Budget garden ideas: 15 ways to create a stylish space on a tight budget

Try these budget garden ideas for thrifty outdoor style that proves creating a beautiful garden doesn’t have to cost the earth

Budget garden ideas showing a greenhouse with a potting bench, watering can and perlagoniums
(Image credit: Alitex)

Looking to update your garden on a tight budget? These budget garden ideas are just what you need to give your space a fresh new look without having to splash the cash. Combining savvy spending with a little gardening know-how means it's easier than you might think to introduce vibrant colour, beautiful plants and bold personality to your outdoor space on a budget. 

From using plant cuttings and making your own compost to giving fences and furniture a new lease of life with a lick of paint, we've rounded up 15 easy ways to save money on your garden makeover. Check out our top ways to transform your space, then head over to our garden ideas gallery for more outdoor inspiration. Plus, our guide to planning a garden design has all the advice you need if you're taking on a complete garden makeover project.  

1. Save seeds 

metal seed tin on a kitchen worktop

(Image credit: Annabel James)

Fancy some free flowers? Collect seeds from your own plants to grow next spring. Harvest on a dry day, when the seed heads have turned brown and hard. Snip them off with sharp secateurs and put each type in a separate, labelled envelope or bag so you don’t mix them up. Once inside, carefully shake or ease the seeds from their pods. Easy growers include nigella, pot marigold, honesty, poppy, and rose campion. Label the seeds, and store in sealed paper envelopes in an airtight tin until you are ready to sow them.

2. Make your own compost

small wooden seed tray filled with compost and ready to be planted with seeds

(Image credit: Annabel James)

Ready-made compost mixes are convenient, but the cost soars if you have a big garden or multiple containers. Instead, turn food waste and garden clippings into free, nutrition-packed compost by following some simple rules. Choose a composter to suit the size of your garden. A wooden bee-hive shaped one with a lid works in a small space, while a larger open unit is better for a larger plot. Position in a shady or lightly shaded spot to maintain a consistent temperature. 

An earth base is ideal for a compost heap, because it allows drainage, but if you site it on a hard surface, add a few spades of soil as a base layer. Use kitchen scraps but avoid cooked foods: fruit and veg peelings and crushed egg shells are ideal. Aim for 25-50 per cent of soft materials, such as grass cuttings, weeds and food waste. Mix this with woody offcuts, leaves, cardboard and paper. 

Turn the heap every month with a fork to allow air to circulate, and in six months to two years, you will get a supply of compost to dig into flower and veg beds, or rake around the base of trees. To make potting soil for containers, blend equal parts of homemade compost with garden soil and coarse sand or grit. Head to our guide to making compost for more expert tips, then check out our best compost bins to find the right one for your space. 

3. Choose stylish salvage

Wooden greenhouse filled with plants

(Image credit: Fiona Cumberpatch )

Step away from the garden centre and source secondhand and vintage accessories instead. Old wooden crates make striking shelving for pots when stacked on top of one another. Create a focal point with an old milk churn or a step ladder which makes an effective pot ‘theatre.’ Ceramic sinks are ideal planters for herbs, alpines and succulents. Check Facebook Marketplace, eBay or Gumtree for old zinc baths and tubs which make rust-free planters. Recycle a worn-out wheelbarrow to hold bedding plants. Just drill drainage holes in the bottom before planting. Keep an eye on skips for interesting ironwork or discarded terracotta pots, but do ask the owner before removing anything. 

4. Go rustic 

Blue painted shed used as a potting shed

(Image credit: Cuprinol)

If you’re cutting back bushes or trees in your garden, check to see if you can reuse any of your offcuts before condemning them to the brown bin or compost heap. Tree trunk slices make an attractive stepping stone path, while stumps can be repurposed into rustic stools to place around the fire pit. Clustered together, they can be used to display pots at varying heights. Save skinny, straight branches and reinvent as cane wigwams for sweet peas or climbing beans. 

5. Take cuttings

greenhouse with a potting bench, watering gan and potted geraniums

(Image credit: Alitex)

You don’t need to be a seasoned gardener to take cuttings. It is a simple way of duplicating favourite plants and you can expect a high success rate. Popular plants such as penstemons, salvias, fuschias and pelargoniums can be propagated in September. 

Choose a non-flowering shoot, as these sprout roots more quickly. Cut to about 10cm long. Make the incision below a leaf node (the point where the leaf is attached to the stem). Remove the side leaves and the soft growing tip. Fill a pot with potting compost mixed with horticultural grit or Perlite (both widely available at garden centres). Push the cuttings into the soil around the sides of the pot. Place in a warm, light spot, out of direct sunlight. A plastic bag or cling film over the top will create a moist atmosphere which boosts the cuttings growth.  

6. Source cut price plants

how to grow tomatoes

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sunday morning car boot sales and open garden events are the cheapest places to acquire new plants, as seasoned growers with surplus stock often offload there. Look for tomato and veg plants, succulents and perennials at prices which are well below that of a nursery or garden centre. Go ready prepared with your own bags, and take cash. Buying locally means that you’re likely to be purchasing plants which will thrive in the same soil as your own garden. 

