How to plant up a cottage style garden.
My childhood garden was a fairytale of flowers. My mother spent hours tending to it each weekend and her hard work paid off. She would tell me the names of each of the flowers and I would watch her at work, fascinated by the way things flourished when lovingly cared for. When I was about 8, she gave me a patch of my own to grow whatever I wanted in, and from there, my love of gardening began.
Seven years ago, when we bought this house, it was the first time I had a garden of my own. I redesigned the space as a patio courtyard with stone slabs on the floor and raised beds built from the old bricks taken out of the back of our Edwardian house when we renovated. I created levels, a low ground level bed at the front stepping up to raised beds at the back. This layering helped to lead the eye on and create the illusion of a bigger space. The reality is, our garden is a small city garden typical of terraced homes in London, but it’s truly amazing what you can do with the smallest of patches.
I’ve received a number of messages over the years asking for advice on planting a garden that gives interest throughout the year. Since we’re in full summer I thought I’d start with how I planned our garden to come alive during this season. I hope this inspires more of you to get your hands in the dirt and get growing, do let me know if you have any questions and keep me updated on how you get on…
1) Turn boundaries into lush backdrops
I love concealing boundaries with green climbers. Oli strung wires along our fences and I started to plant climbers dotted along the boundary lines to give us that lush backdrop. It takes a couple of years until you really reap the rewards as climbers establish but it’s worth it for that lush backdrop to hide ugly fences.
Climbers I love and have planted in our garden include:
- Jasmine (Spring flowering)
- Wisteria (Chinese white)
- Clematis (Chelsea)
- Rose (The Generous Gardener, A Shropshire Lass and Clare Austin)
2. Mix up your plants & don’t be afraid of variety
In the beds themselves I have mixed perennials, (flowers that return every year), with annuals, (flowers that give lots of joy for one season only). I’m inspired by wild flowers, cottage gardens and plants that encourage movement and dance in the breeze. I also love to mix up denser plants with frillier ones – ones you can see through so that you get a layering of textures and colour.
This Summer I have grown the following:
- Sweet Peas: if I could only plant one thing for summer the Sweet Pea would be it! I grow mine up a tepee of hazel canes. Pick them often as this encourages more flowers. They look lovely in a jam jar and smell like heaven.
- Cosmos: any variety of cosmos is worth planting in your summer garden – if deadheaded regularly, they will flower generously and densely and they make beautiful cut flowers.
- Scabious blue and Scabious pink: pin cushion headed pale purple/pink flowers that give and give and give if you deadhead them religiously.
- Nicotina: Whisper are tall plants with big green leaves and pretty bell shaped flower heads in tones of pink. They are beautiful plants that allow the eye to see through them whilst still giving height. I also have Nicotina lime which is a shorter variety and very pretty when paired with white flowers.
- Ammi Visnaga: these look a bit like flat headed Queen Anne’s Lace. They’re tall and frilly and add a touch of white and a lot of lush green to your scheme. These are great for cottage style gardens and those after a wild look. Ours haven’t come into flower yet this year so I’m waiting with anticipation.
- Nigella: a country classic
- Foxglove: I have lots growing this year. I planted a range of colours and staggered the planting so they flower in succession. I love their tall spikes of bell shaped spotted blooms. The bring structure whilst adding a cottage feel to your garden. Technically these are perennials but they don’t always come again. If you leave the spikes on to produce seeds they can self seed for the following year though.
- Bladder Campion: tiny bells in green and white. These have been so successful this year and add such a pretty texture to the front of my bed.
- Lupins in a variety of shades. Snails love these though so beware!
- Astrantia Major Shaggy: the most delicate green and white flower and one of my new favourites.
- Hollyhocks: the quintessential cottage garden flower. They are tall with huge leaves and big flower spikes.
- Dahlias: I mix up different varieties in clashing shades of pink, and apricot including Dahlia Henriette, Dahlia Islander, Dahlia Linda’s Baby, Dahlia Cafe Au Lait, and Dahlia Small World. Mine are about to come into bloom. You need to cut out the leading central stem early on to encourage bushier plants with stronger stems. Deadhead religiously and tie to a stake to support them. These make wonderful cutting flowers.
- Hydrangeas: I have Madame Emile Mouillere which start out a greeney white and turn to pinks and soft reds by the autumn. They make fabulous cut flowers and bush out nicely if you prune them well.
- Erigeron Karvinskianus: the tiny daisy you see all over the UK growing out of cracks in walls and stones. It spreads and self seeds and is one of my all time favourite plants. This works really well on the edges of our raised brick beds and in terracotta pots.
- Alchemilla Mollis: I had this in my wedding bouquet. It’s a frilly, low level, lime green flower with almost scalloped leaves and looks beautiful for months.
3. Containers add lots of interest
As well as the beds we have a thriving herb garden planted in an old butlers sink and plenty of pots dotted around with geraniums, bacopia, and lobeilia.
4. Plants don’t have to be expensive
It can be expensive planting up a summer garden but with a little preparation you can keep costs down. Many of the annuals I have listed above can be sown as seeds – this is a really affordable way to create a very effective scheme. I also buy seedlings and plug plants which are much cheaper than buying established plants. For the thrifty among you, at the end of the season you can collect dried seeds and seed pods and store them in kraft envelopes in a dark, dry place ready to sew the next year. And you can also take cuttings from plants you love and put them in little pots to create more plants.
5. Deadhead, water & feed
Almost all flowers require love and tending to. I deadhead most evenings, water daily in high summer, always when the sun is low so the flowers don’t get scorched when wet. I also feed my garden every fortnight to encourage healthier plants with more flowers. I have an attachment which fits to my hose that I fill with feed so I can feed and water the garden simultaneously but if you have a really small space or mostly pots and containers you can feed with a watering can. There’s no shortcut to gardening really – cottage flowers, in particular, thrive under these conditions and if you stop deadheading they’ll stop producing flowers and turn to seed.
6. Keep an eye on pests
Finally a word on slugs and snails – these can literally destroy a garden in a matter of days. There are lots of options to control them – from human wool pellets, to beer traps to slug pellets. As well as using any of the above suggestions you should also check for them every couple of evenings, pulling back foliage and looking for them lurking under leaves or against walls and pots.
Do let me know if you have any questions and happy gardening!