9 Tips For Designing Your Garden On A Budget – Do’s and Don’ts

Posted on February 20, 2019 in Gallery, Gardening, Slider

9 Tips For Designing Your Garden On A Budget – Do’s and Don’ts

When we bought our older home, the yard looked as bad as the house. But we had to prioritize, and our garden had to wait. Finally when the time arrived for us to make decisions and choices,  I felt overwhelmed. The renovation of our home left a very tiny budget for our garden projects. So I had to be wise in my designing and wants.  I started looking online, talking to landscape designers, just to get and idea of where to start. Unfortunately, for me the best teacher became experience. I’ve learned a thing or two, by trial and error. Killed lots of plants and shrubs, loved and disliked others and have become much wiser in my choices. I want to share some ideas, that I wish I knew few decades ago.  Nine tips on how to design your personal garden that is not only beautiful, but also functional and some do’s and don’ts.

1 -Make A Plan Of Your Priorities

Identifying your needs and immediate wants are crucial if you’re on a budget (like we were). Do you need a vegetable garden? Do you need a play area for the kids? How about fencing and some outdoor furniture? Truly the list of needs and wants can get really long. That is why making a priority list is really important. Even if you can’t afford to landscape your entire yard all at once, it is a good idea to draw up a plan (even if it’s just a simple hand written one) of your end goal. The consequence of not having a plan is, that you might end up back tracking and redoing a bunch of work (I’m not even going to tell you how many times my husband has dug up the same trees and bushes in our garden). So get your pen and paper and let’s get creative.

  • DO sketch ahead of time, before you start buying plants and trees.
  • DO think about how you’ll be using your space and garden.


2002 front yard


Front yard 2018


2 – Consider Your Climate and Location

Since I have lived in both cold and humid versus warm and dry locations, I know that climate is very important. There are some plants and trees, that no matter how hard you try, will not thrive or even survive if they’re placed in the wrong environment. The coastal weather with its sandy soil and wind can be terrible for Roses and the Petunias, but Lavender and Russian Sage will usually do just fine. I’ve had people tell me that they bought a plant at a nursery and it died due to weather conditions. You would think that if a “local” nursery sells a plant, than that plant should be right for your “location”. But it’s NOT! Do your homework on what your zone is and ALWAYS check the plant’s recommended zone. The placement of your home can have a huge impact as well. Will your garden be on the north, south, east or west facing? North facing front yards can have large areas of shade and there are more plants that like sun than shade. Avoiding these types of mistakes can help you make smarter plant and designing choices.

  • DON’T mix sun loving plants with shade plants. Consider your location and sun exposure
  • DO consider the need of each plant. Choose same sun and moisture requirement.


Arbors and Sitting Area

Arbors and sitting area 

Play area

Play area


3 – Plan Your Hardscape Areas

Hardscape is the expensive part of a garden and a landscape but the backbone. They are the non-living elements of your yard and garden and usually permanent. In other words, it’s really hard to re-do once installed. They consist of anything made out of rocks, bricks or stones such as retaining walls , fire pits or pathways. As well as metal, wood, water and patios. Even a playground can be part of your hardscape area.  Choose hardscape that will enhance the architectural design of your home. Is your home a cottage style or perhaps more modern and contemporary? Use the style of your home to guide you in your choices. Hardscape helps to organize your plants, trees and other living material. For Instance the side-yard of our home was just grass. It was never used and provided us with nothing, other than weekly mowing. Instead I chose hardscape material that would work for our needs, and created a pathway to the back yard and some small flower beds with edging and gravel.

  • DO choose hardscape that enhances the overall style of your home.
  • DO keep in mind to design in right proportion to your area. Avoid large elements in a tiny yard and remember that small features may not enhance a large area.
  • DO consider pergolas and arbors as a way to create a focal point.
  • DO outline your beds with hardscape, it makes adding plants and trees much easier.


Before side yard 2008


Side yard 2018




4 – Consider Color

Considering the colors have been real challenging for me, because I love all flowers and all colors. Sticking to the color palettes creates more harmony and unifies a garden. That doesn’t mean that you always have to have only handful of colors in your yard. But it helps to bring it all together, with few pops of colors for contrast. In general green, white and brown is neutral. After I discovered how using the color wheel made a huge difference, I started repeating some of my favorite colors in variety of plants. This also helped with cohesiveness and unity of our landscape. Remember considering colors in your garden is not only just for the living elements but also for all the hardscape. The easiest way I have found to help me is to take some pictures. Usually for some reason, when I look at the colors thru a camera lens or a picture, I can detect much faster whether or not its providing the area with a flow that I need.

  • DO use the color wheel for better flow



Potted plants

Pots make a lovely addition in designing your garden 


5 – Mix Texture and Height

Choose plants and variety of ornaments in different heights and texture. I used to not take height nor texture in consideration. Consequently I would end up with no nuance or contrast. It all just looked liked a blended mess. I was always worried that different types of leaves and flowers would not makes any sense. When in reality the different contrasts provides with energy and variety. I love the texture of ornamental grass, it really engages the eye. I try to look at the ultimate height of a plant and plan accordingly. For instance since I know (or google the info) that conflower gets about 3 feet tall, I try to plant another plant that only gets 1-2 feet tall in front of it. Keeping in mind visibility. Always keeping the shortest in the front.

