How to plant low cost, low upkeep ‘forever flowering flowerbeds’

How to plant low cost, low upkeep ‘forever flowering flowerbeds’

Don’t you just adore English style gardens?

A few years back, whenever I went to my gardening brother and sis-in-law’s place, the first thing I always wanted to do was look at their English styled garden borders around the perimeter of their backyard. Once upon a time I always had similar abundant colour forever popping up in my own garden. All on their own. Without me having to buy buy buy for each pretty petal.

That was three homes ago. It’s a different time now as my priorities have vastly changed over the years. However, that’s not to say I can’t have my low upkeep forever flowering flowerbeds back again on an even smaller scale.

This is a fence I walk by every morning. And all of these amazing flowers spring to life every summer.  Every one of them is a perennial. If these beauties can grow along a fence, they can most certainly grow in your yard.

I’m going to rebuild my prized flowerbeds once again. If you like flowers, but with savings and lower upkeep attached, this post is for you!

 How to build a low cost, low upkeep flower garden.

1. Prepare your soil well, prior

It’s a GIVEN that you have to prepare your soil to do a good job for your plants. I used homemade compost and peat moss in my beds, however if you have the means, I highly endorse ordering a truckload of soil/mushroom compost mix. No weeds and the growth will be AMAZING.

Yes, you can administer plant food after the planting is done, however the right way is to improve the soil beforehand so you don’t have to continue to doctor up your flower and veg beds all summer long. Do it once, do it right and you’re done!

For annuals, especially in baskets, I do like to add chemical liquid food or fish fertilizer throughout the growing season. They just do better.

2. Choose perennials over annuals.

The key to having forever flowers that come up every year without you having to repurchase is to simply choose flowers that will do that for you. It’s that easy.

I admit, you get more immediate impact with annuals, but unless you wish to purchase and plant over and over each season, starting a perennial flower garden is the answer to an eventual low cost AND low upkeep full colour backyard.

3.  Costly? Buy one at a time.

I know. They’re expensive! Here’s my way around the problem.

Each shopping trip out, I’m allowed ONE perennial. Unless I come across the half price section as above. Then I can have… oh.. I dunno. Whatever I can get away with without feeling sick. πŸ™‚ But watch it! The cha chings add up fast. One at a time is an affordable allowance.

4. Buy when in bloom

Reading flower tags trying to figure out when they’re due to bloom hazes my world. I don’t want to think that hard. So here’s what I do.

Look at your flowerbeds and notice that spot that needs colour? Go buy for that spot NOW with something in bloom so you can tell what it’ll look like.

5. Consider size and sun requirements

It’s a given to place tall in the back and small in the front. But remember width too. As well as sunny vs. shade. Indeed, this takes you back to label reading. But it’s worth your while to know what the future holds.

5. Shuffle on occasion

Once your plants get more established, you get a better visual on how the end result will look. So don’t be afraid, when the season is right, to water your plant well, then move it to a better location if need be. I do this all the time. Dig up the biggest rootball you can muster to avoid root distress.

I read somewhere that gardening is NEVER complete, for a true gardener will always shuffle to grasp for a more pleasing outdoor vignette. But doing this too much can slow down the growing progress. Shuffle, but know when to stop too.

6. Hire part time annuals to help out

Plant your perennials in forever places, but until they fill in, allow annuals in the mix to pick up the slack colour wise for the short term.

But if you DO get annuals, don’t use them sparingly. Annuals look best tightly grouped for the highest impact. And if you aren’t getting immediate impact, what’s the point of annuals again?!?

7. Allow annuals in non appropriate perennial spaces.

This can be in the form of flowering baskets or shallow features such as this wheelbarrow. But just know what you’re getting into. You’ll be replacing this entire area next year again and these areas will always be much more labor intensive during the growing season.  They will need more water and more plant food. Enjoy them, but just be aware of the upkeep differences.

