“I spent most of my time in the garden when I was little,” says Charlotte Millington, 31, an endoscopy technician from Essex. “If my parents were outside then I was out there ‘helping’ too. I loved planting seeds and spent a lot of time making mud pies and collecting bugs.”
It’s no surprise then that ever since Millington and her partner, Dean, moved into her childhood home in Rochford seven years ago, which they rent from her parents, the back garden was the project she was eager to get her hands dirty with.
“We had grand plans for the garden when we first moved in and we did make a start but then it came to a halt when we realised how much it would cost,” says Millington. “The overgrown yard was letting down the house and it was really getting me down not being able to use it. I need to be outside and around plants, plus we want a nice garden for when we have children. We decided if we were going to give it a makeover then we were going to do it properly.”
The couple calculated that a complete redesign of the garden – which would involve a Japanese influence with clean lines and minimal colour palette of vibrant reds and rich greens – would cost in the region of £6,000.
Breaking that big figure down made saving more achievable. “We worked out how much we needed for each bit and saved up for one part at a time. First the fences, then the slabs, planters and so on,” says Millington. “We budgeted around £250 to £300 a month, but sometimes saved an extra £600 if it had been a good month.”
Millington says she prefers saving up smaller sums. “I like the small wins adding up,” she says. “If I have to save up £1,000 I like to break it down and save £100 at a time, as otherwise £1,000 feels like too big a number.” Over a year, they put away £6,000.
Today, 18 months after the redesign, the garden looks transformed. “It’s completely different,” says Millington. “The plants have now given it colour and the black fences create a dramatic backdrop, showcasing the textures wonderfully, even in winter. Our garden now has beautiful evergreens and pops of colour like vibrant red from the cannas, acid green from our golden larch and vibrant sunset shades from the acers. The grasses and ferns add texture and help to break up the lines of the garden. We’ve created a neatly defined planting area that has been great fun to design and bring different layers and heights to keep it interesting. I’ve discovered a love for lots of new plants such as heucheras and coleus since last year and I’m now on a mission to collect as many varieties as possible.”
For Millington, the investment took on even more significance when the pandemic hit. “I found myself furloughed from April until late August last year and I think the garden was the only thing that kept me sane,” she says. “I spent any time I could out there and planted far more fruit and veg than I should have. We had more tomatoes and chillis than we knew what to do with – they were shared out with neighbours in the end. I even grew miniature watermelons!”
Millington is far from the only green-fingered person investing in their garden – UK households spent around £7.5bn on garden goods in 2017, according to a report by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA).
As for the future, Millington says they’re continuing to stash money away for other projects.
“We’d like to renovate one of the bathrooms,” she says. “We’re also planning to buy the house off my parents so we’re trying to put down a deposit for that.”
Millington says saving for the future can bring an element of calmness and feels empowering. “It’s reassuring to know that money is there if anything big does happen,” she says. “We have emergency funds and we have got money sitting in other places, which is nice to have. Having savings takes a layer of stress away.”
Jill Waters, retail director at NS&I, says: “Over the past year, we’ve all learned to appreciate our outdoor spaces, particularly our own gardens, which we now value even more as places for relaxation, contemplation and cultivation. I love how Millington is looking forward to seeing where her sunny day savings will take her and her partner.”
Looking out to her garden, Millington says the new design stirs her soul.
“I don’t think I truly realised how much I missed having a garden until the time came to start planting up and I was out there each evening after work checking on everything and tending to it,” she says. “When I finished the Japanese garden area, I spent as many afternoons as possible sitting there with a coffee or a cocktail listening to the waterfall and wind chimes. It seems odd to say but spending the summer in that garden meant my mental health was the best it had been in a long time, even with the pandemic going on. It was my place to escape and just enjoy the plants.
“I can’t wait until we can have all the family around and they can finally see what I’ve been working on this past year. ”
Having something joyful to save towards can make putting money aside easier. Start saving for a sunny day with the help of NS&I. Visit nsandi.com for more information