We’ve all been there. Our garden dreams start out backed with organization and ripe with possibility. But somewhere, about midsummer, we become busy and the weeds and pests run rampant and at that point, there’s no going back.
And we repeat the process, year after year, until that vision of our perfect garden begins to seem unrealistic. Fortunately, that garden is never too far gone, and neither are we. With a little time, a few upcycled materials, and some grit you can still build the garden of your dreams, no matter what your starting point.
Every garden has limitless potential if you have the time and patience. Planters, trellises, garden arches, picnic areas, light fixtures, water features, greenhouses, birdhouses, and compost bins are just a few of the many projects that will elevate your garden from simple to sophisticated.
Read on for some tips on how to showcase your garden for the gem that it is, and a few practical projects that will up the wow factor of any growing space!
How To Give Your Tired Garden A Budget Makeover
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to refresh your existing garden, but you will need to devote some time pulling weeds and pruning unruly perennials. It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary.
Make an overwhelming task more manageable by breaking it up into smaller sections. If you convince yourself you have to pull all the weeds in one day you might never get started – so begin by setting a timer for 30 minutes and doing what you can during that time frame. You might surprise yourself with how much you get accomplished!
Outside of weeding, there are a few tasks that will help revitalize an overgrown garden.
Cut Back Perennial Plants, Divide Roots, & Replant
Arguably the best thing about perennials is that they multiply year after year. The next time you cut back your perennial plants, transfer a few clumps to a new corner of your garden or give some cuttings away to friends.
Declutter & Throw Away Trash
It’s easy to accumulate things you don’t need when you have space to store it. Do a thorough comb through of your garden area, and get rid of duplicates and things you haven’t used and don’t need.
Organize Tools & Supplies
Organization is key. Keeping all your garden tools and supplies in one centralized location will save you time and money. Plus, it looks so much better than random piles here and there.
Create Permanent Beds & Paths
Having a clear differentiation between garden beds and paths will prevent you and your garden visitors from stepping in the beds and compacting the soil. Lay landscape fabric, mulch the paths, sow grass seeds, or use stepping stones or bricks to mark exactly where feet should step. It’s totally up to you!
Unite Your Garden With A Theme
Your garden theme could be anything from a unifying color, species, or even something fun like a fairy garden. Call it a pollinator garden or a memory garden for a loved one, and incorporate plants and a design to fit your theme.
10 Creative Projects For The Garden
If you have a few extra dollars in your garden budget, and if you have some old furniture or spare building materials lying around, you can really transform your growing space into an oasis. Gardens don’t have to be purely functional – use the opportunity to create sacred space where you (and beneficial insects and animals) want to linger.
1. Repurposed Planter
One of the cheapest ways to add personality to your garden, there’s no limit to the ways that you can repurpose old and unusual containers into planters. Baskets and colanders are perfect candidates for DIY hanging baskets, since they already have handles and drainage holes.
You can use solid-bottom containers like tin cans and washtubs – just make sure to drill your own drainage holes so that your plants won’t be sitting in water.
Industrial containers make great planters. Check with local factories for any shipping containers or holding boxes – just try to find out if the boxes have come into contact with any chemicals, and if so, pass on those materials or use them for ornamental plants only.
Decorate the containers with outdoor paint, or leave them as they are for a rustic or industrial look. Whether or not you embellish your planters, you might want to coat them with a waterproofing seal.
Raw linseed oil and tung oil are great all-natural and non-toxic waterproofing solutions, or you can use a poly stain and sealant from suppliers like Vermont Natural Coatings.
Next time you buy tires, save the old ones and incorporate them into your container garden. Or, skip the wait and go straight to a tire and lube shop to find tires of varying sizes and textures. If you don’t like the look of bald rubber, you can paint tires with outdoor paint to add a pop of color to the garden.
Stop by your local flea market or thrift store for unique finds like washtubs, sinks and tubs. You might even get lucky and score a whiskey barrel!
2. Salvaged Trellis
While you’re at the thrift store, look around for an antique ladder. Stepladders and wooden ladders alike are great tools to add vertical dimension to your garden.
Vining plants will climb up the ladder, and the individual rungs are perfect for placing pots or window boxes. Stepladders elevate container-grown plants slightly above the rest of the garden, and trailing flowers and vines will spill over their pots to the ground.
Lattice is another excellent trellising material, and it’s sturdy enough to withstand seasons of use. Anchor lattice against fences or the sides of buildings to create a living green wall.
Lattices can also stand on their own in the garden anywhere you need privacy or a border. Just remember that lattice will cast shade, so use that to your advantage and plant shade-tolerant and cool-season plants north of any lattices you install.
3. Garden Arch
I don’t know what it is, but arbors really elevate a backyard garden to something out of a storybook. Arches can serve as doorways, or you can tuck a bench underneath an arbor to create a quaint resting place. Arbors are simple to make and double as a functional trellis and an element of beauty in the garden.
Arbors can take a variety of forms – the simplest and cheapest option is to take a 20-foot piece of galvanized wire fencing, anchor one end in the ground, bend the fencing back on itself, and anchor the other end in the ground three or four feet away.
