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One particular street in Warwickshire is a riot of colour and bathes the Bromford homes along it in a warm glow. It is home to award-winning gardeners Marlene McBay, 81, and Carol Brewer (below), 68, who have lived just a few doors away for the past 12 years.


But the same postcode and a love for gardening aren’t the only things they have in common. Marlene, who lives with husband Jim, triumphed in the Southam in Bloom Chairman’s Award back in 2009 and this year the trophy has returned to Hodnell Drive as Carol became the latest person to have her immaculate garden celebrated.

We caught up with them recently where they shared their top 8 tips for customers on how to make the most of your garden on a budget…

  1. Make the most of those around you

Carol: Gardening may seem daunting and costly when you first start out but if you think about it, all of the equipment you need is probably already on your own street and all you need to do is borrow it. I know this because my daughter often borrows my mower, shears, spade, fork and rake – her motto is “why buy if I can borrow mums?” and she’s completely right. Borrow equipment off your neighbour, family or friends to save yourself the expense of buying your own. My brother was a keen gardener and we always used to bounce ideas off each other.

Marlene: My father was a good gardener and he passed on tips to me but gardening is mostly about trial and error and having a bit of fun. It doesn’t necessarily need to run in the family though as I’m a child of 12 and yet I’m the only one who has been into gardening.

  1. Plants don’t have to cost the earth…

Marlene: I buy a lot of my plants without actually knowing what they are and you can get some really good deals at the local supermarkets. You definitely don’t need to be some kind of gardening guru to have a nice garden. You can get a tub of begonias for £3.50 and they not only look great but they last for a long time too. The main tree in my back garden was bought for £11 when we first moved in and now it’s worth over £80 it has grown so much over the years.

Carol: It can be dear to keep buying bedding plants every year. And that’s why a favourite idea of mine is buying plug plants because they are really cheap but come on really well in the greenhouse.

  1. Fresh air in your lungs!

Marlene (right): I suffer from arthritis so I’m not out there every day but I can easily spend three hours in the garden and my doctor has commented several times saying how good the health benefits are. I have two new knees but I still climb the ladder to trim the trees which Jim doesn’t like me doing but I get a real sense of accomplishment from it. Everybody who visits us compliments us on the garden which is lovely too – and good for the self-esteem!

Carol: Yes, I completely agree. I’m not one for watching the television and gardening really keeps me active – it’s great exercise physically but also mentally. It’s so lovely opening your curtains or blinds in the morning to see the dazzling array of colours staring back at you.

  1. A garden is more than greenery

Carol: I think the satisfaction that your garden looks nice is the thing that really drives you on. But if you don’t like your lawn a great option is to do what I have done in my front garden and put some membrane down and gravel it. People often equate a garden with being green but a bit of gravel can look very stylish and of course it’s far easier to maintain for people who maybe have a busy lifestyle.

  1. Cuttings are key

Carol: Buying bedding plants year after year can be quite dear so a great tip is to get your begonia roots – tidy them up, dry them off and leave them on a bed of compost in the greenhouse. Hey presto they should start to shoot for next year and haven’t cost you anything!

Marlene: Most tender plants such as fuchsia and pelargoniums strike really easily from cuttings and look wonderfully colourful when they bloom. Early morning is usually the best time to take cuttings because the plant often has the most moisture and nutrients at this time.

  1. Enjoy the social side

Carol: There’s usually a variety of gardening clubs and gardening centres in your local area. Most gardening centres have a café and a range of other facilities nowadays and you can have a really nice day out there. Clubs can also be very informative as you can bounce ideas off likeminded members and meet and make friends with new people in the local community.

  1. Bring out the baskets!

Marlene: Hanging baskets are so simple and cheap to put together and yet they look fantastic in the summer months. I always start them indoors, put a liner down in the basket before filling with soil and then small plants. Once they’ve been indoors for about four to five weeks they are ready to go out and will make such a difference to your garden – particularly if you hang them at the front of your property like we’ve done.

  1. Reduce your food bills

Carol: We all know food bills have risen in recent years and the cost of living has also gone up. Around four years ago I bought a greenhouse for just under £200 and since then I’ve tried growing different varieties of my own vegetables and I must say it’s very satisfying knowing that you have grown something you can eat from scratch and of course it saves you money in the long-run. I’ve tried growing peas, runner beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and I also froze nine bags of kidney beans recently – if you keep on top of it, it’s relatively easy to do. You can buy a greenhouse for as little as £30 online!

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