The lone voice of horticultural reason

Buy Supplies Smart

There was a time when if I’d paid market price for all the wire plant supports needed to prop up the lanky, sun-deprived perennials and taller annuals in my garden, my son would have gone without milk. Have you checked out the prices of the various-sized wire hoops, half-hoops, circle-grids and other fancy contraptions for sale from garden centers and catalogues? A small hoop with one support leg costs over two bucks. A big circle of thick wire, with three stout, tall legs-what you’d use to keep an overgrown, ant-infested peony clump from collapsing outward, completely to the ground, at the first drop of rain-costs almost six bucks. Outrageous.

Yet what is a poor, shade-cursed, tree-infested, suburban gardener to do? Around this time of year, half of what I have in bloom would much prefer to lie down, tonight, sideways on the ground, where it could at least concentrate on blooming, and to heck with this vertical business. Those green-painted bamboo sticks are a cheaper option, and I’ve used plenty of them, except it’s difficult to corral a huge, leggy clump of Sedum “Autumn Joy” with any combination of bamboo sticks and wire twist ’ems and have it look good. Then one day I made a remarkable discovery.

I was at the garden store, clutching about a hundred dollars worth of stiff metal hoops, half-hoops and other pricey perennial staking systems, wondering if my son wouldn’t be better off just taking calcium pills and drinking lots of water, when I noticed the stacks of round, telescoping tomato cages. You know the ones I mean. They too are made of stiff wire, and there’s a small circle, then a foot higher a medium circle, then a big circle at the top, all held together by three long metal legs running from the big circle down to about a foot past the little one. They cost exactly $1.98.

As I computed the number of large hoops, short hoops, half-hoops and single-stem hoops a person with a hacksaw could fashion out of two or three tomato cages, I realized I’d been duped. One medium perennial hoop cost about three times more than one large tomato cage, even though the tomato cage is comprised of three times the amount of wire, not to mention all that additional spot welding activity.

The Second Tenet of Renegade Gardening rang out: pick and choose your garden products wisely, for in the gardening industry, avarice is systemic. Why are the flower gardeners getting gouged? Because industry research shows we’re a bunch of Macanudo-smoking, Land Rover-driving, Martha Stewart-subscribing, micro-brewery-imbibing, hedonistic yuppies trying to figure out how to spend all that stock market money. We’ll pay six bucks for forty-eight cents worth of wire-eight bucks if you coat it with five cents worth of green plastic.

Meanwhile, the garden industry perceives vegetable gardeners as being only one generation removed from farmers and thinks, hell, these people don’t even buy food, they grow it, how much profit can we possibly get out of them? So tomato cages cost $1.98.

And I buy them for my flowers. You need only saw halfway through, then bend the wire and it will snap, or quicker yet, snip the cages with a big wire or bolt cutter. You can customize your shapes and heights as situations develop; anywhere your flowers need help remembering they look much nicer pretending to reach upwards, toward the sun, wherever that is.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener