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Landscaping Ideas: 10 Ways to Save Money During a Garden Remodel

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Landscaping Ideas: 10 Ways to Save Money During a Garden Remodel

April 29, 2019

Whether it’s a new patio or a complete garden overhaul, any landscaping project can quickly outgrow its budget unless you plan ahead. I speak from experience.

In the six years since I moved into my house on a small lot (0.15 acres in downtown Mill Valley, California), I’ve changed nearly every aspect of the outdoor space, from the backyard to the front garden. The upgrades included a new patio, garden beds, paths, a gate, and a privacy hedge. Every step of the way, there were decisions to make on where to splurge and where to save.

As with most budgets, mine required more saving than splurging. Here are the top 10 ways I saved money on landscape design without cutting corners.

Photography by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

1. Don’t toss; transform.

My backyard gate is a repurposed vintage iron trellis, which we discovered leaning against the facade soon after we moved to the house and began to liberate the garden from years of overgrowth.
Above: My backyard gate is a repurposed vintage iron trellis, which we discovered leaning against the facade soon after we moved to the house and began to liberate the garden from years of overgrowth.

Don’t toss; transform is a lesson I learned from my friend Jean Victor, who wrote the chapter on Expert Advice: Garden Design in our new Gardenista book: “Avoid the temptation to rip out and discard everything in your existing landscape,” Jean recommends. “Repurpose bricks from a planter for a new pathway; use old fence pickets to make a gate; dig up hardy perennials and move them to a new bed.”

2. Embrace the slippery slope.

Rather than trying to change the grade of my sloping front garden, I planted perennials and grasses that would accentuate the lay of the land.
Above: Rather than trying to change the grade of my sloping front garden, I planted perennials and grasses that would accentuate the lay of the land.

Moving soil is expensive; instead of fighting the contours of your garden, try to embrace them. If the land is so steep that it is eroding, consider stabilizing it with inexpensive Jute Erosion Control Cloth ($2.30 per yard from Online Fabric Store). The mesh has wide spacing; you can plant ground cover, vine, or succulent plugs directly in the cloth.

3. Plan a plant swap party.

In autumn, I divide clumps of perennials such as yarrow and purple salvia to swap for plants my friends have.
Above: In autumn, I divide clumps of perennials such as yarrow and purple salvia to swap for plants my friends have.

To save money on plants, you can ask your neighbor for a clump of bearded iris and in return offer some of your salvia. Or plan a neighborhood get-together to exchange plants in greater quantities.

4. Minimize maintenance with compromises.

An evergreen olive hedge and an espaliered apple tree in my front garden share a water source (a single drip irrigation line services both).
Above: An evergreen olive hedge and an espaliered apple tree in my front garden share a water source (a single drip irrigation line services both).

Says Jean Victor, “If you live in a dry climate and want an English garden look, you’ll continually pay for it in high water and upkeep bills. But you don’t necessarily have to do either-or.” Cut down on the cost of roses, for instance, by planting them in front of an evergreen hedge.”

5. Make a temporary path.

A brick patio abuts a path paved with pea gravel in a corner of my front garden.
Above: A brick patio abuts a path paved with pea gravel in a corner of my front garden.

If you can’t afford stone pavers or brick right away, lay out the path where it wants it to be and pave it with a placeholder such as pea gravel.

6. Plant for the future.

I replaced a fence with a hedge of Pittosporum tenuifolium &#8
Above: I replaced a fence with a hedge of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’. The price difference for small plants versus established shrubs was more than $1,000. Within 18 months, the small plants had grown in thickly and the hedge was more than six feet tall.

You’ll save money if you sow seeds, buy small pots, or start plants from cuttings—and in five years your garden will look as robust and healthy as if you started with bigger, more expensive plants.

7. Go on a scavenger hunt.

The planter for my succulents is a vintage concrete birdbath that I repurposed.
Above: The planter for my succulents is a vintage concrete birdbath that I repurposed.

Jean Victor suggests incorporating finds from salvage yards and junk shops—vintage gates, weathered bricks, old fence boards, and stone troughs—into a landscape. You will not only save money but also add character to a new garden.

8. Mix and match.

A bluestone patio serves as my outdoor living room, furnished with a pair of Ikea armchairs, a teak sofa, a flea market coffee table, and a ceramic stool I bought at a deep discount at a Serena & Lily outlet store (the stool has a chip on its base).
Above: A bluestone patio serves as my outdoor living room, furnished with a pair of Ikea armchairs, a teak sofa, a flea market coffee table, and a ceramic stool I bought at a deep discount at a Serena & Lily outlet store (the stool has a chip on its base).

You don’t need an expensive matched set of furniture to create a comfortable or stylish outdoor living room. A mix of natural materials and textures—such as wood, rattan, and metal—will look at home against a backdrop of green foliage.

9. Shop the sales.

A honeysuckle vine that I got on sale in November is being trained to grow onto a pergola in my garden.
Above: A honeysuckle vine that I got on sale in November is being trained to grow onto a pergola in my garden.

A tip from Jean Victor: “Most nurseries have big plant sales in the fall, with markdowns of 50 percent or more. This is also one of the best times of year to plant—the soil is still warm enough to allow root systems to establish and cooler temperatures reduce the need to water.”

10. Add small details for big impact.

Hanging from a leather rope, an Anti-Fly Glass Sphere ($85) catches the light in a corner of my garden.
Above: Hanging from a leather rope, an Anti-Fly Glass Sphere ($85) catches the light in a corner of my garden.
Inexpensive accessories—house numbers, a classic mailbox, a stylish bird feeder—can have a big visual impact and create instant curb appeal. Glass accessories in particular will reflect light and sparkle. For more ideas, see 10 Easy Pieces: Glass Garden Accessories.

Whether you’re planning a garden remodel or updating even one element of your landscape, get tips and inspiration from our curated Hardscape 101 guides to Pavers, Decks & Patios, and Fences & Gates. For help planning plant palettes and laying out garden beds, see our curated Garden Design 101 guides (with growing tips) for our favorite Perennials, Annuals, Ground Covers, and Vines & Climbers. And for more outdoor style on a budget, see:

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