Are you looking for ways to give your garden a makeover without a complete redesign? Garden projects can be expensive but there are many small ways you can add impact to your space or give areas a new look, and they needn't be costly. Buying a can of paint and rejuvenating your fence can give your garden a new style, growing annuals from seed will produce a host of ready made plants to fill borders and containers, all for the cost of a few packets of seed.
You can make your own bird bath or create a planter from pallets. Even reshaping a border can give your garden a new designed look. We show you how to refresh your garden, with this list of modern garden ideas, and explain how to make it look good on a budget,
Cheap garden ideas to transform your space
Paint your fence
Give your fence a fresh coat of paint for instant impact in the garden. Not only will this rejuvenate your fence and protect it from the weather, you can make your boundary into a feature by painting it a bold colour. This will give you a new backdrop to plant against, all for the cost of a pot of paint.
Add a decorative mulch
Give your containers a boost by adding a decorative mulch. This could be small pebbles, gravel, shells or even pine cones. The benefit of using a mulch is that it will help conserve moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. It also looks attractive, giving your display a finished, neat look.
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Make a simple bird bath
Save money on buying a bird bath with this economical alternative. Not only will you have an attractive new garden feature, but it will help attract a variety of birds. All you need is a terracotta pot, a glazed terracotta saucer and some external waterproof glue. Turn the pot upside down and add a circle of glue to the bottom. Stick the saucer on top of the upturned pot, making sure it's central. Leave to set for a few hours, then fill the saucer with water.
Plant in small gaps
Buy a pack of hardy succulents such as sempervivums and crassulas to create a display in the gaps between paving or in the dry soil at the base of a wall. Buying a pack of plants at the garden centre or online will save you money and these tiny plants will add a dash of greenery to tiny spaces.
Add lighting to the garden
Lighting doesn't have to be run off the mains and expensive to make a difference to your garden. Garden lighting can be low cost and easy to install, from using candles in lanterns on your outdoor garden table to stringing battery operated fairy lights in your trees or shrubs. There are also lots of solar lighting options for post lights or spot lights that can be positioned alongside paths or used to highlight focal points at night. To protect bats and insects at night, make sure you use soft lighting rather than brighter, white LED lights, and turn them off when you're not using the garden.
Turn pallets into planters
Pallets can be sourced for free and repurposed as planters, raised beds or insect shelters. Wash your pallet and then either leave it as it is or add your own finishing touch by painting it. Use the pallet as a way to display bedding plants or salads. Trailing plants will be able to spill over the edge of the pallet softening the look of the display. It will also add height and can be used to disguise a bare wall or fence.
Avoid any pallets with the markings MB or SF as these may have harmful chemicals on them and any pallets that are already blue as these are used in the export industry and are not free to use.
Sourcing pallets: hardware shops, construction sites, small gardening shops or recycling sites online
Fill gaps with speedy annuals
Growing annuals from seed and having them on standby to fill gaps in your border is an easy way to boost colour in your garden without overspending on expensive perennials. For one packet of cosmos seed, you'll get months of flowers. Other speedy annuals to grow from seed include zinnias, sweet peas, nasturtium and marigolds.
Build up stocks of your favourite plants by taking softwood cuttings. This is a simple way to get plants for free and add to the flowers in your borders. The best time to take cuttings is between March and August. Some plants you could take cuttings from include salvias, penstemons, fuchsia and pelargoniums. Make sure you use a clean, sharp garden knife and secateurs to avoid infection.
Recycle bottles and corks
Reuse corks or wine bottles to create striking garden edging. Use a glass cutter to cut the bottom 10cm off the bottom of the bottle and set it into building sand as if they were bricks. If you don’t have enough bottles, try sourcing more from local pubs or restaurants.
Make a bee hotel
Bee hotels provide a vital habitat for many species of solitary bee and also make a focal point in the garden. To make one, fill a wooden box with a mix of hollow stems and bamboo canes with diameters ranging from 2mm to 12mm to attract a variety of different species. Cut the stems to the same length (ideally 20cm), ensuring any nodes in the bamboo stems are at one end. Then pack them together, with any nodes at the back, in the box. You can also drill holes in logs of the same length. Position your bee hotel in a dry, sheltered spot in full sun, about 1.5m high. Fixed securely to a wall or fence is ideal.
Transform grey guttering with vinyl paint and turn it into wall planters. It’s worth making some small drainage holes in the bottom before planting up to prevent waterlogging. This will make an attractive feature for a dull wall or ugly shed. Plant it up with shallow rooted plants such as sedums or herbs like parsley, chives or thyme. Keep it well watered in summer as it will dry out quickly.
Bag a plant bargain
If your borders are in need of a boost, look out for bargains to restock your displays. Good places to search include the plant sections at the supermarket, roadside stalls, markets and discount stands at your local garden centre. Check your plants carefully for pest and diseases. End of season perennials may look bedraggled on top, but if plants have a healthy root system they should regrow well in spring. Also look out for reduced-price house plants, which can often be easily revived.
