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Gardenscape on a Shoestring

By on December 21, 2004

photo by navdeepraj
Many of us flip through garden magazines, all the while thinking that it takes years, a professional, or tons of money to landscape the gardens featured in the glossy pictures. This isn’t necessarily true. You can design a breathtaking garden and be the envy of the neighborhood by following some of the following tips.

Know What You Like and What Works

Drive around your neighborhood and see what’s out there that grows well in your zone. You can jot down what you see on index cards, so they are organized and handy. Start gathering page clippings from magazines and collect some pictures of the designs that interest you. This can help you decide what garden style you like. You’ll have an easy reference for plants and placement too.

Select Location and Color

Next, look at your notes and clippings and choose the color scheme you‘d like to have in your garden. Don’t forget to keep in mind if you’re designing and planting in shade, sun, or partial shade or partial sun. Are you looking for something bright and vibrant or something more calming and soothing? Consider starting with a foundation of shrubs and accenting with some perennials, bulbs, ornamental grasses, and annuals for more seasonal color. Perhaps, you want all flowers. Decide on a shape that complements your house style. Straight styles give a more formal appearance while curves give a more informal feel. If you don’t feel confident selecting colors, you can use a color wheel to help pick contrasting and complementing colors.

Budget and Create a Plan

Decide how much you are able to and want to spend on your new garden. Do you want to start with a foundation and add to it gradually? If so, start with purchasing your most expensive plants and shrubs first. Use these as a focal point for your garden. Start watching for sales and discount plants at garden centers and nurseries. Tell everyone you know that you’re starting a garden and would love it if they could give you divisions of their perennials or seeds they have saved from their garden. Let family and friends know that you have a wish list of plants that would be the perfect gift idea. If you have access online, do a search for seed swaps. Many gardeners love to help a new gardener. Many are willing to send seeds for the cost of postage or will trade for something else that you may have that they are looking for. A great resource for free items is Look for a group in your area, join the group, and post letting the group know that you would be interested in garden plants and seeds. You may get lucky and find that a member of the group has already offered some plants up for grabs. Don’t forget to ask your local garden club when they are having their sales too. You can also start some plants from seed yourself. Many seeds are very easy to direct sow and a little can go a long way.

Here’s a partial list of easy to grow seeds:

4 o’clocks
Cupid’s Dart
Morning Glories
Sweet Alyssum
Bee Balm

Don’t forget if you decide to sow into containers, there are many inexpensive containers such as yogurt containers, milk jugs, egg cartons, and plastic ice cream buckets. You can also call your city and see if they have free mulch available. Don’t hesitate to strike up conversations with your neighbors while you’re out for a walk. You never know, the topic of gardening may come up and they might be more than happy to offer you some seeds or divisions.

Design Away

Now you’re ready to design. You can sketch out your idea beforehand. Keep the following in mind as you design.

Scale- Judge the size of the area and choose plants that aren’t going to be too large, too wide, or too small for the area. Keep in mind the plant’s size when it’s met it’s mature growth.

Balance-Don’t place your plants where one area is too compacted with plants and another area is too airy. Try and achieve a good balance of small, medium, and large plants. Balance offers visual stability. It can be created with space between plantings or the visual weight of your design. This can be created with lines so that your garden is pleasing to look at from all angles.

Focal Point- Your focal point will be the area that your eye is drawn to first. This can be your prized flowers, tree, or shrub.

Rhythm- This is visual flow. The eye wanders throughout the entire garden design, but comes back to the focal point. It can be achieved with repetition and contrast.

Harmony-Unity- This is when plants have a way of appearing connected and a part of one another. This can be achieved with color, texture, groupings. Unity is lost when your plants look too separate or your color choice makes one plant look lost amongst the rest.

Color- Color impacts the entire design process. Use a color wheel if you don’t feel confident selecting colors that go well together.

If all of this is too confusing and overwhelming, check out some garden catalogs. Many have suggested designs. It’s also best to place your containers out and arrange and rearrange where you want to plant them before you start digging.

Accessorize (Homemade Garden Art)

To add some interest and whimsy to your garden, consider some homemade items or trash to treasure works of art. Ideas such as making your own stepping stones, garden markers, terra cotta bird baths or toad houses, painted rocks and pavers, and fun wind chimes are simple projects that can add a lot of interest to your garden area. Look around for unique items you could add to your garden such as milk cans, wooden chairs, ladders, tricycles, wagons, trunks, roofing shingles, mailboxes, or even dressers. The sky is the limit on what you can create. Use your imagination.

There you have it and you didn’t have to hire a pro, spend thousands of dollars, or take years to achieve a pretty garden. You won’t be a new gardener for long. Soon, it will be you sharing starts, cuttings, seeds, divisions, and tips.

As seen in The Sun Journal


  1. emily_hope

    2/17/2007 at 10:59 pm

    I have used the color wheel for many things, but have never thought to use it for gardening purposes. Thanks for the idea.

  2. Bumplett

    2/18/2007 at 10:23 am

    one can always find free plants/flowers while driving down the road – how many times have you seen a house that will be cleared to build something ‘bigger & better’ ? I try to map them out in my head so I can return with a bucket & spade – it’s a shame how many beautiful flowers are destroyed when they build 🙁

  3. mom23boys

    2/18/2007 at 6:54 pm

    Thank you for adding the list of easy to grow flowers. I have always wanted to “upgrade” our landscape, but I am not sure what would be easy to grow and what wouldn’t. This list gives me a start.

  4. Marie78

    2/19/2007 at 12:09 am

    I live in an apartment, and I am already thinking about what I will plant on my balcony in May. I have 2 small containers that I like to put flowers in. I usually plant some petunias, but I am thinking of planting some flowers from seeds this year and seeing how they turn out. I have a few seed packets of flowers people gave me last year.

  5. clutterbug

    2/20/2007 at 12:33 am

    I love flowers and go crazy when I see yards landscaped with them. But there are no flowers in my yard because I am not good at keeping them alive.

  6. clutterbug

    2/20/2007 at 12:35 am

    My mom used to have flowers in the yard when I was a child. I remember my neighbor and I actually sneaking and eating the seeds from marigolds.

  7. mom23boys

    2/25/2007 at 7:33 pm

    I remember as a child when people driving through town would stop at my grandparents home to ask her about her roses. She had the most beautiful roses I have ever seen. I don’t think I have ever seen any as beautiful as hers. I don’t remember what she did to them, but everyone wanted to know her secrets.

  8. Edwin

    7/22/2009 at 9:22 pm

    I must share an experience.

    My wife & I would go to a local market and buy what was left of their baby trees after the season was over. We got them for next to nothing, since they all appeared totally dead. They were nothing but sticks.

    I planted four such sticks (the sign said they were sycamores) at the edges of our strawberry patch – more to outline the patch dimensions than anything else. ‘Planted’ meant I stuck them in moist soil.

    For years we had four dead sticks outlining our patch.

    One spring some five years later, I was astonished to see those sticks sprouting! Soon there were four young, vibrant trees there.

    Today we have four beautiful sycamores in our yard.

    This story is true. I couldn’t make up a tale like this.

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