Rustic garden ideas: 16 ways to add charm and character to your plot
Want to create a unique outdoor space? Our rustic garden ideas are packed with tips on adding color and personality with furniture, salvage and natural materials
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Rustic garden ideas are full of charm and never, ever dull. Packed with character and imagination, they are the perfect option if you’re after a laidback, informal style for your outside space. Inspired by practicality, simple design and sturdy, natural materials, the true beauty of this look is that it takes time to evolve, it’s always full of surprises and that it really allows the creator’s personality to shine through.
Potting sheds, greenhouses and outbuildings all play a key part in rustic garden ideas. Not just for performing gardening tasks, they also present the perfect opportunity to get creative. Often simple and practical structures, with a little thought they can be transformed with paint, salvaged treasures, or redundant architectural finds to create stunning garden features. The same goes for other everyday items. Step ladders and tables can be moved outside and used to showcase an eclectic mix of vintage finds or a seasonal display, while tin baths, agricultural feed bins and kitchen enamelware all make attractive planters.
When it comes to planting and landscaping materials, the emphasis is firmly on natural. Logs and rounded timber stakes - complete with bark or stripped to show the grain; weathered stone with patches of lichen and woven willow hurdles as fencing or border edging can all play their part.
Plants are best left to their own devices – so go for paths with creeping ground cover, pots overspilling with trailing foliage and flowers and a joyful mix of tall, waving perennials and fragrant cottage herbs in large sweeping borders.
Tempted to give this easy-going garden style a go as part of your garden decor ideas? Well, we’ve got a whole host of ideas for you to explore, so settle down and happy scrolling.
1. Create your own garden hideaway
With just a little attention garden sheds can become attractive features and much-loved retreats where you can escape for some quality ‘me’ time. Treat wooden huts and summerhouses to a fresh lick of color. Cool paint shades work particularly well as they recede into surrounding greenery and look truly magical at dusk.
Don’t be too precise when painting if you're after more authentic rustic garden ideas – rough, weathered patches of peeling paintwork all add to the appeal. Have fun too – picking out cute details such as window and door frames in a different but toning shade.
Aim to create a cosy spot full of character and interest. Paint a wooden chair, stool or side table to match and use them to stage favorite container plants so they frame your retreat. Pop in vintage finds – think wooden washboards, stone jars and glass bottles – for added charm.
There's more inspiration for your outdoor hideaway in our garden shed ideas.
2. Make room for a floral display
Groups of gorgeous potted blooms have a big visual impact and are a great way to celebrate the changing seasons too. Clustered together on tabletops and perched along benches, they create a seemingly impromptu display full of charm and color.
For a considered rather than chaotic look to your container gardening ideas, keep to similar blooms and colors and look for containers that have something in common. Woven baskets have a rustic, homespun feel perfect for informal rustic garden ideas, but galvanized buckets and baths or wooden crates work just as well.
3. Choose garden features with a weathered finish
Rustic garden ideas are all about the informal and unexpected, so distressed and worn surfaces are a must. Corten steel is hugely popular right now and is perfect for this look. With industrial overtones, the material changes when left out in the elements, with the cool grey metal slowly developing rich rust tones over time.
Each piece develops its own unique markings, adding to the long-lost and recently discovered appeal. Unlike with vehicles and farm machinery, the weathering process doesn’t weaken the steel so you can sit back and enjoy your outdoor heating ideas, best fire pits and water bowls without worrying.
4. Reimagine architectural features
Stumbling across a forgotten architectural gem in the garden has a magical appeal. Hinting at a time gone by it becomes a source of curiosity, giving the space its own individual charm. Of course, these items don’t often arrive by chance, so a little artistic license is required.
Take time to hunt out salvaged details such as rusted metal gates, worn timber shutters and stone lintels. There are also plenty of contemporary products out there carefully designed to ooze timeworn charm. This outdoor mirror has all the appeal of an industrial Crittall window thanks to its slim glazing bars, and it looks stunning propped up against a wall or fence, reflecting its green surroundings.
Head over to our garden mirror ideas for more ways to make the most of your best garden views.
5. Include salvage-style planters in your rustic garden ideas
Aged stoneware – carved or reconstituted – has a real tactile appeal and gets even better with age when covered with moss and lichens. Ramp up the charm of your garden planter ideas by arranging urns, pots, plinths and benches in one area. It could be a shady corner that needs a lift or an empty spot outside window or back door.
Plant up with plenty of trailing foliage and delicate clump-forming blooms. Viola, calibrachoa, bacopa and verbena all provide plenty of color and will gently spill over container edges, but for a chic, timeless look, keep to white blooms and some variegated foliage.
6. Design a rustic seating area
Whiling away hours with friends and family nestled deep within the garden is a simple, yet memory making experience. Surrounded by glorious flowers, lush foliage and natural materials the effect is instantly calming and relaxed.
