If you want a pretty garden – on a budget – now is a brilliant time to find inspiration.
The garden design ideas at BBC Gardeners World Live, currently on 16th-19th June 2022 this year are very pretty.
Recycling saves you money – you don’t have to go out buy things. See what you’ve got that you don’t use, and how it can be used in the garden.
It’s sustainable because your old things – or someone else’s old things – aren’t being thrown away in landfill.
And taking a more sustainable approach to gardening can also save you time and effort. That’s because it means going with what works easily rather than spending lots of time, effort and money trying to control your garden.
Mix pavers in patterns
You don’t have to have all one type of paver in your garden, however small it is. If you want a pretty garden, mixing pavers works well.
And it means you can buy or acquire small lots of pavers or sleepers, in sales or as leftovers from jobs. When people re-do their gardens, they now often offer the old paving stones, bricks or decking cheaply or free through Facebook Marketplace or Freegle.
Mixing pavers also means you don’t have to do all your garden at once. If you want to expand a terrace or seating area, you can create some contrast by mixing the materials rather than having to try to find an exact match or replacing the whole area.
Mixing pavers is also a good alternative to a lawn in a small, shady garden. It’s often difficult to keep a lawn going in a very small space, especially if it’s shady for most of the day or it’s used a lot.
But running one type of brick, stone or concrete over the space can feel too hard. Mix different patterns of pavers with gravel and planting to save money. You’ll create a very pretty garden! Plus that’s better for wildlife and the environment.
And mix or recycle other landscape elements
You can take the same approach to your fencing and raised beds. Mix the materials to make the most of what you’ve got or what you can acquire easily.
For example, re-use old doors as fencing, as on the Old is Gold garden.
Or mix materials to create an unusual pattern. Designers Rachel Pratt and Mike Baldwin incorporated a curving pebble line, representing a caterpillar, in the sides of raised beds in the Metamorphosis garden. This was done by horticultural students at Derby College. It would be slightly fiddly to do on a DIY basis. But you could do a pattern on the side of your raised beds in a different way.
Re-use and upcycle for a pretty garden
Recycling saves money. Don’t put old patio furniture or pavers into landfill. Sell it or give it away.
And if you’re looking for chairs and tables, try junk shops, markets and online marketplaces. It can be frustrating when you don’t find something you love immediately. For tips on shopping second-hand, see my 15 ways to transform your garden with upcycled junk.
And just think about how you could use what you’ve already got.
Make your own greenhouse from old windows
There was an upcycled greenhouse on Frances Tophill’s garden, made from lots of different discarded windows.
I’ve written about two gardens with this before, so I know it works well in real life. One was in London’s temporary Skip Garden (see 6 inspiring city garden ideas). It was made from lots of different, often very old, windows of different shapes and sizes.
The Skip Garden team said that too many smaller windows meant not enough light to make it a ‘proper’ greenhouse. It was too variable for the seedlings. However, they used it as a workshop space instead, and loved it.
The second upcycled greenhouse is in Garden Inspiration from a Medium Sized Garden. In this, the owner used discarded modern windows and shower doors, hung on simple wooden frame, to put together a greenhouse. The individual panes were much larger and it works well as a greenhouse.
Both options require you to be good at DIY, but neither were put together by professional builders. So it’s worth having a go.
Be relaxed about weeding
The last few years have seen a shift in direction when it comes to weeds. We’re weeding less and therefore saving time. While this isn’t strictly about saving money, you will probably spend less on plants if you’re more tolerant of some weeds.
Three years ago I interviewed Jack Wallington on his book, Wild About Weeds. In it he suggested allowing some weeds to flourish. Allow them to settle in cracks and crevices. He gave advice on which weeds to encourage and how to ‘plant’ them.
Now there’s a much wider acceptance of the value of weeds to our cities and towns. Weeds have become part of a pretty garden. They’ll often grow where nothing else will. We can enjoy their flowers and so can pollinators and other wildlife. There have been ‘weeds’ in show gardens at RHS Chelsea for a couple of years now.
This doesn’t mean you stop weeding. It means that you can decide where to tolerate weeds and which ones you’re prepared to tolerate.
A weed, after all, is only a plant out of place. And we have traditionally pulled any plant – not just weeds – out of the cracks between paving.
