You may not own a cottage. You may not even live in the countryside. But, for you, a little bit of the rural is essential to your peace and wellbeing. You want to create a haven within your grounds, somewhere flowers bloom and bees and butterflies flourish.
Sound like you?
Then, you may have your heart set on a country-styled garden. You will amaze visitors with the carefully crafted chaos of border planting and wall climbers. There will be an intricate layering of plants that is so effortless that for the uninitiated, it will look like nature took control and created something magical. It forms the perfect backdrop for your teak dining sets or your lovers’ bench. A haven away from it all to enjoy nature.
Here we guide you through some of the essentials when creating a country-styled garden.
A manicured lawn is a standard feature of a garden. It almost goes without saying that you will take the central swathe of the garden and turn it into a stretch of grass. There are lots of reasons for doing this. Primarily, it offers a space for your family to mooch in the summer months and somewhere for your pet to run around. It also makes the landscaping of your garden a little easier, as there is a large section of land that does not need any other planting or excessive weeding.
However, a neatly manicured lawn is not a distinctive feature of a cottage garden — quite the opposite. The country gardener will entirely forgo the lawn. Instead, they will create a landscape of informal and overflowing flowerbeds. The aim is to create a variety of textures and colours – mixing up the land with a range of planting. You need to create a casual look, as the ultimate aim of a country garden is the celebration of nature.
An arbour is an essential of the country garden. It is the wooden archway, usually over the gate, that is adorned in creeping flowers. Not only does this feature add height to your garden, but it will also add that hint of romantic escape. It will create a sense of mystery to the entrance to the whole garden, or maybe even a small section of your garden.
If you want to add to the sense of fairy tale, you can lay stepping-stone slabs that run-up to and beyond the arbour. The path can act as a guide around the garden, informally helping the visitor experience the space as you desire.
This arbour is the place to plant your climbing roses or your vines, which will promise such colour in the summer months. If you choose ivy, you will have beautiful foliage all year round. If you select a clematis, you will notice the die back during the winter. It is best to keep this to your pots close to the house.
Remember the key to your country-style garden is to shy away from anything too formal. Consequently, buying a load of stone planters from the garden centre or the reclamation yard may well be too staged for your garden. Instead, you want to make planters out of the most unexpected items. You aim to give your garden an organic feel as if the plants have sprouted themselves.
Imagine using some old Wellington boots as planters, all in a row by the backdoor. Then, maybe you can turn an old Belfast sink into a planter, with flowers overflowing over the edge. A favourite planter was an old bath, still fitted with taps, which created a point of interest in an otherwise dull corner of the garden.
For smaller planters, you could use old teapots and jugs, and maybe the odd jam jar or two.
What you can scan the reclamation yards for are vintage accessories to offer authenticity to your design. You are aiming to give your garden a haphazard, albeit wonderfully crafted, feel. Therefore, finding yourself an old pitchfork or a steel watering can help to offer the hit of vintage.
The look you are going for is a sort of shabby chic for the garden. You want to look for those beaten up cartwheels, and the old milking churns, all aged with some authentic rust. You can then use these to supplement your planting scheme. One item that could add some vertical planting to your garden is the shabby wire planter. You can attach these planters to a shed or a fence and encourage plants that like to tumble over the side like a waterfall.
The best advice for choosing your vintage accessories is to avoid bright colours. You want mooted colours that are harmonious with nature. Remember you want your flowers to steal the show, so the accessories should be the stage on which these plants perform.
There shouldn’t be any sharp angles in your garden. Therefore, your path is going to have to meander aimlessly through your flower beds. We say aimlessly when we mean carefully crafted. Remember the art of the country-style garden is the perception of chaos but with the eye of an artist. Your path needs to wind around in such a way as the visitor will see the garden in exactly the way you hope.
Although you will want the path to be clear, you need to avoid rigid lines. Therefore, the flower beds will look best if they overflow onto the track. You are trying to make it seem like nature made it this way and you are a lucky recipient of this serendipitous creation.
There are lots of choices for material for your path. You could create a charming effect with cobblestones. The cobblestones will be more resistant to the growth of weeds; yet will give the impression of the land pushing through. Alternatively, you can buy wooden stepping-stones from the garden centre and organise these on woodchip. This is more keeping with the sense that the garden has just emerged this way while keeping your feet out the mud. Finally, you could go for gravel. This would make a neater line through your garden but may offer the perfect contrast with the textures of your planting.
As with everything else about your garden, the perimeter of your land should not be too well defined. There should be a sense of toppling over into the world. The white-picket fence allows your plants to poke through and spillover. There will be nothing crisp about the border, other than the wonderfully white fence slats. The fence also provides a classic backdrop to your flowers. Remember any accessory is meant to blend into the background and complement the star of the garden – the flowers.
Alternatively, you may go for the classic walled garden with a wooden doorway. A walled garden offers you the privacy you need while maintaining that shabby chic style. If you choose high walls around your yard, then you need to plan your planting to make the most of the vertical spaces created. You could manufacture the odd missing brick here and there, for instance, to give you a space to plant an alpine or two.
Where everything else has been mooted and charmingly understated, your planting needs to luxurious and full throttle. Everything about your garden flowers should scream abundance. You need full and heavy-petalled flowers like roses, peonies, bellflowers and more.
You also need to plant your taller flowers to the back and then as you move towards paths or open edges, plant shrub-like flowers. The plants should be an explosion for the eyes and the nose. Your country-style garden will be a haven for wildlife, specifically the bee and the butterfly. So, you need to plant some lavender and honeysuckle to attract these pollinators. Not only will these plants grow relatively haphazardly, with the honeysuckle climbing up a wall, but will also offer hints of purple and yellow – wonderfully contrasting colours.
BBC Gardeners’ World suggests 12 essential plants for your cottage garden. As well as roses, honeysuckle and lavender, they suggest:
You want to be able to use your garden. Therefore, you need some furniture to facilitate those lazy afternoons in the warmth of summer. You could easily make a table out of an old door and some rope. Alternatively, find yourself an old chest to turn into a side table. Any beautifully designed wooden bench will soon blend into your country-style garden. It is a perfect way to accent a corner or break up an extended length of the wall.
As will all the extras in your garden, your furniture should not be the feature piece. Instead, you should select a teak wooden bench or backless bench, which will give you a place to reflect without fanfare.
It is common in other styles of garden to try and tame the natural landscape. For instance, if your garden is on a hillside, a landscape designer may suggest some terraces. The terraces will flatten out levels of garden and give you separate spaces for different purposes. Alternatively, they might seek to bring in earth to flatter out a meandering slope, giving them a flat template. If your garden is a steep slope or a gentle hill, you should try to work with it. You could keep the curves and use these natural lines of the land to shape your planting. Alternatively, if the slope is quite steep, then installing a small staircase that allows more natural planting while keeping the cohesion of the land.
A country-style garden, also sometimes known as a cottage-style garden, is beautiful but will take some care. Although it looks chaotic and haphazard, the planting and care of those plants is an art form. You will need to carefully place your plants so that they layer back from the front of the border to the back. You will need to consider complementing colours and textures, understanding what plant will enjoy sitting next to another.
The key to success in a country-style garden is to use accessories to suggest shabby chic and use features like walls and paths to frame the planting. These extras should be the backdrop, the staging, with the flowers acting as the leading performers.
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.