Zero-Spend Garden Challenge – The Rules

So Jake and I have an amazing back yard that is an absolute wreck and a whole summer to work on it. Thing is, we have zero money to spend on it. So I’ve decided to give us a Zero-Spend Garden Challenge.


  1. We can of course use any tool we already own and move around plants that are already on the property.
  2. We can barrow tools from friends and relatives, but we cannot rent them from stores.
  3. “Found” items (a.k.a. stuff in the alley) is fair game.
  4. Trading and swapping for plants, materials, tools, and help is cool as long as we don’t buy something just to swap it.
  5. We will accept gifts toward the project (but not from each other – that’s cheating!)

There are a few caveats to the “zero-spend” rule – including a few large safety-related projects we have to hire contractors for:

  1. We can spend up to $10 a week on things that would get used up like nails, screws and garbage bags.
  2. We can purchase herb/food plants, but only if it there is left over grocery budget at the end of the month.
  3. We can purchase a replacement if a tool gets broken beyond repair.
  4. If monthly home-repair budget allows, we will hire a gate contractor to repair the side gate, a masonry contractor to repair loose bricks on the garage and buy a new door for the garage service entrance.
  5. In the fall, we will purchase grass seed, fertilizer & straw for fall grass planting.

So here is our yard (photos from Oct. 2008 when we first looked at the house – weeds are currently much higher! EEK!):


View when standing on back deck


View when standing at back gate – that’s Scott Curcio – best realtor in Chicago!


This is from standing at the garage looking down the side of the house toward the front.

That fur ball in the center is a neighborhood tomcat we call Chewbacca…


…if you were feeling generous you could call him an “asset” 🙂

A quick assessment of the assets and challenges of the yard:


  1. Awesome Magnolia tree perfectly positioned to shade the deck
  2. Pretty, single-car, brick garage
  3. Fence in mostly good shape
  4. Beautiful Ivy growing on the garage
  5. Decent sized deck in good shape
  6. Tons of giant lily plants
  7. A couple nice (if overgrown) bushes under the magnolia tree
  8. Tons of plain green hastas (front yard)
  9. Fun purple powder puff plants


  1. The majority of the yard is covered in sand and gravel from where the previous owners had an above ground pool.
  2. The rest of the yard is covered in weeds.
  3. No one has given the yard any love (not even mowed) in about 2 years, so it’s pretty overgrown.
  4. Posts to Side gate have rotted and need to be replaced (contractor level job)
  5. There is a large section of loose bricks over the service door to the garage that are in real danger of falling out (contractor level job)
  6. The service door to the garage needs to be replaced.

I’ll be posting regular updates on my progress! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!


2 thoughts on “Zero-Spend Garden Challenge – The Rules

  1. What a great idea — I’m totally impressed. Your yard has some real assets you and Jake can build on. It’s already looking better after just one weekend. Can’t wait to see it at the end of the summer.

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