Best Resources for DIY Gardeners on a Budget

When I began working on my garden plans, I had no idea about any basic landscape or garden design principles. Some, I had to google. Others, I learnt with experience. During the initial trying times, I was quite surprised at the lack of quality resources for garden design tips for ‘normal’ people ie people who didn’t own stately homes and who didn’t have in excess of £20k-£30k to splurge on garden design. Garden designers were mostly expensive, labor even more so. Looking for the best resources for garden design showed up all kinds of websites and apps from those for stately homes to those for small Japanese gardens. Pretty specific. I wanted something more generalized that I could use to funnel into my own design. Yes, as the cliche goes, I am one more DIY gardener.

I was pretty sick of seeing tires used as planters, old plastic bottles being hung with ropes as hanging pots, etc. I mean that sort of stuff is what you mostly see on pinterest. Shabby chic or modern-boho some call it. I don’t mean to offend anyone but that’s just not my style. Plus, where do I get spare tires to make planters or edging?! How can I get 100+ dinner plates to create edging. These ideas are different and sometimes, quite fancy but I don’t think they were easy on the pocket necessarily or practical for that matter. These are all important or quirky resources for garden design or garden DIY but again, did not start with the basics.

I even tried to enroll in some gardening courses but these varied anywhere from £300-£2000 ! I decided I would forage the internet, change my search strategies and watch videos on YouTube before I plunged into a formal Gardening Diploma. It’s a superb idea, don’t get me wrong, but not when you have a limited budget which you’d rather spend on your garden.

Getting to know my garden was probably the hardest bit.

Here is a list of resources that helped me the most:

Websites:

  1. Good old RHS. I would strongly recommend going through the advice and inspiration photos of various gardens on this garden design page – it doesn’t bombard you with information, treats you as a relative beginner and eases you into various types of gardens with their definitions and what plants to expect in different garden styles.

2. Gardena. It’s a free, simple, online garden planner with an option to include irrigation systems in the design. Need I say more?

In addition, they even have some basic gardening designs for inspiration and let you draw your own garden, in a way that looks hand-drawn. Absolutely beautiful! The pros of Gardena are many such as being very user friendly, a wealth of features but the main downside is the rather basic looking designs without the ability to allow photo uploads. In other words, it does the job pretty well but expects you have a fairly good imagination to envision the plan in your garden.

3. Landscape Design Principles by Rob Steiner (published on Garden Design). One of my absolute favorites, this a small set of rules but those that carry prime importance in any design. If you’re relatively new to gardening or landscape design, have a read of these – it only takes about 5-10 minutes but your garden will continue to thank you for the rest of its life if these principles are applied.

4.Marshall’s Garden Visualizer. This has got to be my favorite. Free, in 3D, all materials available to view online, links for where to buy, etc all complete with a decent visualizing tool. It can be slightly more challenging to use but the results are well worth the effort. You don’t necessarily have to buy from the suggested stores – I would strongly recommend shopping around once your design is finalized since prices of building materials vary from one seller to another in my experience.

5. Shoot’s Garden Design Software. I haven’t used this beyond the free trial, which sadly doesn’t last long, but it comes with all the above features (minus the superior graphics) with the added bonus of being able to add your own plants and then getting a garden care map.

Sounds lovely, but it does come at a price:

6. The Spruce’s take on landscape design for beginners. This, again, is a short, sweet guide to the basics of garden design for beginners. Instead of reading a whole book (in case you don’t have the time), this can give you the first few basics to think about. When I read the header stating ‘Principles Do-It-Yourselfers’ need to know, I was totally sold!

Books:

  1. Landscaping for Dummies. The name says it all. You can buy it from £3 for a used edition from Amazon. If you’ve gone through the above resources, it shouldn’t take you more than a few hours to skim through this book.
  2. Garden Design Bible by Tim Newbury. The kindle edition is just £3 whereas you can buy it from Amazon in Paperback from £9 (used) to £17 (new). Easy to read, gently easing you into various garden design types and then plant combinations with 40 garden designs – this book has a LOT to offer. A very enjoyable read!

3. RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design. If you are to buy ONE book, let this be it. You don’t have to read it all in one go but it’s a good investment for the future too. Packed with how-tos, definitions and a wealth of advice – most of which I didn’t even know I was looking for until I read this book!

A sample page from the RHS Encyclopedia
Another sample page from the book above. Absolutely gorgeous!

4. Planting: A New Perspective. One word: Piet Oudolf. That says enough to me. However, I don’t want to scare you away, given you’re just beginning your remarkable journey as a gardener/designer. Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury talk about sustainable planting in rhyme with nature. This, too, is an absolute must-have to help you plan your planting designs.

Apps:

  1. Plan-A-Garden by Better Homes and Gardens: Easy to use, multi functional, lets you upload photos and play around with various elements to see what they would look like in real life, before installing them permanently in your garden.

Needless to say, I was pretty much sold after reading these descriptions and it certainly lives up to its word!

2.iScape: Beautiful, easy to use. But, only available on iOS. You can easily add photos of your garden and add various elements onto these photos, such as paths, paving etc to see how the final design would deliver. The plans are shareable so you can use these to collaborate with your designers, landscape team, etc.

3.Home Design 3D Outdoor and Garden: Only available for iOS, has in-app purchases, demands basic and sometimes, advanced knowledge but overall, great fun app to use.

4.Home Outside: Also available only for iOS but priced only at $2.99, this is a gorgeous app which lets you design the same way as pros do, ie using hand-drawn plans instead of AR. Yup, your guess it right – this app, too, needs some landscape design knowledge which is why it’s better suited to professionals.

5. Garden Plan Pro: Although strictly not for planning your garden, this app deserves a mention since it help you plan where and when to plan what vegetables, herbs and fruit and check your local area weather to ensure you plant and harvest at the correct times. If you’re thinking of using a part of/all of your garden for produce, make sure you have a look at this app! However, it’s only available for iOS so far.

Videos:

YouTube.Obviously. Instead of putting in links to all the millions of videos I’ve watched from how to plant tulips to how to build a pond on the cheap, I’ll just say one thing: Search for how-tos on youtube and you’ll get lots of content. Some may be better suited to your taste and/or budget but you’ll have a lot of choice. For example, here is a link to a guy showing you how to build a pond in 2 days in roughly £40 (this estimate was from 2010 so I would assume this hasn’t gone above £60?) when he was initially told it could take anywhere from £500-£5000!).

Garden Rescue. This is my all-time favorite show. A group of experienced garden designers compete to give a design plan – the winner renovates a garden of one of the lucky plot owner in the UK. I learnt a lot about landscaping, various plants, plant combinations, ways to upcycle materials, wild-life friendly choices, etc. It’s absolute fun and teaches you lots! If you have some money saved and are tired of planning your own garden, let these guys know on the above link (provided applications are still open).

That brings my post to a close. If you have any questions or comments, please do let me know below. Thank you for reading!

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