Recipe for Success
Always dreamed of a breathtaking garden, but don't have a budget to start? This couple shows you how to do it without breaking the bank.
By Barbara Criddle, Seattle, Washington
Take a neglected portion of the yard, stir in a fascination for gardening, a healthy measure of free time and a splash of bargain hunting—that's how we cooked up this glorious cottage garden landscape for around $1000!
Our little piece of paradise didn't become a reality until my husband, George, and I both retired, 2 years ago. To adjust to our new lifestyle, we decided to pursue some activities together, including gardening. With that in mind, there was only one place to start— the southern section of our yard where our two daughters and four grandchildren used to play.
Once crowded with swings and slides, all that remained in the neglected 50- by 20-foot plot was a huge steel-piped swing frame built by George's father, a few established perennials and a weed-filled rock garden. Any wonder this eyesore was tops on our to-do list?
Weathering the Weather
A tiled garden bench from co-workers and the towering swing frame gave me the idea to create a casual cottage garden that I could relax in and enjoy. We didn't have a budget, but George and I agreed to do the work ourselves to keep things affordable.
After sketching a rough plan, we were ready to roll. So, on one of the hottest and windiest days of the summer, we commandeered our grandson to help maneuver the wheelbarrow. We removed all of the sod and several inches of sand from the area. At times, it was nearly impossible to see each other through the dust.
Extreme summer heat and a rainy autumn put the cottage garden on hold until February. Blessed with a warm, dry spell, George and I headed back out into the yard to begin construction on a stone path.
Hauling and installing the rock were tough. George figures he lifted several tons by the time we finished. But the work was satisfying, and the price was right!
Adding Some Color
With the garden path finished, we turned out attention to areas surrounding it. Great gardens start with the soil, so we carted home, spread and tilled about 5 yards of topsoil into the area. the leftovers were used to fill in cracks along the walkway, where I planted creeping plants like 'Elfin' thyme, also known as creeping thyme, is my favorite. It's more compact and produces bright-pink flowers.
Slowly but surely, I added flowers to the gardens, relying mostly on perennials I found on sale at local garden centers. To brighten the swing frame, George and I attached black nylon garden mesh to each end and trained trumpet vines to grow up it. By September, the vines were blooming vigorously. Things were starting to shape up!
Rooms to Grow
Years ago, George made several cement stepping-stones for the yard. After moving several together to fashion a small patio, we realized this wasn't enough. So back to work he went while I headed out on a long-awaited trip to England to view, among other things, the country's numerous gardens.
By the time I returned, George added six more lovely rectangular stones to the patio and even crafted several matching oval steppers. By building his own forms, mixing and pouring the concrete and finishing the steppers himself, we saved a bundle.
I was inspired by the many English "garden rooms" I'd seen and was eager to re-created similar, low-cost ones in our yard. So when we finished the patio, we added a small table, chairs and umbrella. that I'd received for Mother's Day. It was our first garden room, a perfect place for breakfasts.
Personal, Thrifty Touches
The old swing frame now holds a two-seated cedar swing, creating another relaxing garden room. Engulfed in trumpet vine, cape fuchsia and surrounding annuals and perennials, it's a delight for the senses.
The once-weedy rocky garden, which we cleaned up and extended, became a focal point thanks to an inexpensive wicker chair I picked up at a yard sale. I painted it lavender and surrounded it with more second-hand items, including a metal table and an old window frame painted chartreuse and filled with mirrors.
The bare wooden fence flanking the lot turned into a backdrop for my collection of birdhouses, many of which were gifts. And a small Japanese maple, a present from my mother, graces another corner. Aside from saving money, these priceless keepsakes make our garden that much more meaningful.
There's more work to do, and a few new "garden rooms" are in the plan. They're small, fun and easy to create, especially on a budget.