The quintessentially English country garden is something many of us dream about owning. It has classic, timeless appeal and looks gorgeous in a really relaxed way. And, although it may be easier to achieve the cottage garden style in the countryside, even in a town you can still recreate at least some of that classic country look.
Shrubs make a great backdrop to a country-look garden – choose a range of different shapes, textures and shades of leaf colour to start to recreate the cottage-garden feel. Choose mainly or all deciduous shrubs, rather than conifers and other evergreens, for the best effect. Include some evergreens for more of a year-round look.
Make something of a garden gate: a wooden or metal gate painted white gives the right feel, and when smart, traditional-look fixings and fixtures are painted contrasting black, the look is complete. White works well but bright colours can look out of place. Make sure you prepare the surface well before painting.
Carefully coordinated and muted shades need not be the name of the game in a country-style garden. The combination of a wide range of types of flower in an even wider range of colours is perfect. Forget the rigid confines of a colour wheel, allow some contrasting colours and, as long as there is plenty of greenery in-between, they’ll look great.
Unless it is in a vegetable plot, regimented, straight row or blocks of planting are definitely out! Plant loosely and almost randomly to achieve the truly relaxed feel that this sort of garden is all about. No straight lines, anywhere – instead use drifts of planting to give beds and borders a country style, whatever their size.
Bare earth does not often feature in a cottage garden. Instead, make sure that plants are everywhere and allowed to grow closer than usual. When you plant up a bed from scratch, the plants will need to be quite far apart or else they will soon become too crowded. But whilst they find their feet and start to fill their space, use hardy annuals sown from scattered seed or plantings of seasonal bedding to fill in gaps and create a wall-to-wall carpet of colour.
Plants in pots can be used to great effect for added seasonal splashes of colour, so get planting with temporary plants such as brightly coloured pelargoniums and geraniums or longer-term plants such as bulbs and small shrubs. Choose a pot with an informal, rounded shape, rather than anything too geometric or modern in shape or colour; a terracotta pot works a treat.
A good range of heights in the flower borders helps create a feeling of rich opulence. Make sure that basically the smaller plants are at the front and the largest at the back, but add in some tall, slim plants throughout the planting – these will add colour, interest and variation in height without blocking your view of their smaller neighbours. There are lots of plants you can use for this; the classic is the purple-flowered Verbena bonariensis.
A wall made from traditional materials like brick or stone makes a perfect boundary. A really laid-back option is a drystone wall – with variations in the grey and brownish colours of the stone it looks great in all weathers, and you’ll often be able to get plants such as house leeks growing in some of the crevices too.
If your garden is on a slope, you may well need steps. Rather than going for wood, angular slabs or brick, choose stone. It is much longer-lasting, won’t be damaged by hard frosts and does not need preservative treatments. The appeal is also in its natural good looks and, when combined with a wall of the same material, steps like this can almost trick you into thinking they’re there naturally! Increase the effect by laying the steps in a slightly uneven manner.
Ivy can be a bit of a nuisance if allowed to grow out of control, but in a situation like this it makes for a perfect way to cover up a less-than attractive feature such as an ugly wall. Small plants grow rapidly once established and because they produce tiny suckers you’ll not even need to put up any form of a support system. As an added bonus, once established, a dense growth of ivy is also a useful wildlife habitat.
Maximize every planting opportunity using containers made from natural materials such as terracotta. Positioned along the top of a wall they’ll mark the boundary well and bring seasonal colour. Swap the plants around at the end of the summer and use winter-flowering pansies for colour throughout the year.
Plant small, compact plants along the edges of paths and steps to add colour and interest and increase the sense of informality. Cushion-forming plants such as small saxifrages look great but won’t swamp the steps either!
Visit Pippa’s website (www.pippagreenwood.com) to book Pippa for a gardening talk at your gardening club or as an after-dinner speaker.