Case in point. When I went camping all summer, I never had to even water my perennial beds. But I had to ask for neighborhood help keeping up with my annuals and veg garden. It’s a well known fact avid campers generally have sparse gardens. Ask me how I know. πŸ™‚

9. Budget helps

Watch for road side wild flower blooms (where legally permitted)

Trade small perennial samplings with your neighbors

Look for half price plants

Allow (applicable) blooms to fade and reseed themselves

Take clippings of some plants to regrow

10. Have patience

Going perennials is not a short term solution. This is about creating a garden that will fill in and bloom year after year.  If this is your eventual goal for your yard, start today. Go buy your one flowering perennial next time you pick up your groceries.  And make it your mantra to keep adding. You’ll be enjoying full season bloom before you know it!

So what’s your favorite perennial? Mine’s baby’s breath and lavender, and yes, I have them both this year. Yay! And fav annual? Sweet peas! Don’t have that yet. I need to go shopping. πŸ™‚ Got any flower growing or planting tips you’d like to share?

More of my gardening tips

How to edge your flower beds like a pro

Create a pallet wood walkway for your garden
Create a pallet wood walkway

Create a rustic garden shed
Create a rustic garden shed feature in your yard – with any building!

The pallet wood chair ANYONE can make in a couple hours via Funky Junk InteriorsMake a pallet wood chair instantly!


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  1. I have a great tip – check your local farmer’s market for perennial starts. I split up my perennials every year (usually pot up between 400 and 500) and sell at our local FM for $1 per pot! It usually only takes 2 Sat. mornings to get rid of them all at such a great price.

  2. I live in the southwest and have a black gopher problem…serious problem…they will eat anything and everything…even tomato plants!!!! The whole thing!!! So I have to use containers to plant or I have to prepare the bed with first chicken wire and then 6 inches of pea gravel and then the gardening soil. Now if I can just keep the bunnies happy and out of the beds, I may have a garden by next year!! Whew!
    PS I have to use irrigation…no rain!!!

  3. Great post! I’m ready to get back in the yard now and play in the dirt! LOL! I try to add 3 perennials a year in hopes that I have a self flowering garden in a couple more years. I do like the tip about visiting the garden center for the “in bloom right now” plants to fill in where color is needed… and, although the maintenance is higher…. I absolutely ADORE that wheelbarrow planting!!!!! WOW!

  4. Gorgeous post Donna! Caute wheelbarrow and shed and … !!! Super tips. Especially about how kids, camping, LIFE can take you away from that lush look… My tip is to divide many of those perennials as soon as you get ’em home from the store. If you look closely while shopping, you can pick those that have at least 2 growth points.
    I’m almost done w/my Cottage gardens… My perennials have multiplied (and been divided) so much that I’m looking for a bit more of a structured garden in my front yard…. They were starting to bury my “garden junk” alive! I bought a bunch of evergreen boxwoods (that don’t grow too tall n need trimming). Guess they’re ready n waiting to “gitter done.” *sigh* All part of my craving order n simplicity on a farm that has neither!
    Happy gardening AND camping!

  5. I enjoyed this post a lot! I would love an English style garden in our backyard and this gives me a lot of ideas and tips to work with. Thanks!

  6. Ok seriously, you’re wearing me out. I’m assuming it must not be hot where you are.:)

    Every picture is postcard perfect and all the flowers are beautifully grouped. How much time do you have to spend keeping the beds looking so pretty? Is it a daily job?

    Is there a website that tells what you buy for the area you live in? My problem is that it seems no matter what I plant, it’s always the wrong thing. Either that or I just don’t put enough time towards it.

    I can only imagine something as beautiful as what you have in my own yard. What an inspiration.

  7. I love your approach! Great post! I love driving around our area and seeing what kinds of flowers thrive in others yards. That is how I know what will have a chance to grow in mine! Sometimes, they thrive to well! Anyone needs some lamb’s ear?

