It can be easy to put off making changes of any scale to the garden until you have a chunk of time and a generous budget for it. Our recommendation: Don’t wait. There are plenty of simple updates you can do yourself now that will make a big difference in the appearance of your outdoor space.
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1. Invest in one or two knock-your-socks-off containers. Color grabs attention and can be a useful way to draw one’s gaze away from areas of the garden that need more work. Add a burst of color to your entryway with a pair of containers planted with summer bloomers or vibrant foliage plants. Here, a deeply saturated combination of bronze and burgundy coleus, red-flowering begonia, brightly striped dracaena, and lime-green sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas, USDA zones 9 to 11) form an eye-catching entryway duo.
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2. Try troughs. If building a raised bed (or hiring someone to help) seems like a larger job than you’d like to commit to this summer, invest in a few galvanized troughs for a prefab equivalent. Traditionally used as livestock water troughs, galvanized tubs can be purchased from feed stores and, once drilled with drainage holes, make great raised beds for small lots. Place them in a spot that receives full sun, and you’ll be able to grow an entire small-scale kitchen garden of tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, eggplants, peppers, strawberries and herbs.
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3. Tuck away your grill. Think you don’t have room for a barbecue? Steal a small-space trick from Aloe Designs of Vancouver, British Columbia, by half-burying a small charcoal-burning grill in the ground. Sure, you’ll need to bend down a bit to stoke the coals and turn over the sausages on the grill, but think of it as an updated version of an at-home campfire.
The grill is nestled in gravel and surrounded by low-water herbs like thyme, lavender, golden sage, purple sage and hyssop. Be sure to set plants at least 18 inches away from the grill.
Related: If You Love Lavender, You Might Like These Interiors
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4. Hang a hammock. Even just looking at a hammock from across the yard is enough to make you feel more relaxed. Adding this playful, swinging seat is an easy and inexpensive way to tempt you to get out and enjoy your garden this summer. Make use of two mature trees as supports or opt for a hammock that comes with its own stand.
Related: Can’t Hang a Hammock? Try a Porch Swing Instead
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5. Repurpose a pallet as a vertical garden. A vertical garden can be a great way to increase planting space without taking up room. Save money on pricey vertical planting systems by repurposing a cheap wooden pallet as a living wall.
To re-create the pallet garden from this London terrace, mount a pallet against a wall or fence and line the horizontal slats with landscape fabric (stapled to sides to secure) to form planting pockets. After filling the pockets with potting soil, plant with herbs, flowers and vines of your choice. Vertical gardens in full sun dry out quickly — choose drought-tolerant plants like succulents and Mediterranean herbs, and either hook up to a drip-irrigation system or plan on watering frequently by hand.
Note: Avoid using pallets with mold or rot and check for an HT stamp on the pallet, which means it has been heat-treated (rather than treated with chemicals).
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6. String paper lanterns for an outdoor party. Create ambience with inexpensive lanterns hung from wires crisscrossing above the patio or from the branches of mature trees. Some lanterns contain glowing lights; others can be mixed with a string of cafe lights hung nearby. In dry-summer climates, you can leave them up through the season. In other regions, bring lanterns that aren’t water-resistant indoors if rain is predicted.
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7. Plunk a seasonal container in established beds. There’s no need to make major changes to existing landscaping to update the look of your front garden. Instead, drop a large container planted with summer flowers into the bed. If your existing irrigation system doesn’t reach the container, add a drip line for the pot or plan on watering by hand as needed.
Two container combinations to try:
– For sun, plant North American native purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, zones 3 to 9) with billowing Latin American fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus, Zone 6).
– For shade, plant delicate Chinese foxglove (Rehmannia elata, zones 7 to 10) with silver-leaved, blue-flowering ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, zones 3 to 8).
Related: Message Local Landscaping Companies for More Information About Your Zone
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8. Repurpose a trellis as a tool rack. Just like in the house, clutter in the garden can be distracting and make it difficult to find a tool you need. Organization systems don’t have to be expensive — you can often repurpose materials you have on hand — and can help keep garden areas neat and organized.
For example, have a garden trellis do double duty as a support for vines and a rack for tools. In this urban garden designed for outdoor cooking, an overhead trellis doubles as a rack to hold pots and pans. Pots are easily accessible for the nearby wood-burning pizza oven or can hang on the rack to dry, keeping countertops clear.
If your garden needs lean more toward potting than cooking, set a simple metal trellis behind a potting station or outdoor work table to act as a tool rack for hand tools like trowels, clippers and pruners.
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9. Put together a living centerpiece. Far more long-lasting than a bouquet of fresh flowers, a succulent centerpiece can grow for years in the right spot on your patio. For the best results, choose a relatively shallow planting vessel and pack it with a variety of slow-growing succulents, such as small-scale echeveria, hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp., zones 4 to 9) and stonecrop (Sedum spp., zones 3 to 8). Most succulents grow best in bright, indirect light and in soil allowed to dry out between waterings.
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10. Transform your tiny terrace with containers. On a balcony or a paved urban lot, containers can be the best way to increase growing space. Plus, growing plants in containers allows for a flexible design that is easy and inexpensive to change.
In tight spaces, don’t overcomplicate things; choose a set of three to five neutral pots and stick to a rough color palette for plantings. For example, this skinny London garden relies on trio of zinc pots and a built-in planter to provide space for planting. The plants — including olive trees, fragrant confederate jasmine, golden sage and lavender — fall into a color palette of green, gray, chartreuse, white and purple for a fresh, Mediterranean feel.