Garden of memories
Marie Staunton on how to create a cottage garden like your nana's
A cottage garden can be anything you want it to be, but, without scented plants, it won't evoke those memories of your nana's garden. Our garden at home boasted a very fine lilac tree, so, for me, a cottage garden would never really be complete without one.
Today, there are many different lilacs on the market and, even though I'm an old-fashioned type of girl who prefers the original lilac colour, the white, highly scented Syringa vulgaris 'Madame Lemoine' is particularly gorgeous.
Lilacs are plants that herald the start of summer and, along with daphne, they provide the heady perfume of cottage gardens all over the country. All lilacs tend to throw up suckers, which can be a bit annoying if you are a tidy sort of person, but it is a small price to pay for having a beautiful flowering plant like this in your garden.
Prune lightly after flowering, as these plants need to get on with producing next year's flower buds during the summer.
The beauty of a slightly old-fashioned garden is that there are no rules. That suits me perfectly, because I quite like buttercups and daisies in the grass – it reminds me of my nana's garden in Sallynoggin, Dublin. I have lovely memories of being there during the summer holidays with my cousins, making daisy chains and generally mucking about.
The other fantastic thing about cottage-garden plants is their ability to self-seed, which can cause those with a particular need for tidiness to be driven to distraction. For me, it just means plants for free – and I love nothing better than free plants.
Take, for example, the lovely aquilegia that seems to spring up everywhere in our garden – it ranges in colour from the palest pink to the deepest purple. They can get quite tall, so they might need a bit of help moving to the back of a border if you are a stickler for order. I tend to leave them to their own devices, preferring to take the lazy approach to gardening.
You can collect the seed before it has a chance to self-seed; this means you can place them exactly where you want them.
Camassia is another flower that I like as part of that cottage-garden look. Some varieties tend to flower early, with the variegated types only coming into flower now. They come in varying heights, so you can position them in your borders for best effect.
You are also better buying them as bulbs for planting in September, rather than spending a fortune on them now. The flower is quite a vibrant blue and looks particularly well when teamed with soft yellows.
Bulbs are such an important part of any garden, but particularly when planting up a cottage garden as they tend to be the unexpected jewels that pop up throughout the season to delight you.
Solomon seal, or polygonatum, is more of a shade-loving plant, but it's definitely not shy. When the plants start their journey into flower, they produce what look like little periscopes shooting up out of the soil to check if conditions are suitable. The arching stems are host to very delicate cream flowers that are held underneath oval leaves.
They tend to be better suited to life in a woodland-type setting, but I have them in a border in full sun, which they don't seem to mind. They come into flower in spring and continue into early summer, which makes them very good value for money.
The very vibrant, native gladioli is much more delicate in comparison to the more blousy varieties on sale. I prefer their striking magenta colour to some of the softer colours available in garden centres now. I'm a bit like that with irises, too, preferring the typical blue to a chocolate-brown version.
For the most part, any flower that takes your fancy, from a peony rose to night-scented stock, has a place in a cottage garden. It's all about your childhood memories and what makes you feel good – a special moment in time that you can recreate in your own garden.