Create an English country garden outside your own back door. Start by planting your granny’s favourite plants, says Adrienne Wild
Even if you live in the suburbs and your house is modern, it’s easy to create an authentic country-style cottage garden if you look to your granny’s garden for inspiration.
Informality is the key, with sweeping lawns and exuberant borders stuffed with plants all jumbled together.
At the heart of it are perennials with nectar-rich blooms that attract butterflies and other wildlife. Old-fashioned favourites are aquilegias, lupins, peonies, foxgloves, hollyhocks and dianthus (pinks). Most perennials are easily grown from seed and young plants will bloom within three months.
To create a hotchpotch effect in an existing border, then simply sprinkle handfuls of cheap annual flower seeds, such as pot marigolds, love-in-a-mist (Nigella) and larkspur, on weed-free soil in among the established plants.
Squeeze ribbons of lettuce and other decorative veg between the flowers and edge the bed with the frilly foliage of parsley, marjoram and creeping thyme.
Old-fashioned shrubs will add country character to the rest of your garden. Classics are philadelphus (mock orange), lilac, lavender, wisteria and roses. Include ornamental grasses, too, with interesting seed heads that will reliably stretch the season to winter.
On the patio, use classic container plants like busy Lizzies, pelargoniums, and antirrhinums, plus sweet peas. Ideally, pick scented varieties, such as the lovely crimson and purple Lathyrus ‘Matucana’ and ‘Painted Lady’.
Where space is limited, wattle hurdle fences are effective or you could consider installing a ‘fedge’ – a combination of a fence and hedge that may be just a trellis with climbers growing through it or woven living willow screens.
Espaliered and cordon-trained fruit trees, like pears and apples, can also be used as screens.
Train on to taut wires or against a timber trellis.
Nothing looks more charming than a rose-covered doorway.
To create the look, choose thorn-free varieties, like ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, to avoid getting scratched by wayward shoots, and scatter a few hollyhocks that produce white, light-pink, pinkish-red, magenta and burgundy blooms on 2-3m stalks.
As hollyhocks are susceptible to fungal diseases such as rust, look for disease-resistant varieties of Alcea rugosa, such as ‘Antwerp Mixed’ and ‘Burgundy Towers’. Seeds can be sown now but these biennials won’t flower until next year.
Put tall perennials, like delphiniums, towards the back. Plant in odd numbers starting with three, then fill the rest of the border with clumps of spiky flowers, like lupins and Veronica, to contrast with neighbouring bold blooms such as lilies and hemerocallis and the blousy blossoms of peonies and phlox.
By planting the most intense colours at the back and in the middle of the border, then softer shades towards the front, you’ll create a 3D effect.
To complete the look, dot the odd standard or ‘tree’ rose throughout to add height, using the same variety throughout the scheme, then finally pad out with floating layers of gypsophila and see-through Verbena bonariensis.
Nothing compares to the tranquillity of a wild-flower meadow. If you have space, go all out and fill it with native grasses and blooms, such as ox-eye daisy, bugle, yarrow, yellow rattle and bird’s-foot trefoil. Alternatively, give part of your formal lawn a scattering of spring- and summer-flowering native annuals, such as poppies and cornflowers.
Wild flowers will establish best in a manicured lawn if planted in the autumn as small plug plants. You can also plant wild-flower bulbs, such as snake’s head fritillaries, snowdrops and daffodils, plus British bluebells from September.
Don’t forget to add a focal point, too. It can be an impressive specimen plant, eye-catching topiary, fountain or sculpture as long as it fits the style and it’s made the centre of attention. The perfect location is set against a dark backdrop at the end of a straight path.
Hedges are also a common feature in cottage gardens, so consider replacing the fence with a boundary made up of a mixture of untamed native plants, such as hawthorn, dog roses and blackthorn.
In exposed gardens, hedges make a better wind barrier than a fragile fence and will protect the garden, trap scent, as well as provide a sanctuary for wildlife.
In the rest of the garden, allow unruly climbers, like clematis, to scramble over the tops of arches and trellises.
Use block paving laid in a traditional herringbone pattern, gravel or trendy coloured aggregate for paths.
A cottage garden is always more successful when it embraces the house. You can achieve this by covering the walls with wisteria, honeysuckle, jasmine and climbing roses, such as ‘Albertine’, as well as ivy, which will become a popular nesting site for birds.
Any plants that produce seeds and berries are particularly important, especially in suburban gardens, as they will feed birds during some of the lean months ahead. The aim in these eco-friendly times should be to provide wildlife with shelter and nesting material, as well as food.