Our gardening expert Kim Wilde explains how random planting gives your cottage garden a life of its own.
The glorious fusion of herbs, roses, annuals, fruit trees and shrubs which traditionally make up a cottage garden is something I've tried to capture in my own. I love the informality of this type of garden, where marigolds (calendula), love-in-a-mist (nigella) and poppies (papaver orientale) can seed themselves freely in a random and colourful display. Although cottage gardens seem to lack design, a certain amount of sbape's essential to keep exuberant planting under control. The layout sbould be kept simple, witb informal walkways of gravel, old stone, bricks or crazy paving, with plain timber for pergolas and plant supports to keep it looking natural.
Some of the most useful flowers in the cottage garden are those that will self-seed or naturalise, creating colour combinations of their own that are often more effective than anytbing planned by tbe gardener. Foxgloves (digitalis), forget-me-nots (myosotis), columbine (aquilegia) and borage (borago officinalis) will seed themsclves freely and give the garden a really traditional country feel.
Bulbs are excellent cottage garden material and most will come back and increase in number year after year.
Grape hyacinth (muscari botryoides) produces prolific blue or white flowers over a long period in spring. Snowdrops (galanthus nivalis), crocus, anemone blanda, daffodils (narcissus) and, of course, tulips, will all flower in the first season. For a late spring display, allium aflatunense produces large round heads of tiny lilac flowers and, at 1.2m, looks stunning rising above other plants. For summer, you can plant the allium christophii which grows to 60cm. Lilies are striking summer flowers which also give height to the cottage garden. Most lilies should be planted in autumn or spring. The fact that nature does a lot of the planting for you after the first season means that a cottage garden is relatively low maintenance. All you need to do is keep weeds in check and prune now and again.
A rough plan saves time
- The classic central path of a cottage garden can be developed into a winding, stepping stone path where plants like alchemilla mollis (lady's mantie) and erigeron karvinskianus (a pretty pinkish white daisy) erupt trom the gaps.
- Alternatively. a more formal, straight-edged path could lead to a rose-covered, seated arbour. Soften any hard lines with plants that will spill onto the path. A good choice would be artemisia schmidtiana, nepeta faassenii (catmint), old English lavender (lavandula angustifolia) or geranium varieties such as geranium endressii.
Bees and butterflies
There are certaln garden plants that are guaranteed to attract lots of bulterflies and bees to add the flnal summery touch!
Buddlela davidli is known as the butterfly bush and has tragrant conical fiowers in white through to purple during the summer months.
Sedum spectablle (ice plant) has flat heads of pink or white fiowers later in the summer and the autumn.
Hollyhocks (althaea), the quintessential cottage garden plants, are easily raised from seed in spring, then planted out the following spring. Drive a 2m stake where they'll need support and plant out of the wind.
Kim's cottage garden essentials
Crambe cordifolia, a herbaceous perennial, is a glamorous giant well worth searching out. lts strong sterns, which grow up to 2m, carry clouds of delicate white flowers in late spring/early summer, and are of 'architectural' value in the autumn.
Cosmos will reach 1.5m and are ideal plants for a hot, dry border. Sow the seed in situ in spring and watch them bloom until the first frosts. Cosmos will also selt seed readily.
Centaurea montana (mountain knapweed) is a classic cottage garden plant with beautiful large cornflower blooms of deep blue. It flowers over a long period in early summer and looks wonderful planted with the double crimson peony (rubra plena).
Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus) is an easy-to-grow hardy annual that will flower from early summer to the first frosts. It can be sown direct in the soil and will often re- sow itself the following year.
Viola cornuta (Belmont blue) produces masses of leaves and flowers and flowers again if cut back after flowering. Plant with the contrasting alchemilla mollis to tumble onto paths.