7. Go for gravel

gravel path lined with plants

(Image credit: Fiona Cumberpatch)

Making new paths can create interest in a garden, leading the eye from one area to another and helping to create structure. The most inexpensive way to lay a path is to use gravel, rather than slabs or stones. Mark out the area that you want to cover and remove any loose grass and soil. Take a permeable membrane, available from DIY stores, and pin it to the route of the path. This will stop weeds growing up through the stones. Spread the gravel at a depth of around 2.5cm. Choose small pebbles (up to 16mm) as they are more comfortable to walk on, and then rake for a smooth surface. 

8. Buy bulbs

container planted with pink tulips

(Image credit: Unsplash/Behzad Ghaffarian)

Flowers are thin on the ground during January to March. Planting bulbs will bring a mass of early colour with a low price tag. Buy multi-packs in early autumn, choosing bulbs that feel plump and firm, and set aside an afternoon to plant up borders and containers. Plant daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths by the end of September, lilies, alliums and crocosmia in September/October and tulips in November. 

Plant the bulbs two to three times their own depth, two bulb widths apart, with the pointy side upwards. If you are putting bulbs in pots, mix the soil with a handful of horticultural grit, and water well after planting. Prevent squirrels and mice from uprooting them by putting chicken wire over the top of pots (remove when they start to sprout). 

9. Plan ahead

flowerbed planted with lush foliage

(Image credit: Unsplash/Adam Anderson)

Before you splash out on a car-full of random plants from the garden centre, think about the look you’re aiming for. Stylish planting schemes stick to a limited colour palette and repeat planting (the same plant used over and again). You may wish to mix hot colours such as orange, red and purple, or stick to cool hues of blue and white for a calming feel. Consider using the same foliage plants and ornamental grasses throught the garden to link spaces together. Make a shopping list, working out roughly how many plants you need and stick to the plan. 

10. Divide it up

Geranium nodosum (Cranesbill Geranium)

(Image credit: Getty)

Perennials, or plants which come back every year, are a thriftier choice than bedding plants or annuals which need to be bought and replaced each spring. Perennials can be split and replanted so you buy one – and get three. Geums, astrantia and hardy geraniums all work well using this method. Take the plant out of the pot you bought it in and carefully pull it into three parts, gently teasing apart the roots. Dig one hole for each plant, firm them in and water well. The following year when they have spread, you can divide them up again. 

11. Brave bare roots

Garden scene with clipped hedges and outdoor dining area

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Buying enough plants to create a hedge can command a high price, but there is a cheaper way. Opt for bare root plants, rather than larger, ready grown leafy specimens, and plant them in November. Your hedge will start taking shape in the spring. Beech, laurel, hawthorn, box and privet can all be bought in this way. Bare root plants can look off-putting because they often don’t have any leaves, but this is only because the plant is dormant. Once the hedge has been planted, fed and watered, it will start to sprout in the growing season. Try online specialist nurseries for the best deals. Many offer a pre-ordering service.

12. Light up

Pergola ideas:

(Image credit: Lights 4 Fun)

A softly lit patio or terrace transforms a garden when the sun goes down. Permanent feature lighting looks fabulous but it is pricey to get it professionally installed. Try solar lighting and battery options instead. Aim for lighting on different levels. Twist battery operated or solar lights around a tree trunk, or thread them through the branches of a tree. 

Floor standing battery lanterns will offer subtle uplighting, while solar-powered stake lights pushed into the ground highlight a statement plant. Look for solar lights with an amorphous panel, rather than a crystalline one, as they have a higher rate of light absorption and a more reliable beam. For after-dark dining, suspend battery operated festoon lights from a pergola, and add some candles to the table.

13. Add a feature

wooden archway diving two areas of a garden

(Image credit: Forest Garden )

Choose one large striking feature to make a centrepiece in your garden. A wooden arch makes a splash for a modest sum. Opt for a DIY style which you can put together yourself and add colour with outdoor paint. Plant a fast-growing climber such as a clematis or rambling rose to adorn it, or leave plain and simple for a more modern look. 

14. Update with paint

wicker sofa in front of a dark painted garden fence

(Image credit: Cuprinol)

The least expensive way to transform a tatty garden is with a pot of outdoor paint. Use it to unify washed out brown fencing, tired-looking sheds, trellis and lack-lustre raised beds. Dark colours, such as Cuprinol’s Urban Slate or Black Ash will make plant foliage ‘pop’. An off-white shade creates a modern country look. Prepare surfaces by brushing away any debris or dust. Apply a couple of coats. Consider disguising ugly brick walls with masonry paint – try Sandtex for a wide range of colours. 

15. Make a DIY pond

decked pathway leading through flowerbeds with a DIY water feature in one of the beds

(Image credit: Fiona Cumberpatch)

Add an affordable water feature by creating a pond. Use a half barrel, trough, or a plastic tray – a wider vessel is best. Put the container in an area that gets sun and shade and cover the bottom with gravel then fill with rainwater. Add a selection of bog or pond plants. For oxygenating plants, try Bakker. Ensure that any pond creatures can get in and out of the water by adding some stepping stones. Old bricks or big stones will work. 

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