How to Design a Small Front Garden Cheaply

Updated on January 16, 2018
Gloriousconfusion profile image

I love gardening, garden design, learning gardening techniques & photographing & painting plants. Member of Royal Horticultural Society.

Cottage-Garden Style


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?

See results

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

Hollyhock, Spirea and Hydrangea in my Cottage Garden

2015 - 5 years on
2015 - 5 years on | Source



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    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 22 months ago from United Kingdom

      Looking back on the photos from when I first designed the garden, I'm amazed how much it has changed over the course of time, as rampant plants grabbed too much space, and some hopefuls didn't do so well. I am forever digging out, cutting back and planting new plants, but very much with an eye to maintaining a shape and color scheme which looks pleasing to the eye.

    • profile image

      Olivia 23 months ago

      great Job! It looks so inviting and relaxing, I love all the colors and shades used. You did a great job!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for the compliment. vIt's amazing how hard I'm prepared to work for nothing nowadays. When I was a solicitor, although I did sometimes work pro bono, I usually charged a substantial hourly fee!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Most of my plants are perennials, and then I just plant a few annuals to ring the changes.

      In hot weather I do try to get round to watering every day. My son had a horticultural training, and insists on this (otherwise I get nagged!)

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 2 years ago from Canada

      Your backyard space is beautiful.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 2 years ago

      I read this Hub with keen interest. I have areas that would profit from the kind of installation you did. I wonder how many of your plants are perennials. In Northern California we are experiencing a drought, and all our plans have to be adjusted. Anyways, kudos!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Gardening is how I get my excercise

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      The pink flower is a rose

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from Perth UK

      I've neglected my garden too! I have to change a big area in the back - I might just go it alone too - things are so expensive here in London! Anyway I love your front garden. Well done!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Stunning results. You are an inspiration. I've been so busy writing hubs and blogs, I'm neglecting my garden.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 3 years ago from USA

      Very pretty! I love flower gardening, but it is so much work. That is why I have 5 beds! Is the pink flower a hydrangea? I can't tell from the shot. I love those.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Your garden is beautiful and you chose some of my most favorite flowers. Great work ion this page and your lovely cottage garden. Thanks for sharing.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      @paulahite: That's great, thanks!

    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 3 years ago from Virginia

      Great lens! We featured it on our NEW Google+ page today!! Check it out!

    • IanTease profile image

      IanTease 4 years ago

      Great lens, nicely written

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 4 years ago


    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @anitabreeze: : Thank you for your message which will be dealt with as soon as possible.

      This is an automated reply.

    • profile image

      anitabreeze 4 years ago

      I love doing my own projects! Yours looks great!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @Virginia Allain: : Thank you for your message which will be dealt with as soon as possible.

      This is an automated reply.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm reworking my stone borders for my planting areas this summer. Taking my time with it as my back and knees protest the project a bit.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      @ismeedee: That's right - I got a very expensive estimate from a landscaping gardener - about £2000 ($3000) to do all sorts of fancy things, including re-paving my front path, and using posh stone, far more than was necessary. I just decided to go it alone in the end.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      @SusanDeppner: Yes, the initial digging over is the hardest part

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Well, you've inspired me. Our front flowerbeds need to be done. Maybe I need to "just do it," although I need someone to do the initial dirt work, too. Yours is gorgeous!

    • profile image

      cmadden 5 years ago

      The photo you have under the title, "This Design is so Simple You could Do It Yourself" is wonderful! I want to just sit there and enjoy it. This is a beautiful lens.

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 5 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      well done you! I take my hat off to you

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      You have created a very pretty garden. Good work!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I thoroughly enjoyed this visit and reading about how you designed your gorgeous small front garden. It is so beautiful. Now, I am ready to get out and play in the dirt.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      Beautiful garden! Shows you can make a little bit of paradise with just a small space and not so much money!

    • profile image

      moonlitta 5 years ago

      I am a keen amateur , and more amateur than you are:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      ur garden is ecxactly wot i was planning for mine thanx so much for all the tips u r sharing and very well done

    • QuiltFinger profile image

      QuiltFinger 6 years ago from Tennessee

      Beautiful transformation!! Very inspiring.

    • profile image

      Sojourn 6 years ago

      Your front garden turned out beautifully! It looks so welcoming and I love the variety of colors and plants. You did a wonderful job!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Such an inspiration, thank you!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I love to garden and have done so in such diverse places as Kansas, New Hampshire, Texas, Maryland, Florida and Alice Springs, Australia. Sure learned a lot over the years.

      You've done a marvelous job with your space and I'm blessing it and lensrolling it to Create a Cottage Garden and will feature it on You've Been Blessed.

    • Snakesmom profile image

      Snakesmom 6 years ago

      What a beautiful garden & great pics too! Thanks for sharing, you make it sound easy and fun too.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great garden. I'm in a flat now so don't get the chance to garden.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 6 years ago from West Virginia

      Your garden looks lovely. You did a wonderful job.

    • profile image

      PrettyWorld 7 years ago

      Lovely garden. The crocosmias are particularly pretty!

    • Adriana Daniela profile image

      Adriana 7 years ago from New Market

      You did a wonderful job with both your garden and this lens. Blessed by a Squid Angel :)

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      @GramaBarb: Thanks for your Blessing - makes me feel I've done a worthwhile job!

    • GramaBarb profile image

      GramaBarb 7 years ago from Vancouver

      Loved reading your small garden planning tips! SquidAngel blessed!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      @Rachel Field: Have a look at my Lens 10 Plants that will grow in the Shade

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 7 years ago

      Absolutely gorgeous! I'm working on my dingy back yard at the moment so I figure it'll be lots of moss and ferns for me!