  8. Donna, now that I have a garden, I thank you for your great information. I love flowers and am tempted ot overbuy. I will go to your method of on plant per shopping experience. Oh and I hardly ever buy annuals. ~olive~

  9. This a a great post!!! I have a cottage garden too. I have mainly perennials, only a few annuals. I have decided to add more perennials this year. I go to the greenhouses and buy what is blooming at the time. This way I will have color all season.
    Blog: Capers of the vintage vixens

  10. #8 Polly,

    You are right. It isn’t hot here. And we have an abundance of rain. So you might say gardening is about as effortless as it can get around here. (except for all those healthy weeds we have to pull) πŸ™‚

    Labour wise? When my son mows, I do abit of weeding (2x a week). But I like wandering the yard each day it isn’t pouring rain so I simply wander, dead head, and water new plants when need be.

    I don’t use a website for guidance, so I don’t know of one. I wing it, much like my decorating. πŸ™‚

    If I lived in a hot area, I’d personally go after drought resistant plants. There are many! When visiting the nursery, I’d ask someone or just read labels as I look at everything. My next goal is a small rockgarden somewhere and it’s pretty hard to kill those plants.

    For hot areas, I’d also think about shade planting. Under trees, on the right side of buildings, etc. And ensure to add plenty of peatmoss in the soil so it retains more moisture.

    If in doubt? Simply go ask the pros where you buy your plants. It’s nice to find a place to shop where the owners are passionate about their place, for they’ll offer up the best advice.


  11. I love black eyed susans and all kinds of daisies. I’m addicted to perennials. Every summer I buy more and I’m running out of places to plant them since they come back bigger the next year.

  12. I am working on my first garden and this year have done annuals in pots and love it. I would love a perennial garden so I’m going to do as you suggest, start a place with good soil and add plants each week or so and then each year.

  13. I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the info! At times I wonder if I’m posting just no brainer stuff or if there’s something to learn from it. It never hurts to hear how another does their thing was my mantra. If you can pick up even just one new tip, it’s a worthwhile read in my book.

    Looks like we’d better have a garden linkup late summer once all your flowerbeds are in full bloom! You can do it!! πŸ™‚


  14. The best thing that happened when I had knee replacment surgery and was “off” from school was when hubby and I went to Lowes and I just happened by the perenials and the 6 inch pots were being marked down to 1 dollar! I got 18 and now wished I had gotten double but with my 70 hosta plants, my hydrangeas,shasta daises, day lilies, and all my herbs, it is the start of my garden! My favorite annual is zinnias, I will ALWAYS have them. their my favorite in small clear bottles in my window.

  15. Lavender is also one of my favorites. I have two Spanish lavender plants and a provence lavender. I also adore my lupine, but they absolutely HATE to have their roots disturbed, so where ever you plant them they need to stay there! My other all time favorite is hydrangeas.

    Sometimes you can find in Craigslist, people that are dividing some of their plants and don’t have the heart to throw them out. You can find things for free that way if you are willing to dig it up.

    I also have a friend with a very mature garden and she hooked me up with some yarrow, lady’s matle, siberian iris, wild ginger… just to name a few! I gave her some of my canna lily bulbs in exchange.

  16. thanks for the ideas. i also take pieces of my perennials and spread them out to different sections of my yard so each section gets filled in without too much cost. also i make myself do a weeding session and then reward myself with a new posy planted πŸ™‚

  17. Oh my goodness get out of my head! ha ha! Seriously, this post is the exact same thing I’ve been saying for two years now. I’m slowly incorporating perennials in and it’s heartbreaking the first year when little grows but the pay off is going to be worth it in the end! Lavender and ferns went in this year. I pretty sure one bunch if Lavender isn’t going to make it since it hasn’t flowered at all. Ferns are struggling but next year they’ll stand tall and proud. Roses….oh boy…. After listing this I think I might have to splurge on a few more annuals.


  18. GREAT advice. I wish I had your creativity. I do have a small area in my yard that I am trying to figure out what to do. It seems that my weeds and Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac grows better than my flowers and I am allergic to whatever grows there. But I am going to work at cleaning out that area and fix it up. With your little tips I think doing just alittle at a time would be a good option for me. Thanx.

  19. Most of my garden is made up with perennials too. They grow like weeds, and so do the weeds. So I have to constantly take them up and make them smaller or they fight each other out of my garden. Of course the problem could be that I have too many plants….
    There always seems room for one more in Spring, and by the time we have reached today’s state, everything is crowding each other out. Ah well, I like my garden ‘full’. Thanks for the tips!