  • DO add occasional different texture or detail in your garden design.
  • DO look beyond flowers when mixing height and texture.


Shaded plants and area

Consider shaded plants and areas 

6 –  Think Ahead

This is the saddest mistake of them all. Not to think ahead and to plan for your plants optimal size. It’s important to leave enough space for your plant and trees to grow to its fullest potential. I have been forced to trim back many perennials and bushes, to the unfortunate point where they just stopped thriving, because I didn’t think ahead. I’ve also helped people dig up perfectly healthy trees, because they grew to big and close to their house. Often times we buy plants and trees when they are very young. This is a good thing. It gives the plants, the flowers, shrubs and trees an opportunity to acclimate to their environment much easier and faster. But this also means that the area you’re planting might not look as full for a year or two. This is why a mature garden is so beautiful. It has had the time to fill in. If the plants are planted too close this creates a breeding place for diseases and viruses. That said, planting groups of flowers and plants has an important appeal. Just allow breathing space for each variety. It’s interesting to go back just couple of seasons and look at how my garden looked like. It’s truly amazing to see how fast plants grow and create a beautiful canvas picture.

  • DO keep in mind that the plants ultimate size is determined by optimal conditions.


Edibles in grow boxes

Planting vegetables in grow boxes.

7 – Don’t Forget Edibles

Yes and yes!  If all possible make room for vegetables and herbs in your garden. Growing edibles is just as rewarding and exciting as beautiful flowers. You can plant variety of vegetables in grow beds as well as straight on the ground. That is the beauty of gardening, creating variety. I usually mix herbs in my pots and flower beds. I’ve had friends plant tomatoes and cucumber plants among their flowers. You can plant edible flowers and enjoy the best of both worlds, food and beauty. Some of the edible flowers are Nasturtiums, Roses, Pansies and Hibiscus. There are several other edible blooms. I always recommend though to keep in mind that if you’re going to use these flowers for eating, than avoid ALL pesticides and non-organic fertilizers. When it comes to edible plants, soil quality will have a correlation with production. This is where amending our soil helps to create healthy plants and product. Keep in mind that if your total garden space is small, use a small area for your edibles so you don’t get beaten by all the work that comes with growing a vegetable garden.

  • DO use support and pretty trellis for your edibles.
  • DO plant edibles even in small pots and containers.
Squash plant in a planter

Growing squash in a planter


8 – Use Art and Furniture

Usually this is the fun and easy stage. Decorating with art, lights and furniture. I love looking for antic or unique garden furniture at yard sales. Some years ago, as I was shopping at a local furniture/decor store, I came across a swing. It was beautiful and exactly what I wanted. The only catch was, that although it had the chains attached to the swing, there were no legs or arbor to swing from. The store manager said that due to damage to the legs, they were selling the swing “as is” for $25, rather than the $375. I hurried and called my husband, and asked him if he thought he could build me something to hang the swing on. Sure enough, I did end up buying and he build me a strong trellis made out of metal. The point is, sky is the limit to DIY projects in a garden design and landscaping.

  • DO use beautiful art in your garden, such as variety of status, bird baths and water fountains.
  • DO use furniture and rugs that are functional as well as decorative and focal point.


Metal swing Summer 2017


9 – Use Lighting

Lighting is real important. It’s important when you are outside at nights, perhaps even entertaining guests. It creates a romantic ambiance.  Lighting in a garden also act as a safety tool for your visitors as well as to yourself. This is both for reasons such as keeping uninvited guests out, but also avoiding falls and tripping. I have both tall lights and just low ones scattered around my flower beds. I love all the lighting in our garden, especially during Winter months. That’s when it really provides with all the benefits of safety as well as stunning curb appeal.

  • DO use solar as well as hard wired lighting options.
Water feature

Water features can get expensive and be high maintenance, but they are beautiful and add a lot to a garden. 


My final suggestions are, don’t be afraid to create your own garden design. No landscaper knows your needs and wants as well as you do. Consider all the aspects and be willing to make necessary adjustments and changes. It takes time and lots of effort to get your garden to look the way you like it. Honestly, every weekend my husband wonders if I have thought of a new garden project or not. If you want cost effective flowers, choose perennials and native plants instead of annuals.The important thing is, plant and design so that you don’t become a slave to your own garden, but rather it enriches your and your family’s life. Gardening is healing and very rewarding. Of course no matter how much you try, unless you pour straight asphalt, you will have some maintenance. And what I may consider to be low maintenance, you think is lot of work. But start small and grow slowly. If your garden is small, use whatever space you have skillfully and you’ll feel the area to be bigger than it is. And don’t forget to have fun!!!


Hardscaping a garden

Each garden is unique in its own way, the key is finding what is right for you and your family. This garden is definitely not budget, but I sure thought it had a special charm, had to share it. 


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