Upcycling ideas for the garden – from budget planters to making DIY garden furniture

Reuse and improve to save money in the garden
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  • There are so many brilliant upcycling ideas for the garden that are super easy to do, and cheap! Upcycling not only prevents waste, it also helps to keep costs low. From using decking offcuts to fashion a garden path to making your own garden bar from an old wooden pallet, there’s a great garden idea for all outdoor spaces.

    The key to upcycling is to make the most of what you already have –  giving a new purpose to something unused or unloved. Whether that’s wood cuttings laying around from old DIY projects, broken terracotta pots or old food tins – the project possibilities are endless!

    Upcycling ideas for the garden

    Create a handy potting bench fashioned from old kitchen shelving, reimagine a cot mattress base into a vertical planter or craft a corner sofa from pallets. There’s project potential in pretty much anything when you put your mind to it, all it takes is a little imagination. Let our inspiring upcycling ideas for the garden get you started…

    1. Use a vintage ladder in place of a pergola or trellis

    LADDER PERGOLA

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole

    Use a vintage ladder as the perfect support for climbing or trailing plants. Whether used as an overhanging pergola type structure, which would require suspending or securing to supported wooden poles, or as a trellis placed up against a wall – a vintage wooden ladder adds character at the same time as providing support.

    2. Craft a three-door potting shed

    dit potting shed made using three doors

    image credit: Max McMurdo/Brent Darby

    Upcycling opens the door to a world of possibilities, quite literally! Upcycling professional Max McMurdo inspires with his three-door potting shed idea, where he crafts a stylish shed out of old materials. Speaking of his imaginative creation Max says, ‘This three-door shed design utilises gorgeous old glazed doors, a scaffold board and a bit of corrugated tin to create a usable yet stunning, cute and quirky shelter in which you can prepare and grow herbs and small plants.’

    ‘Deliberately designed to be built in situ, the construction requires no power cables trailing out of your house, simply a battery-powered drill driver and a hand saw.’

    If you love Max’s ideas, his book is a must-read: Upcycling Outdoors 20 Creative Garden Projects by Max McMurdo, £12.48, Amazon

    3. Turn a wooden pallet into a coffee table

    pallet coffee table

    image credit: Cuprinol

    As we look to dress our outdoor spaces more like that of the indoors, a coffee table becomes an essential furniture piece for your outside space, too. If you’re on a budget, buying new garden furniture can sometimes feel so far out of reach. If you’re looking for a savvy solution while you save for the dream furniture set try upcycling old wooden pallets.

    This fine example, made by the team at Cuprinol, shows how a wooden pallet can make a fabulous garden table, thanks to a splash of vibrant colour and simple castor feet it takes on a whole new purpose.

    More brilliant ideas: 16 pallet ideas for gardens– DIY ways to recycle wood into furniture, planters and more

    4. Repurpose kitchen pots and pans

    fish kettle upcycled garden planters

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole

    This thoughtful garden features large metal fish kettles used as planters for herbs and flowers. But you can use any cooking receptacle that is no longer fit for purpose in the kitchen. Got an old pot you love but a cooking nightmare left the bottom burnt beyond saving? Fill it with plants and consider it put to good use.

    5. Turn the kitchen table into a herb garden

    ucycled table herb garden

    image credit: Sadolin

    With growing your own becoming one of the biggest garden trends for 2020 and into 2021 more and more of us are looking for yearning for a veggie plot. Here’s a winning upcycling idea to make it possible for even the smallest of plots and even balcony gardens – an elevated herb garden. Matthew Brown from Sadolin shares his tips for transforming an old wooden table into a bountiful herb garden!

    ‘Begin by removing the table top and inverting the supporting wooden planks to create a soil bed,’ he says. Next steps are to sand, clean and paint. Once dry, ‘Fill bed with soil and plant herbs in rows, leaving 5cm gaps between plants.’ The elevation should deter garden pests from destroying the crop.

    6. Dress up old furniture

    upcyled planted dressing table painted pink and yellow

    Image credit: Max McMurdo/Brent Darby

    ‘There is something quite magical about seeing ornate interior furniture out of context in an outdoor environment’ says Max McMurdo. He upcycled this old dressing table with a coat of exterior chalk paint and lush planting.

