You may remember that when we moved home last year, one of my concerns was how we could quickly and easily create an outdoor space that was as lovely as the garden we had gradually established in our old home. If I could have relocated that garden with me I would have done!
We did what we could with what we had last year, but a combination of busy schedules taking up most of our time and the need to wait until all the weeds had been killed off meant that we were limited in our choices. Aside from putting a few plants in pots, it remained very much a grey and blank concrete yard…
I can’t actually describe just how much of an effect this has had on me. I grew up with a beautiful garden that my mum and dad maintained and developed throughout the years (their garden now contains a mini orchard as well as a veg plot and multiple borders and water features – it is like a little haven), so I really miss having a garden full of life the whole year through.
But, of course, we live in a rented home and as much as I’d love to develop the garden fully I do not want to invest huge amounts of time and money into something that we will likely leave again within the next 5 years. Which is why I am pleased to say that we have managed to create an almost complete transformation overnight with hardly any outlay at all, thanks to my dad’s experience and my bargain hunting at the garden centre. And I thought it might be helpful to share some of our tips with you, just in case you are feeling as overwhelmed as I was when looking at a blank back yard and wondering how to turn it into a beautiful garden space.
1. Ask your friends and family if they can help
I know that I am very lucky that my dad is so enthusiastic about gardening and brings over 30 years’ experience with him – not everybody has a father to supply them with enough bedding plants to fill a blank square of their garden! But the reality is that even if no-one in your family is a gardener, chances are someone you know is and they may well have spare plants they would be more than happy to give you. Last year a colleague of mine gave me a whole tray full of marigolds she had going spare, and this was someone I had only known for about a month at the time!
Alternative options may be to ask friends and family to buy you some bedding plants as a gift (housewarming, birthday, etc) instead of the usual token gifts we often receive but don’t actually need. You can pick up some lovely bedding plants at most supermarkets now, so they don’t even need to go out of their way to the garden centre to buy them, making it easy to swap that bar of chocolates for a pack of petunias!
The plants above were all grown by my dad from seed and so cost us nothing. We have sprinkled random seeds around the area too, in the hope that something may take. Some of the seeds came from our old garden, some we picked up in the bargain aisle over the years. Obviously the seeds will take much longer to appear, but having bedding plants put has completely changed the entire look of this area of our garden.
2. Scour the clearance section and budget stores
Did you know that most garden centres have a clearance section where they place plants (and other seasonal products) that are past their “best dates” or looking worse for wear? It’s just like the clearance section in a supermarket where items that are close to their expiry date or end of season get reduced drastically for a quick sale.
I love the clearance section and always head there before looking at anything else. Sometimes you have to hunt quite hard for it as it is often hidden away at the back of the store, but when you find it you’ll be happy that you looked. Over the years I have found some wonderful bargains here, from herbs that looked like there was no life left in them to trees in pots that just needed to go to a new home asap. Some of the things I have bought have not survived, but most of them have with a little bit of TLC, and it has been a great way to fill out our garden on a budget.
These came from the clearance section in a couple of places we visited lately – as you can see, the sweet peas were a mere 25p! I love sweet peas as they remind me of my childhood, but I have never had much luck with them in the past. How could I possibly pass up the chance to try again at that price? The most expensive of my bargain buys lately have been a marrow and garden pea plants, but both only cost £1 each, so again a total steal!
3. Think Outside The Box (which might include a box or two!)
Don’t think that just because you have a tiny back yard with no lawn and hardly any soil you cannot create a colour garden, because you can! We’ve been growing plants in pots ever since we moved into our very first flat together. In those days it was simply a trough on the windowsill, but it was still something that we had grown.
In every other move since we have grown vegetables in large boxes, because digging a vegetable patch in a rented garden is not necessarily the easiest of things to do. There are so many herbs and vegetables that will grow quite happily in containers, so long as the soil is both well watered and has good drainage. You don’t even have to go out and buy fancy pots, ours grow in old plastic storage boxes which we drilled holes into the bottom of.
We’ve currently got courgettes, carrots, beetroot, spring onions, lettuce, and two types of radishes planted in the blue boxes and tomatoes growing in pots along the wall. We’ve had huge successes with this kind of vegetable growing in the past, especially the year I was pregnant with Little Man when we had a real bountiful harvest and I was picking tomatoes off the plant to nibble on throughout the day.
4. Use What You Already Have
This may sound like an obvious one, but actually it’s often easy to overlook what you already have. As I’ve already mentioned, old plastic boxes can make excellent planters for your garden, as can old buckets, and even large tin cans. They may not be the most beautiful objects, they will soon be filled with greenery of all sorts, so it doesn’t really matter that much.
You will also find that, over time, you begin to collect quite a selection of plant pots of varying sizes, as you plant things in different spaces. That small, black plant pot that housed the bargain garden peas? Why not fill it with compost and plant some herbs? Herbs are one of those things that grow so well in pots and are actually much easier to maintain in a smaller garden by keeping them in pots rather than in the ground where they can expand and take over in a short amount of time.
We have lots of plant pots that we have amassed over the years, from our own buys and from family and friends passing them on to us. As such we now have a lovely little selection of patio pots containing a wide range of herbs, ornamental grasses, lavender, a rose, and even some strawberries. It is so lovely to look out of my kitchen window and see this area blooming so well.
5. Small Steps Make Big Changes!
Remember that gardens are always going to be a work in progress – there is always something more that you can do, so dream big and slowly but surely you will get there! Our last garden was just getting to the place where I wanted it to be after 5 years there, so I don’t expect our current garden to be exactly what I want it to be in just our second year. But with each small step we take it becomes a much more pleasant place to sit.
My current plans include gradually adding more and more top soil to the borders and patch of land underneath the vegetable boxes. We are taking this slowly in order to remain on a budget – yes, we could go and buy a load of top soil today but actually we have a family friend who has a surplus he can give us every now and again when he is in our area, so we are not going to turn down that offer. The beauty of growing vegetables in boxes this year means that we can continue to place more and more top soil under and around the boxes so that next year we can plant straight into the ground and use those boxes for even more plants further down the garden. Slowly, but surely, we will get there.
And I hope that you get there with your garden space too. Do tell me what you have growing where you live and how you make the most of the space you have. And if you want to follow along with our journey in more detail, follow me on instagram where I often share little updates on a day to day basis.