Back in the Middle Ages, the cottage garden had a very definite role as a source of home-grown vegetables and medicinal herbs. Today it’s probably appreciated more for its looks than its practicality, with the focus on colourful flowers and country style. Brick or cobble paths link the beds and overhead there’s usually a tree laden down with fruit, or an archway smothered in scented roses.
But even if you don’t live in this rural idyll, it’s easy to create a cottage garden simply by combining suitable plants with the right structures and accessories. If you don’t have the budget to change the basic ‘ construction of walls and paving, cottage gardening allows you to at least conceal them with climbers and soft-edging plants, so you can achieve a countryside style even in the city. Best of all, because plants of all shapes, colours and sizes can be mixed together, it doesn’t matter if you’re a complete gardening novice.
Achieving the cottage style look isn’t as hard as you might think it’s simply a matter of mixing together flowers of different shapes, sizes and colours. For the quintessential cottage garden plant, choose climbing roses around a doorway or arch.
The quintessential cottage garden plant is a climbing rose twining round an arch or a doorway. Choose a modem disease-resistant variety with long-flowering ability and erect wires at 18 in intervals up the wall for support. Dig the hole at least 18 in away from the wall or support, add a spade or two of compost to the hole and tilt the plant at a 45° angle towards the archway or wires, tying the branches in with twine at the same time.
Fast growing climbers for doors, rustic pergolas and arches include Clematis montana and scented jasmine under planted with lavender. For flowers from May till September that are in the shade, try a combination of honeysuckle varieties ‘Belgica’ and ‘Serotina’ with a skirt of fragrant jonquils and lady’s mantle mat-forming plants, such as thyme and rock roses for a more natural feel.
Hardy annuals are a cottage garden staple because they flower prolifically in every colour from early summer to the first frosts. Planting from seed is easy many can be sown outdoors between March and April. The key is to choose a sunny spot, keep the ground moist and cat-free and once the seeds germinate, weed out a few so that they have plenty of space to grow.
Don’t worry about matching colours and heights, cottage gardens are all about creating a riot of colour. By Autumn they’ll have spread seeds around your garden that will flower the following year. Some of the easiest seeds include sunflowers, love-in-a-mist (Nigella), pot marigolds (Calendula) and nasturtiums. You could also try growing a few easy herbs and vegetables, such as radish, lettuce, coriander and runner beans.
Rustic fences & paths
If you don’t live in a cottage, it’s easy to give a modem house the lived-in look using climbers and natural wood supports. Soften brick walls with English Hurdle trellis and self-clinging, large-leaved, variegated ivies or Virginia creeper, which turns flame-leaved in autumn. Ideally, the boundary should be picket fencing or native hedging, but you can disguise standard larch lap with pastel paint shades such as Ronseal’s Rich Jade and Blue Mist Next, erect wires or trellis for large-flowered clematis hybrids to clamber up. If your hedges are made up of plain conifers, brighten them up by planting honeysuckle and periwinkle around the base.
Brick paths create the most genuine cottage look, but to avoid having to lay individual bricks, try red rustic brick paving that won’t need weeding as often as bricks. And if your paths and patios are made from unromantic concrete slabs, raise a few at intervals and replace them with a patch grass or pebbles.
Conjure up Country style
One of the hallmarks of the cottage garden is the cottage that goes with it, so if you can give your back door a country look you’re halfway there. Bluebell paintwork, rustic trellis and trailing jasmine make the perfect setting. Here’s some tips on how to achieve the look.
- Clean the existing paintwork and apply an undercoat.
- Allow 6-16 hours drying time before adding your bluebell colour.
- Fix the stencil in place with masking tape and dab on some Patio Paint Keep the effect asymmetrical for a natural look.
- Drill six holes for wall plugs and screws and attach the hurdle with strong copper or galvanised garden wire.
- Plant up a large pot with multi-purpose compost angling climbers towards the trellis and tying in stems to encourage them to twine around it