This month our Design Solutions guru Louisa Gilhooly transforms a small modern garden into a romantic cottage sanctuary, using mixed paving and a riot of plants
The phrase ‘cottage garden design’ might seem a bit of an oxymoron, since the best cottage gardens look as though they planted themselves and have a very un-planned feel! There are, however, certain characteristics of the quintessential cottage garden that can serve as a helpful guideline when creating one from scratch.
Traditionally, these humble plots were modest in size and yet highly productive: every square inch was used to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers, all jostling among eachother. This dazzling diversity creates a relaxed, informal feel that’s plant-orientated (with little hard landscape), romantic, disorderly and often wildlife friendly. If you’re a tidy gardener by nature, this charmingly natural effect can actually be quite difficult to achieve!
To compliment this relaxed planting style, keep the garden’s layout simple. The outline of the hard landscaping elements (paths, steps, patios) will soon be lost when the plants get going, so avoid overly complicated shapes and routes round the garden.
Start with a bit of rustic texture underfoot, choosing a mixture of different hard landscaping materials such as stone, reclaimed bricks and gravel, rather than modern matching paving slabs.
Architectural features such as raised beds, arbours, arches, pergolas and trellis screens can be used to divide the garden into different areas. They’ll also act as focal points or work as a device to lead the eye from one part of a garden to another. Taller structures are perfect for supporting climbers such as wisteria, honeysuckle and climbing roses that will grow into fragrant, billowing living screens.
Position benches and chairs strategically throughout the garden to invite visitors to sit and spend time watching the bees raiding the blossoms. Consider adding seats to a hidden corner or even smack in the middle of an especially pretty flower bed - provide stepping stones to guide the way.
Nothing in a cottage garden should look too polished or new. In that vein, try to select accessories that have a vintage feel – car boot sales are a great place to pick up mis-matched, time- and weather-worn planters and garden tools.
POSITION SEATS AMONG THE PLANTS Benches and chairs located in different parts of the garden offer varied views. Choose the quietest spot close to scented plants to create a small, clear space for enjoying a peaceful moment.
USE REPETITION FOR RHYTHM Dense plantings with a mixture of ornamental and edible plants is typical of the cottage garden look. Repeating colours or plants with a strong form throughout the garden will help the the eye travel through the space and create a sense of cohesion.
ADD HEIGHT WITH A PERGOLA Pergolas, arbours and fences built with traditional or antique-looking materials will add height to the garden and help to block out unwanted views. They also provide extra planting space for climbing plants. Be mindful not to over-use them – too many will simply clutter your garden.
USE STEPPING STONES A stepping stone pathway through the plants allows you to enjoy the colours and scents up close. It also creates a sense of ‘journey’ – a useful trick for making a small garden feel bigger and more exciting to explore.
SOFTEN PATH EDGES Here plants are allowed to spill over the edges of walkways and to grow in gaps in the paving. This gives a casual, less formal feel and makes the most of self-sown treasures.
MIX PAVING MATERIALS A mix of paving materials including bricks, setts, gravel and natural stone creates a more rustic texture underfoot, and an eclectic, mix-and-match cottage feel. Reclaimed materials can be mixed with new to create interesting juxtapositions.
LOOK FOR VINTAGE FINDS Garden pots, ornaments and furniture made with natural or traditional materials will give the impression of an old-fashioned country garden materials.
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