Save money on hard landscaping
Hard landscaping can be expensive but there are still ways you can keep costs down. Reuse old slabs for a new design or search reclamation yards or online market places for cheaper paving. If buying cheap paving slabs online, always check they have come from an ethical source. Concrete slabs are one of the cheapest options and can be polished to make them look more interesting. Alternatively, you could search for reclaimed bricks and make a herringbone pattern. Another way to save money is to install the paving yourself. To save money on paving, leave a gravel channel between them or spaces for low-growing plants. Cheaper options than paving include decking and gravel.
Keep furniture in good shape
Give old furniture new life by restoring it. Old, uncared for wooden furniture can make the whole garden look neglected. First, clean all the dirt off your furniture and then paint it with furniture restorer. Once this is dry, scrub with a scourer, following the grain to remove the grime. You should see the wood lighten. Sand the wood to smooth out any rough bits and then dust off any excess dust. Finally, paint with hardwood furniture oil or a paint colour. Let it soak in for 15 minutes and then wipe off any excess with a cloth. Alternatively, apply a furniture stain after the restorer.
Boost boundaries with clematis
Covering your boundaries with climbers can make a huge difference to your garden, softening fences or walls and adding colour. Even buying one clematis plant will cover a couple of metres of fence once it's established, and if it's a late-flowering clematis such as 'Madam Julia Correvon', you will have blooms from July through to October. It's perfect for small gardens, taking up little ground space and although it's not cheap to buy a 3-litre plant, if you think about the amount of space it will cover and the colour you'll get year after year it's a canny investment.
For winter, try an evergreen variety such as Clematis cirrhosa 'Wisley Green' which adds interest all year round and has beautiful, nodding white flowers.
Collecting seeds is an easy way to save money on plants. You can collect seeds from perennials like aquilegias, phlomis, sunflowers and cosmos. The best time to do it is usually between August and October, depending on the plant. Choose a dry day when the seedheads are completely ripened. All you need to get start are a pair of secateurs or snips and some paper bags.
Make a wigwam for climbers
Add height to borders or containers with a home-made wigwam for climbers like sweet peas or runner beans. It’s easy to make with either bamboo canes or coppiced hazel. Work out how tall you need your canes to be and mark 5-7 canes so you can cut them to the same length. Cut each cane with a pair of secateurs or loppers and push them into your container or border in a circle. Tie the canes together at the top and then create a spiral that plants can climb up by looping your twine around as you wind down toward the ground. Tie at the base just above soil level. Plant climbers at the base of the wigwam tying them in as they grow to encourage them to grow up the support.
Make a stepping stone path
Paths can be pretty and practical. For a budget option, consider laying your own with reclaimed paving stones. During winter, this will help keep your lawn in good condition and a stepping stone design looks striking too. Place the stones and test out the path before laying it to make sure it looks good and that it's a route you'll use, otherwise you may find you're cutting corners and ruining the grass. For a budget option look for paving stones on sites such as eBay, Preloved or Gumtree. There are also inexpensive options online, especially if you only need a few stepping stones for a small garden.
Use furniture as a feature
When buying essentials like furniture for your garden think about using it as a statement or incorporating it into the style of your garden. For a modern garden, you could choose furniture in bold colours such as orange or blue.
Put down an outdoor rug
If re-landscaping your patio is too pricey, how about an outdoor rug? This is an easy way to add colour and flair to your garden without huge effort or expense. There's a range of sizes and styles to choose from to cater for every size of patio. The cheapest ones available are made from polypropylene and are both weather and UV resistant, although it's a good idea to bring them in if heavy rain is forecast, and over winter.
Reshape your borders
Creating a new border or reshaping existing ones can freshen up your garden look. Try adding curves to change the layout of your garden or simply make the edges of your border more defined. Even edging the lawn can give your garden an instant lift.
Add a water feature
Even a tiny pond can transform a garden. Water in a garden is calming and it's also attractive to wildlife. You can make your own container pond out of any watertight container that's around 20-40cm deep. Then you need some bricks to create shelves for plants and a selection of small pond plants, including a few oxygenating varieties. To give wildlife such as frogs access, create steps to the side of your pond out of bricks. Another way to bring water into your garden is to buy a small waterfall or spout type feature although these can be expensive.
Topiary adds structure and shape to a garden, and as the plants are evergreen it looks good all year round. Topiary can be as simple as keeping a standard tree in a lollipop shape or clipping box into balls to act as punctuation points through your border. Some of the best plants for topiary include yew, box, Lonicera nitida (shrubby honeysuckle), privet, pittosporum and sweet bay. It doesn't have to be on a grand scale either - even a well-shaped shrub in a container can make a statement. All you need is a good pair of topiary shears, and some secateurs if you cutting larger leaves shrubs such as bay or laurel.
Add an architectural plant
Architectural plants add drama with features such as bold foliage, spiky leaves or towering height. Adding one plant, such as a phormium or yucca to a small garden can act as a focal point, whether it's in the corner of a border or a container. Some impressive architectural plants include cordyline, Acanthus mollis, tree ferns, yuccas and ornamental grasses like Stipa gigantea. For bold exotic foliage try cannas and ginger lilies.
Plant spring bulbs
This has got to be one of the easiest ways to revive your garden. It's not expensive to buy bulbs from the garden centre and a container planted with layers of bulbs will bring you great joy in the spring. There are bulbs and colours to suit every taste, and every style of garden. If you want value for money, buy bulbs that will naturalise in your lawn or borders, such as narcissi, miniature irises and muscari.