  20. Love all your posts but cannot get your stairs out of my head. Can you tell me at what point you changed your railing and how hard it was to do, thanks.

  21. My front yard is all shade and trees and hostas. My poor backyard is another story…when we remodeled and added to our home, I had to give away 3 pickup truckloads of perennials. Then, in the space left, I put in a small pond surrounded by stones and perennials. A sad story..we went on vacation, came back and the pond had turned completely black (due to an emissions problem from the coal-washing plant a few blocks away). So, all of the beautiful plants in the pond died, and I took out the pond. A few years of a major depression and the garden was neglected. I’m trying to bring it back, but it is a true fight against the weeds! But, I agree with you. Perennials are the key to a lovely garden. In the years past, I’ve had people stop and take pictures of my garden because the cottage garden was in full bloom. So with that in mind, I am working to restore it.

    What zone are you in? I’m in zone 5b to 6. My neighbor recently passed away, and in her yard are perennial Sweet Peas (I know they have been there for at least 30 years) when they go to seed I will gather some and send them to you. Let me know!

  22. Hey Donna, I have a question that I hope you might know the answer to. On the fourth pic down, there are tall yellow perennials. Do you know what those are called? I have these, but can find no info on them at all. Any info would be much appreciated. Thanks, and I LOVE your blog!

  23. Seriously, I have looked for the name for years and now, I punched in yellow perennials on google, and voila, it came up. Yellow Loosestrife(didn’t get Latin name). For anyone that wants to know, these separate easily and look nicely in a bed. Go figure, just had to be at the right place at the right time! BTW, took runner off the steps, like someone else said, can’t get your stairs out of my head!

  24. Great post and lots of good tips in the comments. I’ve bookmarked the post to find it easily again. I’m loving that old wood fence in the picture and the wheelbarrow full of annuals. I’ve just signed up to be a follower.

  25. I absolutely love old English gardens and flowers along old wooden fences! Sad thing is I have a very black thumb. I have a hard time keeping anything alive but I always try. Great tips Donna! Thanks


  26. Herbs make for a heavenly garden. I will stick an herb in for a spot fill too. And lets not forget how they pack a triple punch, pretty to look at, great to cook with and they smell divine. My favorite perennial? Mexican Marigold…it’s smells wonderful (like licorice), deep green leaves with sweet yellow blooms.

    Love the post and photos…very inspiring indeed.

    • I have thyme, sage, rosemary and oregano growing in one raided bed, along with garlic. The raised beds stay warm during winter, so I haven’t lost any because of that. Most are enemies of mosquitoes, too.

  27. I really enjoy your down-to-earth practical way of doing things. And I appreciate this post on gardening. I don’t know anything and I get scared to try…so afraid of making a mistake, you know. You make it all sound easy and goof proof. Thank you so much for that. It’s important to me. Hope you don’t mind if I just hang around a bit.

  28. I’ve never posted on here before so I hope it works! Yes! Perennials are the way to go. I have some that were castoffs from a friend over 10 years ago. A few starts were grown and then divided and planted in other areas of my yard. Two and a half years ago, I moved to a house that had no flowers. I moved my perennials to this house too! Somewhere I read first year to plant, second year to grow, and the third to thrive. And that holds true in my experience.

  29. i just found you, entered your SNS, and am inspired. i have not one fraction of the struggles you have had, but being on a super tight one income budget homeschooling 4 kids does stretch things thinly, and i get so tired and worn down. and the things i always think “when they get older, or when we make more money, or whatever whatever’ seem to take a back seat, and i realize i’m robbing myself of little joys today, if i do not find ways to start NOW. like a flowering garden. i’ve ALWAYS wanted one, and moved too much, been too sick with pregnancies, too exhausted with newborns and toddlers, or too cash poor to pursue it. but this post shows me i should start today. and i’m going to. likewise, when we had the opportunity to pick a totally reglazed clawfoot tub, for free, we got it this summer. and it sits in our basement, awaiting my initiative to start tearing out the ugly in our master bed/bath. but i’ve ALWAYS wanted a clawfoot, and decided that it sitting in my basement, full of hope, was better than not having one at all. thanks for the kick in the butt.

