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26 May 2022

8 ways to get your garden guest-ready without spending a fortune

We reveal the best ways to cut costs if you’re sprucing up your outdoor space ahead of the Queen’s Jubilee weekend

With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend just around the corner, you might be thinking about refreshing your garden for a party, whether that means buying a barbecue or introducing new plants.

To help you lower your spending, we've rounded up a selection of gardening tips. Even small changes can make a difference – building your own fire pit could save you around £40, while opting for second-hand garden furniture could save hundreds more.

Keep scrolling for more expert, money-saving advice on upgrading your garden before your guests start showing up with bubbly.

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1. Make your own fire pit instead of buying new

If you don't fancy spending money on a brand new fire pit (most cost at least £40), consider making your own at home.

There are a couple of options to explore if you go the DIY route. For starters, you can try building your own fire pit using bricks. 

Create a circular hole in the ground using a lawn edger and make a hole in the middle to drain rainwater. Build a wall with fire-safe bricks and fill the middle of the space with pebbles. Chuck your logs on top of the pebbles and, if you want to, rest a grill on the bricks.

Brick fire pit

Alternatively, you can use a recycled washing-machine drum. Assuming you don't have one lying around, you might have some luck on a local buying-and-selling app such as Facebook marketplace.

Before you lay the drum down, you can either carve out a hole in the ground using a lawn edger, so it stays stable when you're using it, or just stake it safely into the earth. Make sure you remove any plastic parts from the inside of the drum – these will produce toxic fumes if they burn. For an added layer of safety, placing stones around the outside of the drum can help to stop anybody from getting too close.

For more advice on fire pits, along with alternative products to keep you warm in the garden, see our guide to choosing the best fire pit.

2. Go for a charcoal barbecue over gas

Gas barbecues are generally more expensive than charcoal alternatives. Although they're quick to light and easier to clean, the initial cost is usually higher and you'll need to pay for gas tank refills.

At the time of writing, our on-test gas barbecues have an average price of £400. Meanwhile, typical spend for charcoal models is closer to £300.

Cooking skewers on a charcoal barbecue

If you're licking your lips at the thought of authentic, smoky barbecue flavours, a charcoal model could be a savvy investment that your wallet and stomach will thank you for.

Our expert lab tests have uncovered the best barbecues for your budget. If you're preparing food for guests, check in with our guides to the best premium beef burgers and best vegan burgers.

3. Use lawn clippings instead of fertiliser

You can keep your lawn in good condition during summer without having to buy a bulky bag of fertiliser.

Instead, feed your lawn naturally by trimming your grass using a mulching mower. As you work your way around the garden, the mower will drop grass clippings that break down over time to act as fertiliser. We suggest you cut your lawn regularly to keep those clipping piles small – larger clumps will take too long to decompose.

Lawn clippings in a wheelbarrow

It's worth noting that a robot lawn mower will also distribute mulch around the garden, although they don't come cheap. In fact, our cheapest on test is around £500.

If you're shopping for a lawn mower, consult our expert lawn mower reviews to make sure you buy a machine you can rely on.

4. Invest in a barbecue-top pizza oven instead of a full oven

You can still treat yourself to a tasty homemade pizza without shelling out for a full oven. Barbecue-top pizza ovens sit neatly on your existing barbecue and make sense if you're short on space.

The cheapest standalone pizza oven we've tested costs around £130. However, we've also tried out two barbecue-top pizza ovens, both of which cost less than £100:

  • Lidl Barbecue Pizza Oven (£40) – This sits on top of a charcoal or gas barbecue and features a perforated underside to allow heat and smoke to rise into the oven chamber. Only available at Lidl (in store only, stock varies)
  • La Hacienda BBQ Pizza Oven (£70) – To set this up, all you need to do is place the stone inside the box and position the box on top of your barbecue. Only available at Amazon

To find out which pizza ovens cook restaurant-quality pizza, see our guide to the best pizza ovens.

Barbecue -top pizza oven

5. Buy second-hand furniture instead of brand new

Prices for brand-new garden furniture sets can easily soar beyond £500, so consider buying used instead.

Take some time to see what local options you have available. Websites such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Gumtree and Preloved might uncover some real bargains. Remember to factor in delivery costs, or the cost of hiring a van if you need to collect the items yourself.

Mobile shopping on ebay

Try and stick to materials such as hardwood or rattan if you want the furniture to last longer. Furniture made from plastic, steel, aluminium or softwoods is generally cheaper, although probably won't be as durable.

For more advice on kitting out your garden, consult our guide on how to buy the best garden furniture. Or, see which second-hand marketplaces impressed in our recent customer satisfaction survey. 

6. Opt for solar garden lights instead of electric

If you're looking to lower your electricity bill but still want a garden that dazzles guests, try shopping for solar-powered garden lights. These can add some much-needed colour to your garden or simply just keep your outdoor space bright enough for entertaining once the sun goes down.

We've been hands-on with a selection of fairy lights ranging from a temptingly cheap £7 up to around £70 – the best passed all our durability tests and we reckon they'd survive extreme winter conditions as well.

Solar powered fairy lights

If you don't want to suspend lights from your fence, you could invest in some standalone solar lights instead. These essentially consist of a mini solar panel attached to a stake that you drive into your lawn. Expect to spend £15-30 per pack.

Find out which lights will shine brightly in your garden with our guide to the best solar garden lights.

7. Take cuttings instead of buying new plants

Propagating your plants will save you a potentially costly trip to the garden centre – all you need to do is take a cutting from the plant that you want to clone.

Try working your way through these steps:

  1. Have a look around the garden and pick out a healthy plant
  2. Cut right below a leaf 
  3. Plant the cutting in some Which? Best Buy compost
  4. Keep the cuttings moist and let them root before repotting
Propagating plants

To see how the most-used seed suppliers compare, read our guide to the best places to buy seeds and plants online.

8. Choose an inflatable hot tub instead of a hard-shell

A hard-shell hot tub can be a real treat in hot weather, but you'll pay for the luxury – most cost upwards of £1,000. However, if you're willing to buy an inflatable alternative, you could find a hot tub for around £200-400. Popular brands include Cleverspa, Intex and Lay-Z-Spa.

Woman relaxing in an inflatable hot tub

Opting for an inflatable hot tub is a good option if you're looking for something that can be stored away during certain times of the year. They're easier to maintain, too, although slightly smaller than standard hot tubs. If you buy a model without seats, note that you can buy those online – expect to spend around £20-30 per seat.

Hiring a hot tub for a one-off event is also an option.

If you're shopping for a hot tub right in time for summer, check in with our expert guide on how to buy the best hot tub.