The Struggling Student Rants—Make the Most of Your Yard & Garden

The Struggling Student Rants—Make the Most of Your Yard & Garden

Now that summer is here, spending time outside in the sunshine can have significant and wide-ranging health benefits.  Exposure to green space reduces stress, and all the ailments that go along with it (“University of East Anglia: It’s official – spending time outside is good for you.”, 2018).  We don’t have to go on a ten-day hiking trip to reap all the benefits of the outdoors, either.  We can do so, in comfort and style, in our back yards after our 9 to 5, or on the weekends while enjoying a nice cold brew with friends and family.  Outdoor spaces can also increase enjoyment of our homes.  When the weather is nice and the sun is shining, it’s like having an extra room in the house.  Make the most out of your outdoor space, no matter how large or small it is.  If your yard is so tiny it brings on bouts of claustrophobia, or you live in a condo with no green space to call your own, all hope is not lost.  Even a small yard or balcony can be great for gardening, entertaining, or unwinding–you just need to make some small adjustments.  Your yard can even make you, or save you, some extra spending cash.  Don’t forget that we’re all struggling students, after all.

Use Natural Structures for Privacy

If your yard is already small, try not to further compress it inward with privacy fencing.  It will just feel smaller.  I get it, not having your neighbour talk your ear off every time you step foot outside is the objective.  There are, however, other ways to achieve this besides putting up a ten-foot brick wall around the perimeter of your property.  Use your property lines as an opportunity to grow more plants with a living fence of hedges or trees.  This will let your yard blend visually with your neighbour’s, and you’ll have something lush to look at, too.  Planting a living fence is a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to a hardscaped privacy fence, but that’s not the only advantage.

The benefits of using trees for this purpose are countless.  Trees can be low-maintenance, help separate you from nosey neighbours, shield your property from the ugly prairie winds or Greater Toronto Area noise, create shade, and give you a beautiful visual to look at every day.  There are many options when it comes to deciding on the best trees for all this, but there are many factors to keep in mind, too, before you rent a bulldozer to come in and level the entire back yard.  To find the best trees, shrubs, and climbers, you have to be cognizant of what you are trying to achieve and what you are getting into before you start planting.  Do your research–piece of cake for AU students–and note down the pros and cons of each option, first.

Now here comes the money-making bonus: trees that bear fruit should be in the top ten when doing your research and weighing your options.  There are certain fruit trees that grow better for every climate, so you need to choose carefully.  Even a fruit like the apple has been known to withstand the bitter Saskatchewan winters.  Moreover, what better way to fill the household coffers than to sell the fruits of your labour–pun intended.  I’m not saying you should quit your day job and go get a permanent stand at the local farmers’ market—unless that’s your calling.  There are things you can do, however, to see a difference in your budget.

You could make a bulk batch of delicious fruit pies and marmalades, for starters, and freeze them.  The next time you attend that office potluck or need to show up to the neighbourhood BBQ bearing gifts, you’ll have a choice of either forking over $25–$40 for a pre-made fruit tray, or a lesser amount of $4–$5 for a homemade pie, baked with love.  And, don’t forget about all the Christmas get-togethers, or the year-round birthdays and home-warmings that creep up and can throw you way off budget.  You will end up spending a minimum of $50–$100 per gift, if you genuinely like that person, which ads up fast throughout the year, or you can buy some wrapping and a nice gift-basket at a local craft store for $10-$20 and fill it to the brim with homemade jams & jellies.  All this extra cash stays in your pockets, just from using fruit trees, rather than an ugly plastic or wire fence.  The gift receiver will also genuinely acknowledge your gift as the loving, heartwarming gesture it was meant to be.  Not that there’s anything wrong with one more Rudolph Christmas sweater in the closet.