  30. I found a few great nurseries nearby with perennials for as low as 2.99 for a 4 1/2″ pot. I just found a place with SMALL cell pack size on sale for .35 a cell ($1.40/pack). I suggest shopping around, especially for smaller family nurseries, and looking for plant swaps in your area too. Also, for shrubs, check your county soil and water conservation district for their spring bare root sale-they’re little sticks, but CHEAP.

  31. Donna, so excited to read all these gardening tips from you. Your gardens are beautiful! After many years of home ownership, I’m finally learning a thing or two. I only buy annuals for my front step pot, and everything else is a perennial. Also I shop my yard, divide, and fill in spots in the yard. I love reading your ideas and am fired up to try a compost pile which I have never done before. Thank you for sharing!

  32. Be careful purchasing plants at Farmer’s Markets and garage sales. While they can be cheap, often they are plants that can be aggressive spreaders or down right invasive-that’s why there are so many to share!

  33. Very wise tips; when you love flowers, it is so difficult to buy only one plant at a time. My problem is placing them in the flowerbed so they won’t look like hodgepodge when they start filling in.Three years ago I discovered wintersowing and this is how I started filling in my flowerbeds; most of all, going to plant swaps. Not only can you get some new plants but you can give some that somebody else can use or wants, plus meet some really nice gardeners and develop friendships. I have learned a lot from the gardening websites. There are some very knowledgable and experience gardeners willing to share what they know with you. I think it is wise to buy 3 plants of same kind instead of one. Plant in three’s makes the bed look better.

    • Forgive me Judy, I rarely read plant tags! And everything is trial and error for me as to what actually works! πŸ™‚ I’ll keep better watch next time I blog about flowers for sure!

      • Donna – love this garden post! I also don’t read tags. Your tips are very easy to follow and your photos are pretty πŸ™‚ Diggigin in the dirt is cheaper than therapy!

  34. Donna,
    Trying to enjoy your website, but, you have an survey pop-up that won’t close that is preventing me from doing that. Great blog though I am sure.

    • I have started my own perennials from seed and then have many to plant and share. I get just what I want for a fraction of the price.

  35. Great advice. Thanks for sharing. One bit of money-saving advice: Many perennials, including day lilies, hostas and iris, spread out or multiply on their own. If you’re patient and willing to split up and relocate such plants as they grow or multiply, you don’t need to buy as many plants.

  36. Thanks for the tips! I love to garden and have a huge garden to prove it, but unfortunately, I’m not the best gardener :(. I have found that planting “kill proof” plants (plants that grow like weeds for me and my soil) works best. I can’t grow a daisy to save my life, but I have tons of hollyhocks, sunflowers, cosmos, zinnia, pansies, and a few others. So I have lots of pretty flowers and instead of buying plants that I’ll probably kill (ok, I still try), I transplant my flowers into new beds.

  37. Yellow yarrow “Moonshine” does very well in my Dallas Tx garden. It spreads very quickly. It dries beautifully.
    I have a lot of echinacea that I also use as cut flowers.
    Mexican Bush Sage also does well and makes great dried flowers.

  38. This is my third year of my sweet peas, and they haven’t flowered, as yet, but the greenery is abundant against my link fence. It’s like it’s growing backwards. Just a beautiful plant.

  39. please tell me the name of the taller yellow flower (left side in the photo) Love you flowers and your tips

  40. In addition to all the great tips already mentioned, I would like to add one about how to keep the cost manageble:
    In my experience a walk around your neighbourhood to have a look at all the other gardens will give you loads of inspiration for your own bit of heaven. This probably sounds like stating the obvious, but here’s the tip: talk to everybody, ask everything you would like to know and don’t be shy. I’ve got a large number of perennials in my garden wich were given me by neighbours (and my neighbourhood expands to at least 3 villages now) as seeds or cuttings!