Monday 16 September 2019

Gerry Daly: The lawlessness of a cottage garden is a delight. But there are a few ground rules

'Cram plants in and watch them grow', writes Gerry Daly

Country style... Pack easy-to-grow plants closely together without picking or choosing or mixing and matching and you can easily come up with an attractive cottage garden that looks after itself
Country style... Pack easy-to-grow plants closely together without picking or choosing or mixing and matching and you can easily come up with an attractive cottage garden that looks after itself

If you love lots of flowers and lots of colour, within a wildlife-friendly, relatively easy style of gardening, then the cottage garden style should be considered. This kind of garden holds tremendous appeal for many people, especially those who might have been familiar, from a country childhood, with such gardens. While it is largely a rural style, it can often be seen in town, usually in the front gardens of terraced houses. Most cottage-style gardens are small because cottages or town gardens were generally on a small area of ground.

The general idea is to use easy-to-grow plants, mix them all together without picking and choosing, mixing or matching, except perhaps to put taller kinds at the back.

Plants that can look after themselves are the ideal. Very often these will self-sow, new plants springing up all the time, or else they will be long-lived plants that flower on for years without much attention.

Most of the kinds used are old-fashioned favourites, easy to find and easy to grow, and usually cheap to buy or grow from seed. A lot of the plants that make a good cottage garden were passed on as seeds or 'slips'.

The plants used are shrubs, spring bulbs, summer flowering annuals and perennials. Suitable shrubs would include forsythia, flowering currant, kerria, staghorn sumac, fuchsia, mezereum, roses, hebe, spirea, old kinds of rhododendron and hypericum. Spring bulbs include snowdrops, crocuses, bluebells, three cornered leek, grape hyacinth and daffodils.

A range of summer annual flowers are part of the style, for instance, calendula, limnanthes, candytuft, cornflower, nasturtiums, white alyssum, Virginia stock, sweet peas and nigella. Californian poppy isn't traditional but it too would be a good addition. The kinds used are easy to grow, easy to propagate.

There were no phormiums in those gardens, except near the west coast but plenty of cordylines grown from seed. The African daisy rarely featured, though easy to root and perfect for the cottage style.

A garden planted to this style should be packed with flowers - this helps to reduce weed competition. If the flowers are allowed to grow close to touching cheek by jowl, there will not be much room for weeds.

Start with weed-free ground and get it filled with fast-growing flowers. Each garden planted to this style will take on its own character, partly because of the preferences of the owner, partly because of the particular plants that do well in the conditions. And this does not stay the same, year after year. For instance, nasturtiums might take over one year but fade back in subsequent years.

An existing garden area can be converted to this cottage style by adding more of the plants listed above. Mostly these plants can be introduced to existing beds or borders, or new beds or borders could be made to accommodate them. If borders are already full with plain shrubs, some of these can be taken out and the flowers put into the gaps.

New plants can be simply started from seeds sown directly into the open soil in March or April, or pieces of plants gathered from a variety of sources - local charity plant sales are a good, cheap source of such plants because they are usually easy to propagate.

This is a good time to prepare for developing a garden, or part of a garden in the cottage style, making spaces and gathering the cottage garden flowers.



Sadly, Kiltrea Pottery is to close, and its farewell sale takes place from April 18-June 3. The company's pots, made on a potter's wheel, are beloved of gardeners as they are bigger than most traditional pots. Stock up with a visit to the pottery shed at Enniscorthy, Co Wexford;


Auriculas are very good greenhouse decorative flowers for the spring or for indoors when in flower. The colours are remarkable with purple, yellow, green and white markings. They can be grown outdoors too, but will flower later, and are more perfect inside. One variety, primulas, are easy to grow and long-lasting, although they benefit from transferring to new pots - and use eelworms against vine weevil grubs.


Garden designer Kate Gould has totted up five gold medals from Chelsea Flower Show - her speciality is making small spaces beautiful. In Urban Garden Design (Kyle Books) she works her magic on courtyards, rooftops and other awkward spaces, and shows how you can do it too. Inspiring. Out May 9.

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