Containers and Window Boxes

But if you live in a condo and don’t have an outdoor space to call your own, don’t give up just yet.  I’m not saying you can bring in contractors to dig up the common area lawn, but I would suggest getting your gardening on in containers.  You might be thinking of Tupperware and used margarine containers–that could work too–but I’m thinking of elongated, compact, special-purpose planters.  They can be monochromatic or colourful, according to your style, and can add personality to any dreary balcony.  You can find discounted ones at gardening centres at the end of the summer season, or for pennies to the dollar at all the yard sales that sprout up every spring.  Many folks use containers and planters for their favourite flowers because they look pretty.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m more pragmatic by nature; I say, use these planters for veggies.  I’d much rather pour my love and labour into something healthy my family can consume in a salad year-round, than something that’s ‘nice to look at’ five days out of the year, when a rare flower blooms.  You can have free chives and green peppers all year round, and avoid the cost of organic veggies altogether!

The good thing about planters is you can transfer them indoors over the winter if need be.  Vessel gardens are flexible, above anything else.  A large window box can signal the beginning of a beautiful, year-round, friendship—with a salad!  Most veggies need direct sun to thrive.  If your living room or kitchen faces south, can you say “fresh tomatoes in January?”  Regardless, place the containers and window boxes wherever they’re most convenient, and plant away.  You can move pots and planters around your yard, create different spaces, and even change your mind on what to grow from season to season.  Creativity abounds with the possibilities.  Mix colors or work with a visual theme, even with veggies or herbs.  Container gardening is a great way to grow vegetables, more so when you lack the yard space or only have a small patio, balcony, or rooftop to work with.  An extra tip: hanging baskets make good use of extra space.  Moreover, you can care for and harvest herbs, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries at eye level without breaking your back.

If you’re not quite sold on all this, that’s ok too.  If you insist on flowers, window boxes can line your balcony railings and provide a nice visual to cover up the dull, grey city landscape.  But if you’re a wee bit adventurous, I challenge you to try the following: window box flower gardening can yield both beauty and brain food–edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, calendula, and marigolds also add color to the plate.  When looking into this, a co-worker told me they often sprinkle dried up marigolds on their salads and marinades, which gives off a unique, aromatic taste.

Use Every Inch—Even the Side Yard

If your backyard wraps around to a side yard, don’t let that small piece of heaven go to waste.  It’s easy to forget about side yards because they’re often narrow, simple, patches of dirt or grass, with perhaps some stepping-stones to lead you around the house.  The truth is, they can be so much more.  Rather than parking the recycling there, turn it into a private garden nook, a place where you can go to reclaim your peace and quiet.  Two rustic, salvaged, repurposed chairs and a small, round, reclaimed table facing can be a great place to hide out and have a quiet moment or work on your assignments in peace.

Most side yards have just enough room to fit a path around the home, so furniture pieces may not work.  Slopes can also be a challenge.  Instead, think of these hurdles as opportunities to get creative!  Terraced stones, retaining walls, and steps can turn an eyesore into a showstopper.  You might just be wondering how this relates to making any money.  They key is not to think small (potatoes) but to think big, in terms of sales and value.  If your house is on the market, a groomed lawn and yard can make the difference in getting asking price.  This doesn’t mean you need to use up all your savings to fix up the back and side yards either.  If you’re even a little bit handy, and willing to put in the work, your side yard can give off the polished, put-together look buyers seek.  It will give off the vibe that your home is well looked after and turnkey ready–no landscaping needed–which is what most home-buyers look for.  If you’re feeling exceptionally creative and want to take it a step further, landscape lighting can take a neglected tiny side yard and turn it into a graceful piece of art.  Talk about a living room under the stars!

Finally, no matter how you spend your gardening days this summer, keep your small backyard or veranda open and airy.  Don’t forget to let the sun shine in and get your daily dose of vitamin D.  And, if you just happen to make some beer money thanks to my tips, let me know if I can use your testimony because sometimes my family says I take my frugal ways way too far.

University of East Anglia: It’s official – spending time outside is good for you.  (2018).  Retrieved from
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