Alternatively, you can build a boxy structure with four 4×4 vertical posts, four 2×6 boards for the top beams, six 2x4s for the rafters, and pieces of lattice to fit the side walls. The Spruce has a detailed blueprint for building a garden arbor available here.¹
4. Picnic Area
Are you changing out your patio furniture? Don’t get rid of the old stuff! Gently used chairs, benches, and card tables are the perfect addition to any garden.
You’ll be tempted to spend more time in the garden if you have somewhere shady to sit, so choose a picnic area underneath a tree or against a wall that casts some afternoon shade.
Whether you use plastic, wood, or cloth furniture, bear in mind that unless your sitting area is protected by a pavilion you’ll be at the mercy of the weather. Whenever possible, choose materials that repel water or dry out quickly. You might even want to make your picnic area even homier with an outdoor rug!
If you have two well-placed trees, you’d be remiss to not string a hammock where you can wait out the scorching afternoon sun by taking a much-needed nap. No trees, no problem – you can buy hammock stands if you don’t have trees readily available (or if you want the freedom to move your hammock around).
5. Light Fixtures
Lighting is another inexpensive way to add a little extra pizzaz to your garden. String lights and solar lanterns are cheap, easy, and quick to install, so in no time your ordinary garden will be well on its way to becoming the neighborhood fairy garden! Solar lights and lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, so there’s sure to be a set that suits your garden theme.
Tie up a string of lights around the border of your picnic area to create an imaginary room and encourage evening and nighttime use of the garden. Tiki torches, readily available at most home improvement stores, are another cheap option that has the added benefit of keeping biting bugs away.
6. Water Features
Incorporating water features into your garden is a great way to encourage pollinators and birds to linger in your garden. Insects and birds are a sign of a garden’s health, and who doesn’t love watching animals frolic through the flower patch?
Purchase a bird bath from your local garden center or build your own by placing a shallow bowl on some sort of pedestal or structure. Place the bird bath in a shady area, if possible, to prevent the water from getting too hot and evaporating. Place a few stones in the bowl to break the surface and give bees, butterflies, and other insects a place to land.
If you’re ready to take on a slightly more involved project, consider building a pond! All you need to do is dig a hole a little bit bigger than your desired pond’s depth. Cover the hole with a pond liner and cover the bottom of the pond with pebbles or rocks.
You can learn more about how to create a water garden here.
While it certainly isn’t the easiest project on this list, having a greenhouse in your garden is a game-changer. Professionally built greenhouses can be expensive, so save yourself some money and build your own!
You’ll need old windows or glass doors for this project, and several of them. If you don’t already have any on hand, check your local thrift store or Facebook marketplace, or anywhere you can find secondhand items and building materials.
GardeningKnowHow has a great resource on how to build a greenhouse from repurposed windows, available here.²
8. Critter Hotels
Build a birdhouse or beehouse to encourage animals to linger in your garden. A healthy garden will be full of activity. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are essential to the production of your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Beneficial insects like ladybugs, green lacewings, and predatory wasps help keep pest populations under control. You can learn more about these insects and how to use them for biological pest control here.
Build a simple birdhouse out of scrap wood or last year’s bottleneck gourds! Simply cut a hole and pull the insides out of a cured gourd and hang it up in the garden. In no time, you’ll see your new garden tenants moving in.
Native solitary bees like carpenter and mason bees are critical to pollination, and these bees don’t live in hives. Build a bee hotel by filling a tin can or box with paper tubes of varying sizes.
Attach your beehouse to a sturdy structure like a wall or tree, in a south-facing direction so that the beehouse receives morning sun.
9. Pallet Compost Bin
Out of sight, out of mind – while a compost pile is an essential component of a healthy garden, you may not always want to look at an unruly pile of plant debris and rotting vegetables.
Keep your compost organized and neat with a bin made from upcycled palettes. Compost turners are nice, but pallet bins are easy to build and cost far less money.
Many businesses ship and store items on pallets, and will give them away for free. Check with garden supply and home improvement stores first, but Walmart and grocery stores use pallets, too.
Look for a pallet that’s been heat-treated and not drenched with chemicals – you’ll know if it’s heat-treated if it’s marked with the stamp ‘HT.’
There are several different designs on the internet, so browse a few different ideas before settling on your favorite. The simplest design is to secure four pallets together to make a box. Use the box as is or line the box with chicken wire to help hold plant material inside.
Other designs involve disassembling the pallet and reassembling the wood into solid boxes with no space between slats. It’s totally up to you and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into the project.
10. Rain Barrel
Rain barrels are easy to build and require very little maintenance, and are an excellent way to capture extra water and put it to use irrigating your garden! You can buy rain barrels, but they’re not too difficult from materials you can find at your local hardware store.
This video from Utah State Extension explains how to build your own rain barrel.³
There is no end to the projects that you can do in your garden. Whether you grow in containers or you have a farm there’s no end to the ways that you can repurpose something into something beautiful.
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¹ Beaulieu, David. “How to Build an Inexpensive Garden Arbor.” The Spruce, 5 November 2021, https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-build-garden-arbors-2130763. Accessed 16 June 2022.
² Grant, Bonnie L., and Jonas Rönnbro. “Greenhouse From Old Windows – How To Build A Greenhouse From Recycled Materials.” Gardening Know How, 6 May 2021, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/greenhouses/window-pane-greenhouse.htm. Accessed 16 June 2022.
³ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQIgmN3-1jA&ab_channel=UtahStateUniversityExtension. Accessed 16 June 2022.
About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.