When people ask me the style of my garden, I say that is a modern cottage garden – so, what do I mean by that?

Well, I embrace the principles of cottage gardening, as I see them. 

  • I love the idea of having a garden overflowing with plants.  
  • Apart from the pond area, which has a totally different feel, the garden is not formal at all. 
  • There are no straight lines, everything is in curves from the paths to the pergola and the patio.  Those decisions created the flowing borders, sometimes narrower and sometimes broader.  There is a meandering feel to the garden. 
  • The materials are all traditional from the stone and slate paths to the wooden garden furniture. 

There is no need for a time consuming lawn, this is a garden for someone who has a living to earn and wants somewhere peaceful to enjoy in the few hours that one gets to one’s self. 

We do have an area of space by the house, which provides the breathing space that most people get from a lawn.  I hate to call it a patio, but that is the best word to describe what I prefer to think of as a piece of art made from slate.   As well as providing a simple space, it is designed to be large enough for a puppy play pen.  It also looks even more lovely when it has rained as the slate seems to come alive when wet.

I hope that it is not too obvious when one walks around the garden, but all of this was planned – the garden didn’t just simply appear out of the ground.  There was a great deal of forethought as to how to make the best use of the space available and how to take one on a journey through the garden.

Like most cottage gardens, mine is one that we work in too.  My husband loves to BBQ and so that is catered for in the working area by the side of the house, along with the tomatoes and  plants waiting to go in the ground, as well as our compost bin. 

So, where are the “modern” elements?  Firstly, I have a small garden which has to work for me all year, providing some sort of interest throughout the months.  So rather than totally focusing on plants that are at their peak in mid summer, I have plants that come to their best at different times of the year.  Rather than the garden blooming in a crescendo and then falling away, I like to have an ongoing wave of plants coming to their best at different times.  That tends to mean that  the predominant colour in my garden is green, in oh so many shades and leaf shapes, with certain plants in different areas of the garden which catch the eye at different times.

I also enjoy a much wider plant variety that was available to our ancestors.  I happily mix ostespermums from South Africa in with the more common cottage garden plants such as aquilegias or geraniums.  I have magnolias and other shrubs that would have been rather out of the price bracket of our forebears.  I also can afford to buy plants rather than having to grow everything from seed, which is a good job as I don’t have much success with seeds.

The one way in which I don’t follow the cottage garden planting bible is that I don’t grow food crops in the garden – apart from a few herbs in a pot.  Maybe we are much more fastidious these days, but I would rather that things that I eat had not been too close to where my dogs might have relieved themselves.

I am certainly not averse to adding a few architectural elements to the garden, in the right places.  In the middle of one of the borders, peering out from the planting that surrounds it,  is a steel column  with water flowing down its sides.  It was never intended to be a bird drinking fountain, but the local population has decided that it makes a lovely source for fresh water. 

My Lythrum (purple loostrife) grows to six feet plus in our clay soil, much taller that it is meant to.  To ensure that it does not totally soak us when we walk past after rain, we tie it in to four tall black poles, made for me by a blacksmith.  Before the lythrum grows to its full height each year, the poles give height to an area which mostly has herbaceous perennials and so could look a little bland without them.

PS All these pictures were taken this week, so it gives you an idea of what the garden is looking like today – how is yours doing?

How do you remember your special friends who have gone to the Rainbow Bridge before you?  A great way is to do it with a plant.   Read the stories  behind a couple of my plants here.

Rhian's camellia

I had a lovely day out today.  I went to one of my favourite nurseries with three dog owning friends and then afterwards, a pub lunch.  It was a beautiful day, blue skies, fluffy clouds and warmth in the sunshine.  What more could one ask?

Hardy’s specialises in hardy perennials – my favourite group of plants.  Unlike many places, they actually propogate a large proportion of their stock.  A large part of the nursery was seperated off as they prepare for the Chelsea Flower Show, hopefully they will once again get a gold medal this year.

Despite having less space to display the saleable stock, we still managed to spend two hours there, going up and down the rows seeing what took our fancy – and of course talking.  It is amazing the memories that plants can invoke and the thoughts that they can bring.  Given that we all have dogs in common as well, our conversation was very wide ranging.  

I usually tend to leave my dogs behind when I go plant buying – I need their space in the car to bring home my booty, but one of our number brought her dog with her.  The nursery was happy for her to be with us and  she was in her element with a number of other customers (and nursery staff) coming up to say hello.

One of the benefits of my cottage gardening style (and my small garden) is that you don’t feel that you have follow the gardening text books and always plant in groups of three or five.   I regularly buy just one of a plant, particularly when it is a plant that I haven’t tried before.  This is not only reduces the demands on the purse, but also means that when I find a plant that is happy in my garden, I can get a variety of the family to increase interest. 

I was remarkably restrained in my purchases today, filling only half of my trolley.  The fact is that I was all too well aware that despite the hard winter, the vast majority of my plants had survived and that I really don’t have a huge amount of space to fill these days.  That said, I did manage to find some little beauties. 

All in all, it was a great day and we all enjoyed it so much that we are planning to make it an annual event.  If you want to join us in North Hampshire in April 2011, let me know.

Do you buy plants by mail order?  It was something that I used to be loathed to do.  I liked the pleasure of visiting the nursery and getting the feel of the place where my plants had grown up.  But then I realised that I could often get a much better choice of plants from specialist nurseries which were further away, provided I knew what I wanted. 

Some mail order catalogues rely on the chocolate box syndrome – that your eyes are much bigger than your garden.  This is especially true of the ones which concentrate on annuals and drop through the door in the middle of winter.  They concentrate on your depression in the middle of winter and make you dream of the warm summer days pictured.   I have had at least one order just not arrive, the time between ordering and receipt is so long that I forgot that I had ordered until it was too late to chase them – I just had to chalk it up to experience and vow never to use that company again.

Great example of packaging from a specialist nursery

Great example of packaging from a specialist nursery

All these Cyclamen came out of that box - each one in its own cardboard tube filled with bubble wrap

All these Cyclamen came out of that box - each one in its own cardboard tube filled with bubble wrap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better by far is to order from specialist nurseries.  In time, you get your own favourites.  Sometimes you can get to know a nursery and the people behind it at a RHS show or a farmers market, maybe you have read an article about the nursery, you may have spoken to the owner on the phone or alternatively someone may have recommended one of their own favourites.  We all have our own ways of finding those little gems of nurseries that exist out there.   Many suppliers now have their own websites as they have realised that they are a great way to get in touch with gardeners all over the country.  Some of the websites leave a little to be desired.  The owners are planstmen rather than IT professionals after all, but some get it really right. 

The key thing is that the specialists really package their plants well and can provide exceptional value for money.  I have recieved plants from all over the country and have some lovely gems to show for it. 

My latest purchase was for cyclamen.  I ordered on Sunday and the plants arrived on Wednesday – fast work in anyones book.  They were beautiful plants and great value for money – 14 plants for less than £40.  The packaging was amazing.  It was obvious that someone really cared about their plants.  Now all I have to do is get them in the ground :).