A friend who used to work in advertising told me every client wanted ads that were cheap, fast and clever. Her crew’s response? You can have two out of three: fast and cheap; clever and fast; or, clever and cheap. But not all three.

It always struck me as ringing true for gardens too. Instant impact gardens are eye-wateringly expensive and really clever gardens develop over years. But cheap gardens can definitely be clever, with just a little patience.

Some reliable perennials include salvia, agastache, gaura and heliotrope.Credit:iStock

There are several ways to minimise the costs of planting up a new garden or garden bed. The first is to reuse and re-cycle what is already in the garden. This is not just frugal, it’s admirably sustainable. The practise is also taking off among professional garden designers interrogating the environmental impact of their work. Instead of designing from a blank slate, they are looking for ways to save what plants and materials they can. Landscape architect Jane Irwin recently designed a garden that brought no new plants to the site – and relished the challenge.

One of my early lockdown projects was a redo of my front garden. The new planting was to be super low-maintenance because I prefer to spend my gardening time out the back; require no more water than would fall from the sky; and cost me nothing.

So I raided the back garden. Too impatient to bother with growing from cuttings, I wiped begonias, hibiscus, salvia and shrubby fuschias off my list. Tough plants, easily divided, were the answer. Succulents, agaves and alcantarea were contrasted with frothy Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” and deep purple Alternathera “Little Ruby.” Liriope and lomandra added some grassy textures, gingers some height. A year in all the gaps have filled and it looks so good I spend more time out the front than I used to.

Only slightly more pricey than doing it all with what you already have, is to do it all with seed. This is the best option for meadow-style gardens and gardens of everlasting daisies (sow in autumn for a spring show) and for vegetables. If you are worried about your skills with edibles, focus on vegetables that can be direct sown where you want them to grow rather than into seed trays for later transplant. The potential list is long and includes beans, beetroot, carrot, corn, fennel, peas, pumpkin, silverbeet and zucchini.

For native gardens the spendthrift option is tubestock plants, which look tiny when they first go in, but quickly catch up to the larger potted plants that have more allure at the garden centre. Perennials are relatively cheap when bought as small plants online and will quickly fill, or overfill, their space. Some reliable options for Sydney include salvia, agastache, gaura and heliotrope. Plants sold at the Growing Friends sales at our botanic gardens are also great value and support the work of the gardens. Clever, cheap, and if you adjust your definition of “soon” to mean about this time next year, pretty fast too.

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