'How we transformed our Harborough garden on a budget of just £300' - tips from a Harborough couple

Many of us have decided to take on a bit of garden DIY in lockdown. We spoke to one Harborough couple who have done just that - and ended up with a beautiful place to relax in.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 9:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 9:22 pm
Before and after photos of the garden.

With people forced to spend more time at home during the pandemic, garden transformations are becoming popular - no matter how small the space. Many people have rolled up their sleeves and learnt the arts of garden DIY. Harborough couple Erin Dooley and Steven Chivers recently bought a house in Harborough but the garden was in a bad state. They managed to transform it using DIY materials from B&M and some turf - the total cost for everything was £300. Now they want to share their ideas and help others do the same. Here is their story, written by Erin.

My fiancé Steven Chivers and I moved into our house in late 2019. I usually travel for work abroad or to Bristol, so we previously focused on the inside of the house but left the garden, which you could see was in a state. We never really went outside, but with what we had...why would you?

The previous owners had large dogs so there were pens, gravel, and functional fencing but it was so dingy and horrible. Not somewhere you would like to spend time. With Covid this need to have outdoor space changed and we thought we would try and transform the garden on a budget.

How the garden looked beforehand.

We first painted the sheds and fences with Cuprinol Garden Paint purchased at B&M Bargains. We chose colours that were less expensive but still gave us the 'beachy' feel we were after. I grew up on the New Jersey Shore and Steve (who is from Oakham), had childhood trips to Cromer and Wells in Norfolk. We wanted to bring some of the seaside into the garden, since being in land-locked Market Harborough and painting the sheds like beach huts transformed the look. We thought that the best colour for a picket fence was white (of course) and tied that together with the existing lattice. This has given the garden a traditional cottage feel.

The bench, fire-pit and hammock were also B&M Bargains (£50 for the bench, £8 for the hammock and £25 for the fire-pit). We tried to search the internet for items that would be functional and fun but also not too expensive.

We were going to replace the stone patios with new stones but discovered, after scrubbing, that there was lovely sandstone underneath all the grime. This saved us a fortune and it is always worth taking a close look at what you have and try cleaning or painting it first. Something beautiful may be hiding in plain sight. Outdoor carpets or masonry paint and stencils can also transform grey or dingy stone to make an exotic tiled look.

We ordered £150 of turf from a company in Yorkshire. We laid the turf directly on top of the gravel and a layer of top-soil. We found conflicting guidance about doing this online, but we have found this works to help the drainage and made the lawn so lush. We were able to install the lawn in one morning (the two of us working), and since just have watered and seeded. We thought about artificial turf (and friends and family in Brooklyn do swear by it) but taking the chance on natural turf really works if you have the right outdoor space. There is nothing better than putting a picnic blanket on the grass and pouring a drink when working from home.

How the garden looks now.

We are planning to go 'cottagecore' by the sheds and have planted a meadow of wildflowers using some seeds from Wilko (50p to £1 per pack). These should come up in May and will be great for the bees and other wildlife. We like to mix a bit of wild with cultivated in our look.

Speaking of bees, we have pruned down the trees which were in the garden to remove all of the dead wood to help them grow; the flowers on the cherry tree are now beautiful the wildlife love it.

Since we have done this project, there has been a lot more wildlife visiting the garden which has been lovely. It is so nice to lay back in the hammock and watch the visiting birds and insects. The green grass is so therapeutic and is like an oasis.

Our next plan is for a BBQ, skimming off the patio by the house and putting in an extra hammock so we have 'his and hers'.

How the garden looks now.

It is amazing that for about £300 we were able to transform our space.

Key tips I would say are to try and create a shopping list or a mood-board and keep a picture of the final desired result in your mind. When you are on a budget, you may have to wait for something to go on sale or buy something close to what you want and then working with it. Check Facebook Market Place and now charity shops as they open for those deals. Also share your ideas with friends and family and see what is going for free.

Believe in yourself and your abilities, it is a process, and it may take a few weeks or months to get there, with plenty of ups and downs, but you can do it. Especially if you are painting fences, your ability and skill will improve with each panel. Invest in the right tools. These don't have to be expensive (for example just some good paintbrushes) but they will save you time and make the process easier.

Be strategic and set smart targets. Extras such as hot-tubs, outdoor fireplaces and decking are great at the end, but start small and achievable and work with what you have; you will find that it spurs you on to complete the next task. Get the canvas right and then the accessories you can swap with time and the seasons. Sometimes we can get too overwhelmed with the final goal that we become discouraged. Take small steps!

When I teach art and design, I tell my students to photograph and document what they do. You don't realise how much you have done and how far you have come unless you look back at a before pictures. Take a new picture each time you do something new so you can see the progress. Share it on social media and build a community, there are many in the same boat as you are. Also remember failure is a part of the learning process, don't worry if you don't get something right the first time. Bob Ross spoke of 'happy accidents' in painting, and this is true!

Don't worry what other people think. Any nice garden or outdoor space will add value to your property but equally everyone has different tastes so there is no right or wrong. Some trends are worth following, but more importantly fill the space with items that bring you joy.

Happy garden transforming!