Create your own alfresco lounge area as part of your rustic garden ideas with a brick paved clearing set amongst plant filled garden borders. A fuss-free timber pergola made from chunky wooden poles adds height and helps to cosy up the space, while also providing the perfect opportunity to hang lanterns, planted baskets and lengths of festoon bulbs.
Handcrafted hardwood timber furniture – high backed bench seats with wide, flat arms are the comfiest – pulled around a central coffee table, makes for versatile seating that can be left outside all year.
Fancy trying your hand at a spot of DIY and creating your own rustic pergola? Our guide on how to build a pergola has a useful step-by-step you can follow.
7. Make the most of your outdoor structures
In the rustic spirit of upcycling, why not take a fresh look at your garden structures and turn them into an extension of your home. It may only be for occasional use, a special event or just during the warmer months, but many outdoor spaces can take on a magical feel with the simplest of touches.
Throw open the doors and cover the walls and floor of a summerhouse or potting shed with rugs, blankets and cushions for some easy lounge living, or take your greenhouse ideas up a level by adding simple wooden furniture and pretty garden lighting ideas.
'Any outdoor covered space that you may have can be transformed into an outside room by adding seating and then hanging festoon lights or fairy lights,' says the team Sparkle Lighting. 'If there is no plug available, battery-operated fairy lights and cordless battery-operated table lamps can bring light and atmosphere to the space.'
8. Go for a nature-inspired color palette
Neutral shades from pale stone through to spicy terracotta give rustic garden ideas plenty of character, but when it comes to choosing paint shades things can get a little tricky.
To keep the overall look of the garden harmonious and restful, it’s best to avoid hot, vibrant shades, especially for larger areas. Instead, go for leafy greens, soothing blues and cool moody grays such as pewter, ash and slate. These will quietly zing alongside rich, natural materials such as timber fencing and shingles, leafy hedges, aged brickwork and terracotta pots while still letting flowers take centre stage.
You can find more suggestions in our garden color schemes feature.
9. Create a rustic tiered display
A flower-filled space, big or small, is at the heart of rustic garden ideas. Maximize the effect by raising your plants to create an impactful display. Window boxes and hanging basket ideas will do the job nicely, but for added charm use a wooden stepladder. From low knee-high versions with just a couple of steps to more traditional affairs reaching shoulder height, they are ideal for brightening up a dull corner or veranda and ooze rustic charm.
Keep it natural for a more rustic finish, or treat the wooden surface to a fresh lick of the best exterior wood paint if you want to add a splash of color. Pop one or two pots on each step. Stick to blooms of a similar shade for a chic, co-ordinated look and go for sun-loving herbs and alpines, to reduce watering.
10. Showcase natural materials
Any rustic garden ideas should celebrate the beauty of natural materials, so look for excuses to use them at every opportunity. Rustic fences, gates and pathways can all become exquisite features, adding to a garden’s unique charm and personality. Coppiced hazel and chestnut have long been used in the UK to create traditional garden structures while cypress and cedar are favored in the US.
Hand stripped and cleaved timbers as shown here, are seeing something of a revival. 'Using coppiced wood like chestnut to create garden features is not only aesthetically pleasing and tactile but ages beautifully, has a resilience to decay and helps support and maintain traditional craft skills,' says garden designer Claudia De Jong. Strong and durable, they are perfect for tasks varying from picket garden fence ideas, garden gate ideas, arches and even bug houses.
Clay pavers and handmade bricks also exude plenty of character. Lay them as paths, stand them on their ends to form edging and borders, or stack them to make casual plinths for displaying prized pots or salvaged finds.
11. Put up a rustic log arch
Frame a garden view or make an entrance, with a timber pole arch. The more basic the structure and chunkier the timbers the better, providing they are securely fixed of course.
Great for introducing height into a design, these simple designs look inviting nestled in amongst trees and shrubs or overgrown with the best climbing plants such as honeysuckle, clematis and wisteria. They also provide year-round structure and interest, especially important in gardens that have many deciduous plants or spend months covered in snow.
Look for arches, pergolas and arbours in kit form that are quick and easy to erect or design your own using machine rounded poles in pressurized softwood available from most timber yards. Commissioning a skilled craftworker is another option well worth considering for rustic garden ideas, as they can create truly unique pieces that are site specific too.
Always wondered about the difference between arbours, pergolas and gazebos? Our guide has the answers.
12. Paint up wooden crates
Seemingly impromptu displays give your rustic garden ideas plenty of charm and wooden crates are perfect for the job. Choose sturdy designs in a range of different sizes and paint them in a gorgeous, muted shade inside and out. Once dry they can be used as side tables, stood on end as a box frame or piled high to make a multi-faceted showcase for potted plants, garden tools and other garden items.
If floor space is tight, why note fix them to the wall instead? A neatly spaced row will add impact and drama, while a mix of crate sizes, hung close together, will create a more intriguing arrangement.