No cottage garden would be complete without lupins. They're easy to grow from seed and ofter flower twice if cut back after flowering. Lupinus polyphyllus glows in ruby shades, making the perfect partner to Coral Reef, a new poppy seed by Thompson & Morgan ( 1,99 for 45 seeds, cat no: 6757, orderline: 01473 688821)
A hay fever free zone
For people who suffer from hay fever and other allergies, gardens can become no-go zones as summer approaches. Pollen. spores and dust all contribute to the misery, but it needn't be like that. You can creatc a gardcn which is allergy friendly by choosing plants which don't give off huge amounts of pollen.
Non-flowering shrubs and flowers which are pollinated by insects or birds produce less pollen than wind-pollinated plants, so stick to thesc wherever possible. Roses, daffodils, irises, eucalyptus, geraniums, fuchsia, lupins, bottiebrush, clematis and hcrbs - such as thyme, basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and dill - are ideal. Avoid the daisy and chrysanthemum fami1ies, as well as grasses, lilies and cypress trees, as these are all known to cause severe allergic reactions.
Besides careful plant choice there are other things you can do to minimise pollen and dust. Instead of a lawn, choose paving stones, gravel, decking or bricks. These are easy to hose down to remove dust and, unlike grass, don't produce any pollen!
Consider installing a water feature or pond to trap dust and pollen. Also, steer clear of bark or grass mulches as these can harbour pollen - choose ground cover plants instcad like hostas, lamium and vinca minor. The last thing to bear in mind is that large shrubs, hedges or plants with furry leaves attract dust - avoid them if you can, but if that's not possible, give them a regular hosing down to wash away trapped dust. If you're lucky enough to live in or be visiting Cornwall, make an effort to see the Probus Gardens in Truro - a fantastic garden specially designed to be practically allergen free (0172 6882597).
Things to do in June
- Make sure any pots or containers are well watered - they soon dry out in warm weather.
- Hoe any weeds as soon as they appear in your flower beds - it's a good way of keeping them down with the minimum of effort.
- Finish planting out tender annuals and outdoor tomatoes.
- Cut grass around any naturalised bulbs, as their leaves should have died back by now.
- Spread straw mulch under your strawberry plants. This will prevent the fruit from becoming dirty and also keep any moisture down at the roots.
- If you have a greenhouse, make sure it is shaded in very strong sunshine, otherwise your plants may burn.
Well worth a visit
Hidcote Manor Garden
Nr Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire (01684 855370). This is a garden masterpiece, with outstanding herbaceous borders and unusual plant species (left).
Normanby Hall Country Park
Normanby, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire (01724 720588). This is a fascinating step back in time to a Victorian kitchen garden which has been carefully - and beautifully - restored.
In bloom this month
June is a wonderful month in the garden, so enjoy the scents and colours of the beautiful blooms and look out especially for these
Mock orange (philadelphus)
This has masses of very fragrant, pretty white flowers.
This summer flowering bulb produces large globe-shaped mauve flowers.
There are masses of different varieties which are coming into flower in June. Comte de Chambord is a beautiful dark pink rose with a lovely fragrance.
Q: I'm really proud of my delphiniums, but last year they developed black marks on their leaves which became dry and crispy. What's causing this and how can I prevent it?
A: These blotches arc caused by a bacterium called Pseudomonas delphinii. It can either be soil borne or can spread from other infected plants, and unfortunately there's no quick cure. You should be able to bring it under control by picking off infected leaves as soon as the marks appear. Throw infected leaves in the bin or burn them, but whatever you do, don't put them on the compost heap.
The sweet-smelling, heady scent of lavender is a real delight, and Nolfolk lavender Ltd has brought out a new dwarf variety which is ideal for small gardens or pots. Lavender Miss Muffelt grows well in small borders, rockeries and in walls, with rich lilac blue flowers on tuffets of grey green foliage. It costs 3.95 per plant or 10.45 for 3. To ordar, call 01603 739555. As a bonus, for each plant sold 1Op will be donated to the lavender Trust and Breast Cancer Care.