    He says, ‘I have been quite bold with my decoration for this piece. Not only have I used bright complementary colours, but I’ve also applied a crackle glaze between the two coats of paint to add a vintage, distressed look, which I think works perfectly with the style of this piece. The mirror is a nice bonus. It adds a splash of opulence while also creating the illusion of more space and light.’

    Going on to explains his planting choices, he adds, ‘I filled the drawers with potted plants so I can change the display through the seasons. You could line the drawers with heavy plastic and drill some drainage holes if you want to plant directly into them, but the weight of the soil will make them very heavy to handle.’

    7. Make a DIY garden corner sofa

    DIY garden corner sofa around a firepit

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole

    Garden furniture can be a costly investment, but given how much we value time spent outside it’s a worthwhile one, surely?  But what if you don’t have the budget to make an investment? In that scenario your best bet is upcycling to make an on-trend furniture set that won’t cost the earth.

    Right now corner sofas are the seating to have for gardens, so why not use old wood offcuts to make your own. Add cushions to make the seating all the more inviting.

    8. Add pattern and colour to plant pots

    Painted plant pots upcycling idea for the garden

    Image credit: Cuprinol

    Painting plant pots is a quick and easy way to update the decor of any garden – it’s also highly affordable. Transform boring terracotta pots or outdated styles by painting them with the latest outdoor on-trend colours and patterns.

    This fine flower pot painting idea comes from the experts at Cuprinol. These Morocco inspired garden pots are painted using the specialist Cuprinol Garden Shades range.

    9. Makeover an old dining set

    Yellow painted garden furniture

    Image credit: Annie Sloan

    Is the garden furniture looking a little tired? Before you think about replacing it, why not  consider giving it a proper clean down and a coat of paint. An intense new burst of bold colour is enough to make the old set feel brand new! Annie Sloan shows how cleaning and restoring garden furniture is done, using Outdoor Dining Chalk Paint in English Yellow with gloss lacquer.

    When using the right preserving materials you could even turn an indoor set into a new set for the garden. Let your creativity run wild with this upcycling project.

    10. Serve up a homemade garden bar

    upcycled pallet garden bar

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Tim Young

    Turn your own backyard into the hottest spot in town for serving sundowners, with a simple DIY home bar project. When all you really need is a serving hatch, go for a space-saving solution, like this drop down bar, constructed using an old pallet. Pallets are fairly inexpensive to come by and you may even have one laying around your garden or shed, left over after a delivery.

    Read how to make your own DIY pallet bar using old wooden pallets – for as little as £35!

    11. Upcycle decking offcuts as a garden path

    Upcycled decking garden path

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole

    If you’ve had decking laid you will no doubt have planks surplus to requirements? Think twice before getting rid of them. Those valuable offcuts can be trimmed to size to form a neat garden walkway, as this fabulous example shows from a savvy garden makeover we featured a while back.

    Garden path ideas to curve out walkway designs in gravel, brick and stone for every budget.

    12. Turn a colander into a hanging basket

    Free-garden-ideas-colander-planters

    Image credit: David Brittain/Future PLC

    Talking of colanders, due to their amazing drainage, they make great hanging baskets or strawberry planters. Simply head to a DIY shop to pick up three hanging chains to clip on well-positioned points to balance the weight. How’s that for a cheap gardening idea? Do remember though, this method may be heavier than a standard design, so make sure your existing wall bracket can take the weight.

    13. Get creative with an old kitchen sink

    Upcycled sink planted with colourful flowers

    Image credit: Paul Kelly

    It’s a case of everything including the kitchen sink when it comes to upcycling projects. Ceramic sinks make attractive, alternative planters – plus thanks to the design the drainage is already sorted! Place a few large stones in the bottom to aid with even drainage, then fill with compost and plant an array of bedding plants to ensure the garden is awash with colour.

    14. Repurpose an old mirror

    garden mirror

    Image credit: Future PLC/  Lizzie Orme

    Have you got a mirror indoors that no longer feels ‘at home’ with the decor? I had a farmhouse style wooden framed mirror that no longer felt right for my more contemporary furnishings, rather than throw it out – a simple coat of wood preserving outdoor paint has made it perfectly suitable for a new life outside.

    Using garden mirrors can totally transform the space, firstly by making it feel more like an extension of the indoors but also by enhancing planting and bouncing light around to make the space feel bigger. For more ways to visually grow your space, our tricks for How to make a small garden look bigger are a must-see.

