It doesn't cost a fortune to turn an eyesore into a garden spot.
A Border on a Budget
With a little work and a little cash we transformed a formerly neglected area into an eye-catching garden. Choosing plants wisely saved money.
| Credit: Van Chaplin

When my wife, Margaret, and I purchased our home, the garden at the end of our long driveway had all the charm of a train derailment. So this high-profile area was the first one we decided to redo.

We began by shifting a few plants around. The stiff-soldier row of small ornamental 'Bradford' pear trees came out. We dug up the two butterfly bushes (Buddleia sp.) and set them aside so we could amend the soil. The 10-foot-tall corkscrew willow tree (Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa') in the center of the bed was the only thing that remained untouched.

After pulling weeds, we tilled the hard-packed clay soil and added two pickup loads of clean leaf mold, available from our local landfill at a bargain price. A load of aged "zoo-doo" was free from the zoo. (Many zoos have more manure than they know what to do with, so they offer it to the public at little or no cost. Note: Be sure the manure comes from the herbivores; the manure of meat eaters contains harmful bacteria.) All of the materials were then tilled into the existing topsoil and raked smooth.

The two butterfly bushes were replanted close to the front, where their lacy foliage and perfumed flowers could be better appreciated. We splurged a little on 10 new 'Carefree Sunshine' shrub roses and wove a curved row of these low-maintenance beauties around the butterfly bushes.

We placed an inexpensive birdbath among them so the lemon yellow petals would create a floating potpourri as they dropped. A dovecote-style bird feeder, which we purchased at a local home-center store and painted white, makes a stand-out accent. To construct the wattle edging, we used the plentiful supply of privet clippings taken from the back of the property.

Zinnias planted from seeds cover the remaining space. These colorful, drought-tolerant annuals germinate quickly, draw butterflies, and provide cut flowers all summer.

The last of the frugal planting was done by the cardinals and finches that dropped sunflower seeds from the new bird feeder. As the seeds fell into the soft, fertile soil, they quickly sprouted and grew tall enough to peek over the tops of the zinnias. The bright sunflower faces were such a nice finishing touch; it made us wish we had thought of it ourselves.

BARGAIN BLOOMS: For this makeover, our goal was to be speedy as well as thrifty. Here's how we spent (and saved) our money.

  • 2 loads of leaf mold $40
  • 1 load of zoo-doo free wattle edging free
  • birdbath $80
  • bird feeder, post, and brackets $85
  • 1 (25-pound) bag sunflower seeds $10
  • 5 packs of common zinnia seeds $10
  • 2 flats of Zinnia angustifolia $25
  • 10 'Carefree Sunshine' roses $150
  • 4 bales pine straw mulch $10
  • Total $410