Where to Save Money on a Garden Renovation
These 10 cost-saving ideas from professionals can help you stretch your budget without sacrificing style or quality
Read on, as garden and landscape design professionals on Houzz offer their advice on the best places to save money, such as savvy ways to repurpose or refinish existing materials, strategies for phasing larger projects and more.
It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to creating your dream landscape wish list, with elements from patios to outdoor kitchens to fire pits, but costs quickly add up. Focus on the elements you really want and will use often.
“If you want to save money, scale things back or take out a few features that you could add over time,” says landscape designer and contractor Heather Sweeney of Mom’s Design Build.
Tip: Having a professionally drawn site plan in place will help ensure that you won’t have to disturb an improved area when installing new features at a later stage.
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Hardscape – hard surfaces such as pathways, pavers and patios – is often one of the biggest “budget eaters” in a garden renovation, as the materials and installation can both be expensive. If you’re looking for ways to help rein in your budget, resilient but less expensive hardscape materials can fill in, either temporarily or permanently.
With this front garden revamp, landscape designer Ian Moore used a mix of gravel and pavers instead of stone flags for the front patio and walkway as a cost-saving measure. The 3m x 3.5m gravel patio (pictured here) was installed with the idea the clients might upgrade to stone flags in the future.
“Gravel can be an excellent permanent low-cost alternative [to cut stone],” says Ian, who recommends using a mix of gravel and concrete or precast pavers to create pads for furniture. Regardless of the material you choose, it pays to invest in professional installation.
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While it’s tempting to want to rip out everything and start with a clean slate, it’s better to pause and take stock of what you have. Repurposing existing plants and materials – especially long-lasting, high-quality ones – can help save your budget and enhance your design.
For this cottage-style garden, Heather used existing clay pavers mixed with brick to create a new path and relocated established daylilies and hostas.
She kept the original white picket fence, giving it a fresh coat of paint, new ball caps for the posts and new gates for an updated look. “A fresh coat of paint on a dated item is worth the investment for a relatively low cost,” she says.
If you don’t have existing elements that can be repurposed, chances are someone in your area might. Check with local salvage yards – you may be able to score a pallet of bricks for a patio or timber boards for a fence for less than purchasing them new.
If you’re buying new materials, such as gravel, wood or stone flags, ask which ones come from your region. They can often be more affordable than materials that have been transported from elsewhere, and can help your new garden fit in with the natural tones of the area. Ask the landscape designer or architect you’re working with if local materials could be prioritised.
Landscape designer Kathryn Prideaux recommends sizing down plants to help with your budget. “Plants can easily be purchased in smaller sizes, as they will grow over time,” she says, adding that it’s smarter to invest in permanent elements such as hardscape.
Even planted from small containers, many herbs, perennials, ground covers, ornamental grasses and vines will fill in quickly. Some shrubs, trees and succulents can be slower to reach maturity, depending on the species.
There are a few exceptions for which it can be worth the splurge on larger plants: one or two mature trees for dramatic impact and shrubs needed for screening.
See how this garden looked once the plants had grown.
If you’re looking for colour in planting beds, perennials – plants that come back year after year – are a much better investment than annuals, which need to be bought and replanted each season. Nurseries will often have end-of-season sales of perennials in the autumn, which is a perfect time to plant.
Tip: Another way to score plants for less is at a plant swap. Search online for plant swap organisations and events.
“A landscaper’s labour cost to purchase the plant, deliver it to the site, add fertilisers, amend the soil, dig the hole and install the plant is often just a bit higher than the cost differential between the retail and wholesale material costs,” Steve says. Depending on your plant knowledge, a professional may have a better understanding of plant spacing and depth, resulting in a better overall planting job.
For permanent and high-use elements, it makes sense to choose the best-quality materials and craftsmanship you can afford. For smaller decorative accents, this isn’t always the case.
“Cute little garden details, like the obelisks we used in this garden, can make a big impact,” Heather says of this front garden. Adding the ball caps to the posts of the existing white picket fence was another way she elevated the overall look for a low cost.
Other low-investment, high-payoff exterior accents could include chic house numbers or a smart gate.
We already mentioned picking up perennials at autumn nursery sales, but here’s another thing to look for: containers for potted plants. Stores will often cut prices by 50% or more to clear inventory at the end of the growing season. Stock up on large pots for spring planting.
Once hardscape is installed and plants are in the ground, your costs going forwards will be associated with maintenance.
Some hardscape materials require more maintenance than others to continue to look good over time. Plants all require different levels of water and maintenance throughout the year to continue to thrive. It’s best to consider this now, when you’re just beginning your project, to design your plan accordingly.
This pastel-toned Colorado garden, for example, is made up of durable natural stone and low-maintenance perennials and shrubs well-suited to the mountain climate.
For plants, your best bet for cutting down on water costs is to use native plants or those that grow well in your climate. Gardens composed of easy-care shrubs, ground covers and perennials require less attention than those designed with high-maintenance annual flowerbeds or clipped topiary. Choose a style you have the time and budget to care for.
Skipping a traditional lawn can also offer major savings in terms of both water (in drier areas) and maintenance.
For major landscape overhauls, installing the design in several phases can help in terms of budgeting. For phased projects, bring in a professional at the beginning to draw a complete site plan that will outline the overall design and how phases should be divided according to construction access.
“Think through everything you might want to bury in the ground that will be useful or desired in the future,” Ian says. “It’s no fun to dig trenches or drill holes in finished surfaces.”
Ian agrees that having a complete site plan guiding the construction process is likely to bring costs down overall and prevent doing work twice. For example, with proper planning between phases, a contractor could lay the foundation beneath a patio for a shade structure intended for later installation.
“Then, when the client is financially ready for their patio and pergola,” he says, “the installation can be achieved by simply pulling up the paving stones concealing the foundations, versus a major excavation and redo.”
Where have you saved in a garden redesign? Share your tips in the Comments.