Now planting between paving is a design approach. So leaves the ‘weeds’ you like there. They’ll help the prevent the ones you don’t like getting established.
Water is key in a pretty garden
A pond or water feature used to be a major commitment in a garden, requiring hard landscaping and installation. And I hear from garden designers that traditional water features with moving parts can be a problem as they have a tendency to break down if they’re not well maintained.
A pond is less likely to ‘break down’ than a water feature (unless it has a fountain or water feature in it).
And a pond doesn’t have to involve heavy duty landscaping. Today’s ponds can be anything from an old bucket to a natural swimming pool.
For example, old sinks make a good pond. Designer Frances Tophill clustered a group of old sinks together, making an attractive feature. If you have lots of smaller containers grouped together like this, you can mix the planting in them. Some sinks had plants in them that prefer shallow planting, others had quite deep water.
Frances also re-used two big old galvanised tanks as water features, with an overflow pipe from the higher to the lower. I’ve seen an open galvanised tank like this at Great Dixter. You can dip your watering cans in, rather than waiting for them to fill up from a water butt with a tap.
And if you are doing landscaping…
Several show gardens featured small rills of water, running between pavers or along the side of a deck. This is a good way of incorporating water into a small garden, but be aware of safety issues.
And right at the top of the wish list could be a natural swimming pool.
Of course, the natural swimming pool isn’t cheap and does require hard landscaping. But it’s far more attractive to look at than a standard blue swimming pool.
The Garden Design Co created a natural swimming pond at BBC Gardeners World Live, complete with swimmers. It had shallow water margins with rocks, boardwalks and a garden cabin. So perhaps it is at the fantasy end of what we can do in our gardens. But if I could have a swimming pool, that’s the one I’d want.
Water in a garden and safety
Make sure that the water in your garden is safe. Toddlers and babies can drown in just a few inches of water, so make sure that they can’t get unsupervised access to it.
Small animals can also drown in a high sided deep tub or mini pond. Make sure that there are easy ways in and out of the water for smaller creatures too. Pile up bricks, stones and planting inside and outside the pond.
Use traditional shrubs in contemporary ways
I recently did a video on people’s favourite shrubs, because shrubs have fallen out of favour. Many people dismiss them as sullen green lumps.
But shrubs can save money in a pretty garden. They are so easy to look after. You don’t have to keep replenishing them like annuals.
And they often often offer spring blossom and autumn colour. So it’s great to see designers pairing ‘old-fashioned’ shrubs with flowering, pollinator-friendly perennials.
For example, phormium was very popular in the 1970s and 80s. So it was good to see phormium given a lighter look by pairing it with flowering perennials in raised beds in the Nurture through Nature garden by designer Kim Parish.
Or plant shrubs in gravel to look more contemporary. In the Practically No Plastic Garden, designer Pip Probert gave old favourites Phlomis russeliana and Knipfofia a modern twist by planting them in gravel.
Or give an old-fashioned shrub pride of place and make it a focal point. You usually only see Hydrangea Annabelle at garden shows. But designers Rachel Pratt and Mike Baldwin placed an old-fashioned Hydrangea sargentiana at the centre of their ‘Metamorphosis’ butterfly garden.
Pretty garden tip – use a mixed hedge instead of one species
A hedge is always better for wildlife than a fence. It offers shelter. If it flowers, it offers food for pollinators and then often berries in the autumn.
And a mixed hedge is often cheaper. If you’re into propagating, you can take cuttings from shrubs that grow well locally. When I was a child, my mother, who really wasn’t a gardener, simply stuck freshly cut twigs in the earth all round our property. They mostly took, so we had yards of hedge just from clippings.
A few years ago, hedges in show gardens were all of one species and were neatly clipped. Now you’re more likely to see shaggy, mixed species hedges, even at the Chelsea Flower Show. (There are more Chelsea Flower Show 2022 ideas here.)
Personally I think a hedge feels more private, too. There is less sound echo and even if there are restrictions on height, they can often be a little higher. There’s more about hedges for privacy here.
More garden design ideas
If you’re thinking about how to make your garden pretty without spending too much money, read How To Save Money on Garden Design and The Secrets of Contemporary Garden Design – On the Cheap.
There’s some general advice on how to save money on your gardening here, too.
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