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Landscape on a Budget: 10 Quick Fixes to Add Personality to the Average Garden

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Landscape on a Budget: 10 Quick Fixes to Add Personality to the Average Garden

July 10, 2020

Giving the average garden the full treatment is a serious commitment, requiring time, adrenal stress, and a sturdy dip into the finances. Instead, here’s a blueprint for taking it on yourself, one small project at a time, while making it easy on a budget (because, after all, the best gardens don’t require a fortune).

The best are the ad hoc gardens, designed for and by the gardener and enjoyed in good company. Shift your garden’s focus in a new direction with our top 10 quick fixes. You can tackle them creatively and at your own pace, with the intent of a modern and more personalized backyard landscape:

1. Repair, Don’t Replace

The new occupants resurrected a long-lost parterre in a historic garden created in the first half of the \20th century by the influential designer Nancy Lancaster. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista.
Above: The new occupants resurrected a long-lost parterre in a historic garden created in the first half of the 20th century by the influential designer Nancy Lancaster. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista.

For more of this garden, see our four-part series Rehab Diary: Uncovering the Past in Nancy Lancaster’s Garden at The Wilderness House.

Rather than dismantling a decent hardscape, work with what you have, repairing individual stones, creating a patchwork of outdoor flooring, or integrating stones into lawns or plant beds to establish a new pathway. For more suggestions, see Hardscaping 101: Design Guide to Paths and Pavers.

2. Banish Dry Patches

For more of this garden, see Ask the Expert: Sarah Raven&#8\2\17;s \10 Tips for Growing a Kitchen Garden. Photograph by Sarah Raven.
Above: For more of this garden, see Ask the Expert: Sarah Raven’s 10 Tips for Growing a Kitchen Garden. Photograph by Sarah Raven.

Remove patches of lawn that no longer work, are dried out, or are simply undesirable and replace them with an integrated ground-level or raised garden bed. For more ideas, see Hardscaping 101: Raised Garden Beds.

3. Consider a Gravel Garden

Wide gravel pathways at the Lambley Nursery garden, in the windswept plains of Australia, is watered between two and four times a year. Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Above: Wide gravel pathways at the Lambley Nursery garden, in the windswept plains of Australia, is watered between two and four times a year. Photograph by Claire Takacs.

For more of the Lambley Nursery garden, see Can This Garden Be Saved? And see more of our favorite gravel gardens in Low-Cost Luxe: 9 Pea Gravel Patio Ideas to Steal.

4. Style with Container Plants

Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.

For the nascent gardener, working in a single container is a safe start, and for the seasoned landscaper, adding potted plants can add dimension to an otherwise flat space. Containers keep the wilder set (think fresh mint) contained in one spot, and potted plants are easy to move to find the best temperature and lighting conditions.

Try our DIY: Elegant Black Stained Window Boxes.

5. Add Atmosphere with String Lights

Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

Cafe-style string lighting is one of the quickest ways to create soothing ambient light outdoors–and has the power to define the parameters of a space, bringing life to small quarters and structure to spawning acreage. Shop our favorites in 10 Easy Pieces: Cafe-Style Outdoor String Lights.

6. Call in the Cinderblocks

For step-by-step instructions to make DIY cinderblock planters, see our Gardenista Book.
Above: For step-by-step instructions to make DIY cinderblock planters, see our Gardenista Book.

Heavy lifting pays off when inexpensive cinderblocks, sourced from old construction sites (with permission) or your local hardware store, are fashioned into functional planters—or other design solutions.

7. Create an Outdoor Room

Gardenista editor Michelle Slatalla created an outdoor room in her backyard with the help of a pair of Ikea woven chairs. For a similarly airy look, try the Jassa Chair (\$59 apiece from Ikea).
Above: Gardenista editor Michelle Slatalla created an outdoor room in her backyard with the help of a pair of Ikea woven chairs. For a similarly airy look, try the Jassa Chair ($59 apiece from Ikea).

In gardens lacking protective overhead structures (a tree, an awning, or a porch roof, say), it’s a constant chore to maintain expensive outdoor furniture. To avoid the fuss, source thrift furniture finds or build custom pieces from scrap wood, to create an outdoor room for entertaining.

8. Finesse a Fence

Above: A fence of horizontal slats by architect Ken Linsteadt in Mill Valley, California. See more in Fence Fashion: 11 Ways to Add Curb Appeal with Horizontal Stripes.

A coat of paint or stain, or sanding the wood can render a tired fence new again. See our favorite black fences, picket fences, and horizontal slats to inspire a weekend DIY renovation.

9. Accent with Color

A set of four of Fermob&#8\2\17;s Luxembourg Stacking Chair (available in \25 colors) is \$\1,\255.45 from Y Living.
Above: A set of four of Fermob’s Luxembourg Stacking Chair (available in 25 colors) is $1,255.45 from Y Living.

Adding a single accent color, or a full palette, is a nice way to reinforce a certain visual composition across the garden, connecting plant life to hardscaping and furniture. Consider using a favorite photograph as palette inspiration to apply to the backyard (and keep it in your pocket while shopping).

10. Convert a Shed

Above: A converted firewood storage shed in an Italian village from Outbuilding of the Week: A Woodshed Transformed, by StudioErrante in Italy.

Springing for a professional when it comes to converting an outbuilding–a shed, a garage, or a small conservatory–is a wise use of budget, but the rehab project also can also be tackled on your own over time, or together with willing friends. See a host of inspirational studio sheds, converted garages, organized storage buildings, and potting sheds from our Outbuilding of the Week column.

For more tips see our posts:

Product summary  

Outdoor & Patio Furniture

Jassa Chair

$59.00 USD from Ikea

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