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A Garden from Scratch: 7 Ways to Save Money When Creating a Garden

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A Garden from Scratch: 7 Ways to Save Money When Creating a Garden

June 11, 2024

The cost of making a garden from scratch can be as much as a full house renovation. It can also cost next to nothing.

By being savvy with plants and materials and learning to do jobs yourself, you can create an outdoor space with loads of charm and character, one that will also be far more personal as you will have created it over time yourself.

Here, seven tips on how to save money in the garden.

Photography by Clare Coulson.

1. Think small.

Above: It took this border, above, two years to fill out and reach maturity.

With plants you are essentially paying for the grower’s time: Larger pots that provide almost instant impact are expensive since they have been nurtured over a few seasons to reach more maturity. But that growing time could happen in your garden at a fraction of the cost, so when possible, always opt for smaller plants. (Bonus: Smaller plants require less irrigation than larger ones as they get established.) If you want a fuller look, you can always add annuals to temporarily fill in the gaps as you wait for the smaller plants to mature.

2. Learn to propagate.

Above: Penstemon ‘Raven’, grown from cuttings in my garden, is not only easy to multiply with cuttings but will also flower endlessly from June to October.

If you are trying to fill borders with bought plants only, costs can mount up fast—even for a relatively small garden. Consider growing plants from scratch yourself to save even more money. The idea of growing from seed or cuttings (or other propagation techniques) can seem daunting to the beginner, but you can create hundreds of new plants for the cost of a packet of seeds and some compost. Cuttings are arguably even easier to cultivate. Pelargoniums, verbena, asters, salvia, lavender, dahlias as well as shrubs including roses, hydrangeas will readily grow from cuttings to create more free plants.

3. Maximize self seeders.

Above: The airy mauve Verbena bonariensis seeds around my garden without being too prolific, which is always a risk when you leave plants to self-seed.

Allowing flowers to die back (rather than deadheading them) and naturally spreading their seed around is not only a free way to get more plants at no cost but will also create a more naturalistic garden as plants will usually appear in random locations amongst borders. Geraniums, aquilegias, foxgloves, Alchemilla mollis, eryngiums, alliums, poppies and sweet rocket, as well as many grasses such as Stipa gigantea, will all readily self-seed.

4. DIY your landscape.

Above: A grass path in my garden was cheap to create with seed.

Do you really need lots of hardscaping? One of the more significant costs in creating a garden from scratch comes from the labor and materials required for landscaping and hardscaping. Opt for a grass path and you will save a bundle. Or consider DIY’ing gravel paths and terraces, so that you can save the significant labor costs of professional landscapers. You can reduce these costs further by using free materials; for instance, you can source free wood chips from tree removal companies and use them to lay down a path.

 5. Buy bare root plants.

Above: I bought this ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ climbing rose unpotted during its dormant season.

Trees, hedges, and shrubs are the backbone of the garden, providing crucial structure when herbaceous perennials and other plants have died back over winter. They can also be the most expensive plants to buy. One way to trim your costs substantially is to buy them bare root instead of potted. Economical bare root hedging plants can be purchased at various heights and grown into hedges, trees, or topiary and, if you buy at the end of the season, those prices are slashed further. Irises (and some perennials) will also be much cheaper to buy bare root.

6. Reuse, recycle, repurpose.

Above: While making my garden I’ve bought job lots of terracotta pots, woven hazel panels and hurdles, and garden furniture for less than a tenth what they would normally cost.

I scour auctions, flea markets, and eBay for second-hand pots, tools, accessories, and patio furniture rather than buying them new—often for less than a tenth what they would normally cost. Old butler’s sinks, troughs, and containers can all be repurposed into planters too. Deadwood and fallen branches can be used as an edging for beds and borders. At Charlotte Molesworth’s bucolic cottage in Kent, England, almost every item in the garden (and house) has been “scavenged” from waste and repurposed.

7. Embrace shrubs.

Above: Here, in my garden, different forms of hebes are dotted through the border, providing grounding structure while more ephemeral perennials come and go between them.

If you’re working with a large garden and expansive planting areas, prioritize shrubs. They bring year-round structure, and they will mature into plants that often need very little maintenance.

Find the whole Garden from Scratch series here:

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