English country gardens are all about flowers and colours in abundance. Here Jackie French shows you how to create one in your backyard.
create your own English country garden
When you think “English garden” it’s usually a classic cottage or courtyard garden, or the rolling lawns, sculpted trees and ornamental lakes and fountains of a stately home. Most of us may never manage a Pemberleystyle estate, complete with Mr Darcy, but with care all of us can have the massed flower and dappled leaves of the classic English country garden.
1 Add water. Even if yours falls regularly from the sky, New Zealand evaporation rates are higher than the UK’s. Either hose in the evening or install drippers.
You might also like to consider a water recycling system.
2 Plant groves or lines of deciduous trees to dapple strong New Zealand light. Small, neat crab apple varieties like the NZ-bred “Gorgeous” will give you stunning blossom and fabulous autumn colour, but let enough sunlight through for plantings below.
3 Create windbreaks. Many UK gardens survive because they’re sheltered by stone walls, hedges or trees. A number of classic English gardens are within courtyards or sunken below their surrounds to create a calm, sheltered environment. Our winds can be hot and dry rather than cold, wet blizzards. Cover garden walls with wisteria, rambling roses, clematis, Boston ivy or Virginia creeper and honeysuckles.
4 Plant roses and camellias. Lots. Look for hardy NZ-bred rose varieties that like the local conditions and won’t get black spot, or the almost as hardy David Austin English ones that have an old-fashioned look and fragrance. Hybrid musks, such as Buff Beauty, Felicia, Penelope or Cornelia, are both hardy and fragrant.
Roses will bloom in spring, summer and autumn; camellias autumn to spring, if you choose the right varieties.
Go perennial. Choose a background of blooms that will flower every year, some for each season: Japanese anemones for autumn, Shasta daisies, day lilies and dahlias for summer, hellebores for winter and spring (look for the new deep red and multi-coloured varieties with tall brighter blooms), hollyhocks or delphiniums for spring. Salvias and agastache all year round and lots of true geraniums to fill in odd gaps. Ask your nursery what does best in your area. 6
Bulbs. Many bulbs won’t create blooms unless you have frosty winters and not too-hot summers, unless you dig them up each year and pop them in the fridge for six weeks. Try more tolerant tritelias, nerines and fragrant freesias under deciduous trees for spring flowering, and daylilies and belladonna and ginger lilies for summer. 7
Add annuals. If you want a true cottage garden profusion all year, you’ll need annuals. Remember, the classic English garden is only flowerfilled from late spring to mid-autumn. Many rely on the beauty of tree trunks and their patterns among lawn or snow for their beauty. 8
Keep the lawn green and trimmed. Nothing sets off flowers like a carpet-like green sward. This may mean keeping it small, if you don’t intend a biweekly trim. And don’t forget water!
Enjoy. The classic English garden comes with a garden chair, a teapot
or a long cool drink, and preferably a footman serving strawberries and cream. Do not forget the gorgeous flower-decked sun hat. And a dog that
matches your sofa.
A cottage garden has many elements. BELOW: Hellebore.