Tuin metamorfose: My budget-friendly garden makeover


e only wanted to plant some bamboo and create a high livewall to hide our ugly fence and have some privacy from our neighbours, who like to hang out drinking beer in their enormous terrace that overlooks our garden and dining area. But our simple desire morphed into a big DIY project due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We suddenly had a lot time because the husband was required to work from home and the kid couldn’t go to daycare and there were some national holidays in between. Our vacation to the Philippines was canceled so we have a bit of money to spend. And after all renovating a paved garden could only have benefits. We’re not bored, we keep ourselves fit and best of all we helped against the warming up of Dutch cities.

BEFORE: My sad-looking garden, which is actually a terrace with plants.

The plan

Our plan was simple, remove all the bricks, lower the flower bed from 50cm to 30cm, and use the excess soil and sand to elevate the garden to 10cm. It seemed like a really easy do-it-yourself project.

A professional garden renovation in the Netherlands easily cost between €3,000 – €15,000 and our budget is way lower than that. And you’ll never see me spending that much money on a small city garden. For that amount, I’d rather buy a farm in the Philippines.

DURING: Lots of hidden debris and frustration

The renovation

We started by demolishing the garden shed, which is crumbling down anyway. This was one of the nicer part, tearing down ugly structures. The real work was digging out the 5x5cm bricks, all 1500 pieces. I think it took me about 10 hours removing them.

While digging, we discovered that the old owners dumped all the debris from their terrace renovation in the garden; from broken cement, red bricks, steel pipes, tiles, etc. The amount of debris we unearthed was unimaginable, we were almost expecting to find a human skeleton underneath the soil. The most annoying part is that you have to pay to get rid of the debris.

In the end, we dug out and paid for about 1,500 kilos of debris, including about 1000 pieces of bricks and about 1,000 kilos of ground. I think our tiny Peugot 207 was hating us for what we put her through, carrying all those weight to the dump.

AFTER: Looking like a real garden.

It took about two weeks and a lifetime of irritation before we were satisfied with the end result. It’s not fun digging through the mud or maneuvering a dirty wheelbarrow across the living room or having sand, soil and mud all over your house. I’m not very fond of household chores and I hate getting dirty feet when I walk around my house. I think after about 7 days I was at the end of my wits. It’s like the kitchen renovation all over again.

But the frustration was worth it. We learned a few skills including masonry. I discovered that I have a green thumb, I can draw a garden plan, and I’m actually good at laying brick pavements. I’m now considering switching careers as a brick layer should my current job becomes obsolete.

Budget-friendly garden

We didn’t have a fixed budget but to keep the cost low, we re-use as much as we could. We scored free edge beam from Marktplaats (sort of online marketplace) and used the old bricks to make elevated borders. In total we spent about €1,600 for this renovation.

The biggest chunk went to the plants. We were at Intratuin (garden store) every weekend, and got a little bit obsessed buying all sort of plants. We spent about €900 on different plants, including bamboo’s, cherry blossoms that hardly fitted in our car, a peach tree, a garden chair and lots of flowers.

We rented some tools, borrowed from the neighbors and bought a few. That set us back about €300. And instead of a huge garden shed, we settled for a small, modern-looking, water-proof cabinet called High Store+ from a brand called Keter. It was about €300.

There were probably other fun ways to utilize the extra time we got from the Covid-19 pandemic. I could have done more yoga or run longer. But working in the garden was the most fulfilling, certainly more useful than Instagramming.