How to save money on your garden design

Whatever the size or scale of your garden project, designer Matt James shares his advice on where to spend and where to save

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When you’re planning home renovations, the garden often becomes a list of weekend jobs that will, or will not, be completed at some point in the future. However, it is often overlooked how a well designed, stylish garden will can increase the value and desirability of your home.

Creating the perfect garden design is an expensive job. it requires hard landscaping, accessories and regular maintenance, but there are few surefire ways to add value to your garden even if you are on a budget.

1. Fill your garden with flowers

This is the easiest piece of advice for anyone looking to save money in their garden. Flowers are inexpensive, decorative and are often the first thing that guests are drawn to. They’re especially effective in a small space, on a terrace or patio, or in a courtyard without a lawn.

You can create an impressive floral arrangement by using pots and planters if you don’t have space for beds. This will be easy to maintain and if you get bored, it is easy to move around and change. If you have a lot of space for beds, try to add plants that flower at different times in the year, so that there is always something interesting going on.

2. Use reclaimed garden materials

Recycled materials often look better than new, particularly around traditional buildings, and it’s possible to pick up a bargain. Reclamation yards can be pricey, especially those in cities, so take a day trip out to a country yard as most will deliver.

Check Ebay, Gumtree and Freecycle as well as supermarket classifieds. You might not spot exactly what you originally wanted, but with a little imagination it’s possible to create truly unique features from your finds.

3. Go for straight lines

Complex curved walls, fences and patterns in paving cost a lot as they are tricky to create. Garden building materials are usually designed for simple spaces, so adapting them for different angles and curves will result in some wastage.

Simple straight runs are far easier to build and usually look better, especially in urban and suburban gardens where unity between the garden and your home’s architecture is important.

4. Do it yourself

Labour costs can be more than 60 per cent of a garden redesign, so spend time considering what you can do yourself. Planting, laying a new lawn, erecting kit-form pergolas and arches, timber raised beds, simple plumbing – even a deck – are well within the scope of the DIY enthusiast.

You should know your limits though. Paving, brickwork, extensive garden lighting and features such as dry-stone walls will need specialists. Choose local tradespeople to keep expenditure to a minimum.

5. Structural planting is important

Create impact with trees, larger shrubs and hedges, especially those used for privacy, screening and security. Specimen plants give a garden an instant sense of substance and proportion, which is difficult to achieve otherwise.

Using trees to create a ceiling for your garden, in the same way a pergola or gazebo would, is always going to be the cheaper option. The same can be said for borders, instead of paying a contractor to build a fence, invest in hedges, climbing plants and grasses to define the border and increase privacy and security.

6. Choose smart garden lighting 

Lighting adds another dimension to any garden, as well as potentially extending the time you can spend outdoors. Use lighting to illuminate trees, beds, water features and sculptures and it will feel like a completely different space at night. Waterproof festoon lights are a flexible, temporary and cheap solution to lighting your garden, and they will create a comfortable and casual atmosphere.

night lights by John CUllen

Create atmosphere and enjoy your garden 24/7 with accent lighting. Image John Cullen

Cheaper spotlights are useful where fittings will be hidden by foliage, so you will save money if you decide to conceal your garden lighting. If you plan on spending a little more money, go for attractive fittings that will double as decorative features.

Always consult a qualified electrician for anything other than simple clip-together systems. Cable runs and the associated pipework need to be factored in very early on, even if you actually plan to install the system itself later, when further funds are available.

7. Choose landscaping materials carefully

There’s always a more affordable hardscape option. Dry stacked stone or rendered blockwork costs less than ‘faced’ brickwork, while Western red cedar decking is cheaper than other decking timber, and works just as well.

For seating areas, a solid surface is essential, but elsewhere gravel, or even bark, will do. Both are easy to lay on landscape fabric to keep the weeds down and you can break up a large area of gravel with oak sleepers or ground cover planting.

8. Speak to a garden designer

An experienced garden designer can save you time and money in the long term. Professional garden designers can help from planning the entire garden and managing contractors, to guidance on where best to proportion your budget.

At the very least, consider a day’s consultancy to give you some ideas to work with. The initial cost might seem unnecessary, but it will save money in the long term, and the new ideas will be invaluable. Search online, checking out client testimonials, or visit the Society of Garden Designers and the British Association of Landscape Industries.

9. Be simple with sloping spaces

Gardens on a slope can be expensive to redesign, and sometimes there’s little above ground to show for the time and money you’ve invested. Go for a design that minimises the need for extensive groundworks, foundations and drainage. One or two level plateaus built into the slope, for somewhere to site a dining table or a couple of sun loungers, could be enough ‘useable’ space.

Solutions such as decking are also useful, needing just a few foundations for the sub-frame, unlike paved areas, which are either built on top of, or into, a slope.

10. Don’t be afraid to cover and clad

An expanse of concrete or an unattractive boundary wall doesn’t always require removal and replacement; you could cover or clad it instead. For vertical surfaces, close-knit trellis, woven hazel hurdles, thinly spaced cedar strips attached to wooden battens behind, coloured concrete render.

Removing lots of heavy flooring is expensive, not to mention back-breaking work. If it’s thick and the surface is sound it could be the perfect sub-base for attractive exterior tiles, as long as adding them won’t raise the height so much that the damp-proof course of the house is compromised.

Main image: Tony Timmington