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10 ways to change your garden on a budget

Anyone who has ever been to buy plants from a nursery knows that gardening isn’t cheap. Plus, there is no guarantee that the 2m-high magnolia in full flower that you just had to have and took out an extra bond for will actually survive in your garden. Seasoned gardeners know that you have to be savvy with what you have in order to make a spectacular garden with few resources. But it’s not all hard work: Mother Nature also provides. The joy of growing a crop of green peppers from the seeds you harvested from a fruit you bought at a supermarket, carefully dried, sowed, watered and fed, makes gardening more than just a hobby, but a way of life.

Here are 10 ways to get big impact without blowing the budget. Who knows, you may even be able to sell some garden produce and save up to buy that big beautiful magnolia!

1. Buy perennials in six packs

The first thing that will save tons of money is to choose perennials rather than annuals for mass planting in the garden. If you look after them, perennials can last between 3 – 4 years, or even a lifetime. Even the so-called short-lived perennials can then be divided, cuttings taken or seed saved.

The second thing that will save on the budget is buying perennials in six-packs. Amongst the masses of annuals on sale at your local nursery, there will be some perennials in four or six packs that will give you the most value, as long as you have a little time and patience.

Big swathes of perennials will give the maximum impact in a garden, especially when they flower. Try the following:

Agapanthus – in full sun for loads of flowers. They are drought resistant, hardy and low maintenance.

Echinacea – colourful hybrids that are tough plants and pollinator attractors.

Salvias – there’s plenty of variety available, and they are long-flowering and low maintenance.

Plectranthus – easy to grow and propagate from slips. Different sizes available, from large shrubs to groundcovers, for sun and shade.

Gaura lindheimeri – Masses of dainty flowers from spring into winter, low maintenance, frost hardy.

2. Make your own focal point

Garden designers will tell you that every room in your garden should have at least one focal point; something that draws your eye in and makes you pause for a moment. These can be in the form of statues, water features, wall art, containers of plants, a bench, a feature plant like an aloe or cycad, a sundial, bird feeder or bath – there are hundreds of options. Most of these have one thing in common – they can be expensive to buy. So why not make your own?

A can of spray-paint goes a long way, and it comes in an endless choice of colours. For the best results, and to save on buying too many cans of spray-paint, use a spray-on primer before adding colour.

3. Invest in plants with more than one use

When choosing trees for your garden, there should always be a planning meeting in order to find the correct tree that will ultimately be the right size and have a structure that will complement the home and garden. You don’t want to have to move trees or cut them down because you planted them in the wrong place or they got too big for the space. During this planning stage, consider planting fruit trees, thereby investing in trees with more than one function.

In garden beds, plant herbs that flower. Plants like marjoram, dill and coriander have beautiful, delicate flowers that are serious bee and butterfly attractors, and the best part is that you eat them too.

Choose plants that will look good all year round. Take Loropetalum ‘Plum Gorgeous’ as an example: this shrub has beautiful plum-coloured foliage for 12 months of the year – tick number 1. Then in spring and autumn, it blooms with flowers that look like pretty pink tassels – tick number 2. It can also be grown in full sun or partial shade – tick number 3.

Tarchonanthus camphoratus is a small tree with attractive grey foliage. It is wind- and coldresistant, fast growing, has creamy white flowers and fluffy wool-covered fruits and can be made into a screening hedge.

Nandina domestica is a very useful plant in the garden as it is tall and skinny and so fits into very narrow spaces, and can be grown in the sun or shade. It is even frost hardy. It also has green foliage that turns red in autumn, and pretty white flowers in spring and summer that are followed by clusters of berries.

4. Reuse, recycle, repurpose to make garden décor

It is often the hunt that is the exciting part when it comes to travelling to far-off places for hidden treasures in ‘junk’ stores, or delving into a reclamation yard for an old set of garden tools you can hang on the wall as art.

5. Do the work, save seed, divide and propagate

The best way to save money is to get out into the garden and do the work. Not only has this been proven to have several health benefits, but it also reduces stress and is great exercise. Most people will say that it just makes them happy. What more could you want?

When you make the time to spend in the garden, you will at some stage want to grow plants from seed. Harvest seed from plants that are performing well for you in the garden, keep them safe and labelled, and you can save a bundle come the next season. Dividing and propagating is also a great way to increase your stocks of plants and make use of the ones that are perfect for your garden.

6. Try something new

One of the most fun things to do in a garden is to try something new. Adding a new element can transform a space from okay to fabulous, with just a small touch. Take, for example, kokedamas; they are fun to make with few materials and you can hang them anywhere, even indoors, for some new interest.

7. Use gravel for pathways

Gravel is one of the easiest and cheapest materials to use for pathways, and this is not hard to do. You will need some sort of edging on each side of the pathway to keep the stones from flying off into garden beds. Old bricks, small pavers and flexible metal edging are all good choices, or you can go a bit out there and edge your pathway with upside-down bottles buried in the ground, get creative with scraps of wood, pallets or logs, use cinder blocks that you can plant groundcovers into, or even use old plates, tiles or shells packed next to each other for a talking point.

Once the edging is in place, the pathway needs to be compacted. One item that is essential on the list is weed guard or landscape fabric, which you can cut to fit the space. This reduces maintenance by preventing the weeds from coming up, and stopping the gravel from sinking into the ground with use. It doesn’t need to be very deep, but at least 5cm of gravel is ideal.

8. Paint something

Paint is a great way to instantly resurrect a tired space. For a fresh new look, you can change you colour scheme every season if you wish, and still not break the budget. Paint can also give the illusion of a change in a space. Lighter and warmer colours, bold textures and patterns painted on a wall can visually bring the wall forward, while darker and less saturated colours with smooth surfaces and matt paint can visually recede. Make a piece of wall art stand out by painting the wall a contrasting colour, and group things together by using tones of the surrounding colours. Use outdoor paint and colour not only on walls, but also on fences, furniture, features, benches, gazebos, pots and containers.

9. Invest in the right tools and look after them

Investing in high-quality garden tools will save you money in the long run. A good pair of secateurs that is cleaned and oiled after every use and sharpened on a regular basis will last for years. Using the right tool for the job will also save time and money. A new saw, for example, will cut a tree branch much easier that an old one will. Also make use of hiring companies to do the big stuff – hire a cement mixer rather than mixing by hand, or get your wood supplier to cut your timber to the lengths you need.

10. Keep it simple

Designing a new-look garden can be a very expensive endeavour. The first thing to decide is how much you would be willing to allocate to the design of the garden and the implementation, as well as any hard landscaping and plants. Some designers will do a consultation and charge an hourly rate for that; they can then add a garden plan at a price, and then they can do the implementation at another cost. Some will recommend that you spend 5 – 15% of your house’s value on the garden, which will add around the same percentage or more to the value of your home. Others recommend allocating at least R2000/m2 of garden. When talking about gardening with a limited budget, this all seems daunting – the way you can overcome this is by keeping it simple.

Get any hard landscaping you want properly done. Spend the time and resources on preparing the area for your hard landscaping well and you should be able to do it easily enough yourself; alternatively, hire a professional. Remember that straight lines and simple patterns are cheaper than curves. Then add your plants – 3, 5 or 7 are the magic numbers, and contrast two plants together for a modern, eye-catching look.