    15. Put plants on display with an old ladder

    ladder plant display

    Image credit: Thorndown Paints

    Got a wooden ladder or old steps that you no longer need? Give the steps a coat of uplifting colour and repurpose them to create a decorative plant display. Cut them down to size to make the display as tall or short as needed – depending on your garden layout. For a balcony garden idea try using plants at different heights to help create a different sense of perspective, adding depth to the overall feel of the compact zone.

    Follow in the footsteps of Thorndown Paints and use a combination of colours, with different shades on the step runners to the frame.

    16. Upcycle foraged finds for landscaping materials

    upcyclying ideas in the garden with shells around a tree

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Johanna Henderson

    Create a unique soil covering, an alternative to slate or pebbles, by scattering beachcomber and foraged finds. This professionally landscaped garden uses recycled whelk shells to light up the ground, hiding the dark soil beneath and making a prominent feature of the planting in the process.

    17. Transform old shelves

    Easy-DIY-projects

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole

    Got on an old cabinet or bookshelves that no longer serve a purpose in your home? Transform it into a wonderful garden accessory like this quirky planter.

    ‘The natural shape of a bookshelf is ideal for lots of garden projects,’ suggests a spokesperson for Mano Mano. ‘Separate your herbs by transforming the shelving into a plant container or create your very own garden bar or a bar table. They are also great for storing garden items that don’t seem to have a place. Plus, they can give your garden a real rustic and retro feel.’

    18. Turn a cupboard into a smart potting bench

    Potting table outdoor living room SAH June 17 p98 garden makeover

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Jamie Mason

    Turn something old into something new. Rather than throwing out an old piece of unwanted furniture see if you can repurpose it, to fulfil a job in the garden. An unwanted cupboard for instance is perfect for creating a budget-friendly potting table. This old kitchen unit has been transformed into a place to repot plants thanks to a few easy modifications.

    All it took was a lick of paint to jazz it up and provide weatherproof shielding. Check the shed to see what you already have to hand, in order to keep project costs low. Add hooks to the side so you can hang trowels and other tools for easy access. The inside is all ready to go – use it for all your potting and planting needs.

    19. Upcycle food tin as planters

    Upcycled food tin plant pots

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Tim Young

    Save the food tins from the general recycling by giving them a new lease of life in your garden – transform them into decorative plant pots! Simply wash them out, pierce a few small holes at the bottom for drainage (do so safely of course). Add gravel for extra drainage, before planting up herbs or bedding plants in compost. Creating a ‘tasty’ garden display!

    Instead of buying plastic plant pots, upcycle items such as tin cans, ice cream tubs, colanders and even old boots for growing seedlings.

    20. Lay a path of old bricks

    Budget-garden-ideas-old-brick-path

    Image credit: Future PLC/

    Put a pile of leftover bricks to good use and make a path that provides a clear walkway through the garden. Lay them long and sideways in a bed of gravel to create a bespoke design. And who said hard landscaping for the garden had to be expensive?!

    21. Plant up old teapots and tableware

    Free-garden-ideas-teapot-planters

    Image credit: Tim Young/Future PLC

    If you have an abundance of ceramics collecting dust at the back of your kitchen cupboards make more of them – because just about anything can be a plant pot. Be imaginative when finding homes for you plants – that chipped teapot might not be any good serving afternoon tea any more, but it’ll make a fine home for potted flowers and shrubs.

    22. Turn a slatted mattress base into a vertical planter

    vertical garden planter

    Image credit: Future PLC

    Display plants on an out-grown cot bed base! Vertical planters are all the rage to make the most of walls for plant displays. Any slatted base frame can be transformed with a lick of paint, to create a trellis on which to hang plants. See how a Mum wows with ingenious idea to reuse little one’s cot bed in the garden – and it cost just £6 to make her DIY vertical garden planter.

    23. Transform broken crockery into a rockery

    garden edging idea with terracotta tiles

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Amateur Gardening

    When the original pots or vases can’t be repurposed as they are don’t fret, where there’s a will there’s a way. Nestle broken terracotta pots into a gravelled border, and plant low-maintenance succulents inside to create the quickest rock garden yet. This simple upcycling idea would work for any damaged crockery you might have lying around.

    24. Try out a tyre swing

    Before you drive that old spare tyre to the nearest tip, consider if you could give it new life as a garden swing. All you need is a sturdy branch and some rope. Alternatively, tyres can also make great containers for flowers, plants or vegetables.

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