How to Easily Transform Your Garden on a Budget
A new book by Kier Holmes gives great tips on how to “garden smartly” while saving big.
One of the challenges of having a garden comes when you want to make changes without breaking the bank. After all, things like mulch, furniture, plants—it all adds up, and the bigger the yard, the greater the expense. I’m always up for any tip that will save me even a little bit of money, and the thing is, if you’re smart, you can save a lot.
That’s where author Kier Holmes comes in. She’s not only written about gardening for publications like Sunset but is also a landscape designer, and her new book, The Garden Refresh: How to Give Your Yard Big Impact on a Small Budget, is filled with tips on how to do just that.
“I’m money conscious so I have trouble even spending my client’s money,” Holmes admits. “With this book, I want to help people save money and make their garden more beautiful.”
Holmes honed her tips in the field. “I’m a gardener with dirty knees,” she says with a laugh, meaning she likes to get down and dirty and has a solid do-it-yourself aesthetic. Meanwhile, she regularly does garden consulting and thinks carefully about how to help her clients do more with less. “What I like about consulting is I see clients and leave them with tangible actions,” she says. “‘Do this, go there, buy this.’ I’m money-conscious, so it’s like, How do I garden smartly for someone?”
I love the concept of “gardening smartly,” and Holmes did an admirable job of compiling her day-to-day principles into The Garden Refresh. Here are seven tips for refreshing your garden with thrift in mind.
Start plants by seed.
Order seeds online through catalogs like Territorial Seed or Baker Creek or visit your local nursery. “The benefit of seeds is that you can find more unique varieties of plants, plus they are a fraction of the cost of nursery-grown plants,” Holmes says.
Mulch is your friend.
“Fresh mulch quickly tidies up and pulls a garden together,” says Holmes. She recommends getting free wood chip mulch delivered by tree companies or your local electric company. “Just make sure the trees that were cut down weren’t black walnut or eucalyptus as these trees contain a chemical that prevents other plants from growing,” she says. Also, before spreading your mulch, lay down newspaper (no color ads) to act like landscape cloth to suppress weeds.
“Buy soil in bulk and get it delivered,” says Holmes. Bagged soil is expensive, and the bags are made of unrecyclable plastic. One idea: Ask your neighbor if they need soil and go in on it together.
“Scour thrift stores, flea markets, and neighborhood sites for used garden furniture, containers, and even tools and building materials,” says Holmes. “Not only will this save you money, but one-of-a-kind items personalize your garden and make it unique.” Keep in mind that you may need to adjust your garden plan based on what you find.
Incorporate plants that are great at multitasking.
“I always try to use pants that check off a lot of boxes at once such as being low water, low maintenance, and pollinator-friendly,” she says. Examples include salvias and aloes.
Plant your own cutting garden.
To avoid buying expensive flowers at the florist or grocery store, plant your own. “I am big on having fresh flowers in my house all the time, so I make sure to always plant flowers that are sturdy and have a long vase life,” Holmes says, adding that cutting gardens are great for pollinators, while a fresh bouquet from your home garden makes a thoughtful gift. “My favorite flowers for cutting are Icelandic poppies, cosmos, dahlias, and zinnias,” she says.
Be patient and buy smaller plants.
“Not only are they less expensive, but most will catch up to their next larger-sized plant friends in no time as long as they aren’t diseased or root bound,” Holmes says. “And avoid the ‘insta-garden,’” she says. “Gardening is about the process and the journey, plus a garden is never really done.”