Before & after: Overgrown garden gets a glow up to become a charming getaway

This compact suntrap is now the best space for sitting and enjoying a cocktail...

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories
(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

When the mercury’s rising it’s lovely to head outside to the garden to bask in it. But the sight of a scrubby, parched lawn, weed-filled flower beds and rotten fencing is enough to put anyone off their home-made iced cocktails.

Ben and Sara Swift bought and renovated a house in Kent, a delightful two-bedroom cottage for use as a holiday rental. But the garden took a backseat as they made over the whole house and was looking sorely neglected.

But now, after exercising their pro DIY skills that they’d honed on the house, it is a compact sun trap that’s every bit as charming as the rest of the cottage. We chatted to Sara and heard how they transformed it for just over £1,000.

The before

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

The garden was sadly neglected and the fence was sagging

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

‘The garden was a little tired; the fence was bowed and the plants a little unruly,’ recalls Sara. ‘But when we viewed the house, we loved that the garden was small and did get a lot of sun, so we knew we could make it work for what we needed it to be – a low-maintenance but pretty garden where guests could relax with food after a day out exploring.

The result

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

Now it is a place to sit and relax in, complete with home-made table for resting glasses on

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

‘We did the upstairs of the house first so we had somewhere nice to stay when we came to refurb and visit, then as the spring came round, we thought we’d tackle the garden so the kids had another space to hang out in while we were busy decorating.'

The process

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

Nobody could get down this garden path easily

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

‘In the garden, we decided to work with what we had: the raised walled bed and the trellis along the back wall we left untouched. I toyed with the idea of painting the wall but for now its left as it was and we have replanted the bed with lavender and jasmine, and a tidy of the existing climbers which gave quite a mature feel.'

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

The new light-coloured gravel leads to the decked seating area

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

‘The garden is approximately 8m x 6m and mowing the lawn seemed a bit pointless. We took it up and Ben built a simple deck to cover the main part of the garden. We replaced the shed with one the same size (but not rotten!) as we use the shed to store equipment not needed by our guests – it’s also a handy space to store used linen when we are very busy!'

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

The cladding finish and pebbly gravel is in keeping with its setting in a seaside town

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

'We simply gravelled the remaining area around the deck with light Cotswold Buff pebbles. We liked it so much, we used it out the front too. The only downside is in autumn when you can see the leaves collecting more easily on the lighter surface, but the space is small enough that it is not too big a job to sort that out quickly!

‘Ben replaced the side fence as it had become quite bowed. This was quite easy as the posts were already in. What did take hours of work, though, was painting it black. It looks so good in a garden against any foliage or plant colour but on a brand-new fence we found you needed four coats. In hindsight, we probably should have hired a paint sprayer to get a couple of coats on first and then finished off with a hand painted layer at the end. 

‘We added a trellis later when we realised it wasn’t quite private enough. Mid-pandemic everyone wanted the same thing, so Ben sorted it out by making his own. We think we saved about £150 doing it this way rather than buying the ready made versions.'

The details

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

The old trellis needed a makeover

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

'It was my job to make it look pretty. As it is a business, I want things to look great, but must be mindful of cost too. I bought a lot of the furniture at the end of the summer last year, so it was all very reasonable. Ben made the table from some left-over wood pallets and paint left over from the fence. I've added some potted plants to give it a little more colour, too.'

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

The plants are thriving and fill the garden with scent

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

‘The mix of gravel and decking is very practical. Sometimes we only have five hours to changeover for the next guests - if we had a high maintenance garden too, we just wouldn’t have the time to keep on top of things. Being in a seaside town, we also figured people are visiting to explore the beaches and coastline, so probably not going to miss grass. They'll just want somewhere they can relax in.'

Sara and Ben Swift took their overgrown garden in hand at their holiday rental and made it a place for guests to make memories

Guests love the pretty setting

(Image credit: Sara and Ben Swift @thelittlehouse_broadstairs)

'The whole garden probably cost around £1,200. That decking was around £500, the fence panels and trellis wood around £250 and the shed £200. We saved money on labour for sure and making the trellis and garden table ourselves. In winter Ben is hoping to up a pergola so we can hang a sail from to provide shade.

‘Lots of guests have commented on it being a sun trap and how it is a nice space to sit and have a drink in the evening. They’ve also added touches themselves; one lovely guest left a climber and someone else collected pinecones – so we have them arranged on the table now. It is so lovely seeing those mementos and knowing people are making memories in our little house.’

Find more details of The Little House and things to do around Broadstairs on instagram @thelittlehouse_broadstairs 

Alison Jones
Alison Jones

Alison is Assistant Editor on Real Homes magazine. She previously worked on national newspapers, in later years as a film critic and has also written on property, fashion and lifestyle. Having recently purchased a Victorian property in severe need of some updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.

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