'The great thing about crates is they need little or no prep using our paints,' says Ben Thornborough of Thorndown Paints (opens in new tab). 'Paint undiluted for a smart even finish. Anthracite Grey is this year’s most popular color for a classic heritage look. Or dilute your wood paint 1-to-1 to see the grain, then rough it up afterwards with some sandpaper for a timeworn look.'
There's more tips on how to use salvage for garden upcycling ideas in our feature.
13. Customize your furniture for a more rustic vibe
Somewhere to sit and soak up your surroundings is a key part of any garden, but rustic garden ideas are not about sleek and contemporary design. For that reason, your garden furniture need to be creative and expressive.
Repurposed kitchen and conservatory chairs, tractor seats and ornate metal designs are perfect for rustic garden furniture ideas. They will all stand out amongst lush planting and vibrant blooms, but we particularly love this artistically painted wooden bench. The lively sunflower design looks stunning against the blue and tucked in amongst tall perennials and grasses it's truly inviting. The perfect spot for a quiet read or alfresco coffee, it’s a real mood booster whatever the weather or time of year.
Find your perfect outdoor seating in our edit of the best garden benches.
14. Add a quirky sign or two
Rustic garden ideas should be full of surprises that lift the mood and say plenty about their creator, and nothing does this more than a well-chosen sign or two. Pick out a favorite phrase and use it creatively around your garden. Paint it on a wall by a scented climber or inscribe it on a paving slab in front of a pond or by a favorite view.
Many garden products can be personalized with a special quote, including stone bird baths, wooden swings and benches, but a simple hanging sign is fun and can be easily moved around and swapped over too.
'If we are lucky enough to have outdoor areas, they’ve lately become sanctuaries, safe areas to cherish and nurture,' explain Jenny Vaughan and Simon Young, founders of RE (opens in new tab). 'Signs and messages can help create the perfect personalized outdoor environment and the varied tones of rusty metal from flame orange to chocolate brown look great set against lush green foliage or floral planting – and of course they last for years in every climate.'
15. Pimp up a birdhouse
A des res in miniature – homes for our feathered friends have long been dotted around our gardens, but why not have fun making your bird house design ideas truly unique? The perfect excuse to try out some rustic garden decorating ideas, all you need is a simple wooden bird house, some paint, wood glue and a dash of imagination.
Have a root around for unwanted items ripe for upcycling. Picture frame offcuts can make dramatic, oversized bargeboards, while wooden doorknobs and carved mouldings add shape and decoration. The perfect project to keep children amused too, position your new tiny home on a timber post in the centre of a border or mount on a wall in pride of place.
16. Repurpose old furniture
Give old furniture a new lease of life by using it outdoors for your rustic garden ideas. If you've got an old coffee table or bedside table that no longer works for the interior of your home, why not repurpose it for your outdoor set-up instead of throwing it away?
We love how this vintage table complements the garden bench, offering a place to enjoy your morning cup of coffee, or it could even work as a small potting table for planting up your window boxes or hanging baskets.
Protect wooden furniture by lightly sanding down the item, then add a couple of coats of exterior wood paint to ensure it can withstand the elements. There's top tips on painting garden furniture in our dedicated guide.
What is a rustic garden?
Rustic garden ideas are a beautiful mix of the creative and practical. Born from a love of repurposing, this style of outside space features decorative garden finds and everyday objects that have been used to make comfy seating areas, plant supports, arches and arbours.
Imaginatively put together and often costing very little, their charm is in their laidback approach and individual and unique look, which often expresses the personality of their creator. Bursting with color, character and a wealth of different artistic projects, rustic garden ideas will create fun and lively plots that everyone can get involved in.
Want more inspiration for your plot? Check out our eclectic bohemian garden ideas too.
How do you make a rustic garden?
Tempted to introduce some rustic touches to your outside space? We asked the team at Rowen & Wren (opens in new tab) to share their favorite rustic garden ideas.
- Create height and structure as your garden will fall flat if it's all on the same level. Look to traditional willow obelisks and trellises to encourage plants to climb skywards, and to give your garden structure.
- Little makes a garden feel more rustic than calling upon Mother Nature to 'furnish' it. Vary your materials from a classic wooden garden bench and terracotta pots to natural cane furniture. You'll create variation in color and texture so your entire garden will feel more lived-in.
- A garden that embraces the elements will undoubtedly feel more rustic. Leave some elements exposed to wind, rain and shine so they develop a comforting patina over time.
- Scour reclamation yards and antique shops to unearth pieces for your rustic garden ideas that are already wise and worn. Vintage pots, tools, trugs and cast-iron bistro sets are all there to be found and will instantly lend your garden a heritage feel.
- Sometimes you have to let nature simply take its course. By rewilding your garden (or just part of it), you'll learn just how 'rustic' you're happy for things to be and in turn, reshape it as you see fit. Let paving slabs gain age spots, encourage grasses to grow tall and mighty, and teak to silver.
Jill puts her love of plants and all things garden related down to the hours spent pottering around with her Nan and Grandad when she was little. Today she is lucky enough to have a garden of her own in Surrey, England, and spends much of her time writing about them too.
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