How to Design a Small Front Garden Cheaply
Designing a Cottage Garden on the Cheap
When I asked professional landscape gardeners about giving my front garden a makeover, they said it would cost about £2,000 ($3,337). What I really wanted was just a modest bit of paving to replace an awful grassed area that was looking parched and weedy, and then a profusion of flowers like an old-fashioned cottage garden. I did it for £225.
They laughed at me and said it would look awful, but I decided to go it alone, and in the end, they swallowed their words and agreed it looked quite pretty. Lots of passers-by who are complete strangers stop and say how lovely my garden looks when they see me working on it, and it makes me feel quite proud.
It was actually fairly straightforward to do , and as it would be easy to copy, I am showing you how it progressed so that you can give your garden a cheap makeover too.
It's not rocket science, and the description below will give you the confidence to make a few changes to your own garden, without resorting to expensive landscape gardening.
Translating the garden design into measurements and costing
Deciding on the Planting Scheme
I decided to retain all of the well-established shrubs in the borders—some because they were too difficult to remove and others because they were really quite nice and just needed to be thinned out. My reasoning was that it would take a few months for the new part to come into fruition, and therefore, it was best to go with the swim and keep the plants I knew were successful as I could always remove them later if they didn't fit in with the new order.
I needed to work out how many paving stones I would need and sort out the soil.
I went to the local garden centre and chose a few of the rectangular paving stones I wanted, and took them home so that I could lay them out and get an idea of how many I would need and what it would look like. I then went back and bought the rest of what I needed. The paving stones cost £35 ($58).
I started digging up the turf, and it was such hard work that I got someone in to help me (there she is in the photo above). I was advised to get some good topsoil to replace the nutrient-depleted apology for soil that was there, and, in addition, to cover the area with manure. This was delivered by lorry and cost about £100 ($168). It was necessary because London (where I live) was built on clay, and the existing clay soil in my garden had not been fed or nourished since the house was built in 1935.
Sorting out the Paving Stones and Soil
I was told that the paving stones would need to be concreted in, but I felt this was unnecessary.
So we merely laid a bit of rubble and earth down, and set the paving stones on top. I wanted spaces so that I could grow small plants in the cracks. It's now a few years down the line, and we've never had problems due to lack of concrete.
That's all there was to it.
Total Cost: £135 ($225) instead of £2,000 ($3,337), plus the cost of a few plants (some grown from seed).
The Next Stage was Choosing the Plants
I Knew Roughly What Plants I Wanted
Standing on the path leading to my front door, I could see that it was no good planting tall plants in the middle of the garden because they would hide the smaller plants behind them, and would also conceal the view of plants from the road and from my windows.
Tall Plants at the Back and Short Plants in Front of Them
- I planted the tall ones at the far side - hollyhocks which take quite a long time to grow tall, and don't flower till mid summer.
- I put in several shorter plants in front of them. I had intended to put in low bedding plants for a short period and then put in mid-height plants, but in fact the low bedding plants looked so pretty and effective that I decided not to put in any more bigger plants.
- So I had lavender, pansies, osteospermum (Cape Daisy), wild geranium, verbena. adjuga, heuchera, forget-me-nots and aquilegia (columbine) - all colour-toning.
- My son gave me a roughly made rustic stool to sit on when I was gardening, and this became a permanent feature together with two logs. All the colours had to look good together, and blend with the existing plants. I also planted up a couple of garden pots, one with marigolds and another with a large formium.
I was delighted with the result, and, as I said before, even the professionals had to admit it looked good.
All Grass Removed and a Few Pots Placed Strategically
First I Drew out a Plan of My New Garden—Nothing Special, and Not Very Detailed.
The existing garden consisted of flower beds bordering the paths, and some dry, impoverished clay soil with depressing tufts of straggling grass in what could euphemistically be called a lawn, which you can just see in my photo on the left.
Well, my grass was to lawn as my house is to Buckingham Palace...I don't think so!
The Basic Plan:
My idea was to remove the grassed area completely, lay a pattern of paving stones in the form of a 'T' shape, in order to have easy access to all parts of the flower garden, and then fill the rest of the area with flowers, which I would select according to their height, seasonal variation and growing pattern, colour, ability to flourish in half-shade, somewhat dry because of a tree in the street outside.
The End Result for my Cottage Garden
Lots of shorter plants and various colour schemes according to season
- So in summer it was pink, white, mauve and flashes of orange.
- In autumn it was more orange, evergreens and fuschia colours.
- In winter, lots of white berries from pernettya, blue-black berrries on the mahonia and red berries on the cotoneaster and roses.
Would you like to design your own garden, or do one like mine?
This Design Is So Simple You Could Do It Yourself. You Just Need a Little Bit of Thought to Work out What You Need.
Flowers in Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn
In January the white-green hellebore flowered, followed in early spring by yellow mahonia, yellow and white daffodils and narcissi, then pink bergenia and bluebells and forget-me-nots, bright primroses, then flame coloured wallflowers, almost dazzling in their brightness, and grey-white osteospermum.
- Draw it out
- Measure anything that needs measuring
- Work out where you need tall plants and where short plants
- Decide on a colour scheme so the flowers blend or contrast, and don't look a complete unthought out mish-mash
- Choose plants to suit the mini-climate where they will be growing - no good growing sun loving flowers in the shade
- Have plants which flower at different seasons, so when the early ones finish flowering, die back and look ugly, there are new later-flowering plants either growing through them, or in front of them to hide the dead leaves
If you can do even some of these things, it will be perfecto!
The Most Important Thing Is to Plan First
Work out how you want your garden to look - colours, height, seasons, habitat, manageability
and the right tools