblogs to check out your post and say hi. :)

    1. Thanks for commenting – #wwwblogs is a good hashtag. I often pick up good posts from there. I like the idea of the olive tin pencil holder – it really grieves me to throw away some tins.

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