Es­cape to the COUN­TRY

Get the cot­tage garden look for your own home with these ma­jes­tic plants, writes Han­nah Stephen­son

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING -

The sight of ma­jes­tic del­phini­ums, con­i­cal lupins and soft, scented roses mixed with colour­ful clema­tis climb­ing up wicker wig­wams and sweet­peas fill­ing the air with their fra­grance, al­ways con­jures up an im­age for me of the idyl­lic cot­tage garden.

It’s amaz­ing how many tra­di­tional cot­tage garden plants also at­tract bees, but­ter­flies and other wildlife.

Neatly up­right laven­der and sprawl­ing vi­o­let cat­mint are a mag­net for bees, as are fox­gloves, wild gera­ni­ums and cam­pan­u­las.

While a cot­tage garden may seem a glo­ri­ous mix­ture of tra­di­tional plants nudg­ing and over­lap­ping each other in a seem­ingly ran­dom dis­play, the over­all ef­fect will be more suc­cess­ful with some planning.

Heed these tips if you’re planning to cre­ate your own cot­tage garden.

KEEP PLANT­ING COLOURS IN HAR­MONY

The colour scheme should be in har­mony — tra­di­tion­ally soft pur­ples, blues and pinks — with height cre­ated by climbers that clam­ber up obelisks and arch­ways, or scented plants sit­u­ated near old wooden benches or painted wrought iron seats to add to the ro­man­tic feel of the plot.

CHOOSE EV­ER­GREEN BACK­DROPS

Se­lect back­bone ev­er­green plants such as holly or yew to cre­ate a frame­work, ac­cented by peren­ni­als with strong ar­chi­tec­tural value such as al­li­ums and irises — which can be re­peat-planted within the bor­der, mixed with plenty of old-fash­ioned favourites in­clud­ing aqui­le­gias, fox­gloves (above), pinks, hol­ly­hocks, Michael­mas daisies and pop­pies. In­clude plants that self-seed, which will of­ten pop up in just the right place.

Nat­u­ral­is­tic-look­ing grasses can be planted in swathes to cre­ate soft­ness and move­ment, dot­ted with wild flow­ers, to cre­ate a vague struc­ture to the over­all in­for­mal scene.

PLANT A TREE OR HEDGE FOR BIRDS

Con­sider mak­ing the most of an ex­ist­ing tree or plant­ing a hedge, pro­vid­ing food and shel­ter for many birds. Don’t for­get berries — fruit­ing hedges could pro­duce crab ap­ples, black­ber­ries and rose­hips, again at­tract­ing many birds. Cot­tage gar­dens shouldn’t ap­pear or­gan­ised, but the best ones are, with­out the vis­i­tor even notic­ing.

FOR A CLAS­SIC TOUCH, ADD ROSES

Roses are a cot­tage garden favourite. Make sure you choose a fra­grant va­ri­ety. I love the David Austin rose ‘Des­de­mona’ (above) with its soft pink buds emerg­ing creamy white, or plant the deep pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ with the sub­tle white Clema­tis ‘Hen­ryi’. Roses en­joy the same sit­u­a­tion as clema­tis — rich soil, in full sun or light shade, plenty of plant food and lots of wa­ter un­til they are well es­tab­lished.

FOR A BOLD TALK­ING POINT, TRY AL­LI­UMS

The gi­ant lol­ly­pop flow­ers of al­li­ums pro­vide a bril­liant ac­cent in the bor­der. Some plant them at the front of bor­ders lin­ing gravel drive­ways, but you can just as eas­ily in­clude them in a cot­tage garden bor­der to add struc­ture and a talk­ing point to the scene. Among the most pop­u­lar is ‘Pur­ple Sen­sa­tion’, a mid­sized sparkling pur­ple type, but you can also get them in white if you want a cooler look. It’s best to plant al­li­ums with ground cover that will hide their leaves, which wilt, dis­colour and be­come un­sightly be­fore the glo­ri­ous flow­ers emerge. Ideal can­di­dates to mask the al­lium leaves in­clude hardy gera­ni­ums or a flow­ing grass such as Stipa tenuis­sima.

TO ADD HEIGHT, CON­SIDER LUPINS

Among the ear­li­est of the im­pres­sive cot­tage garden sum­mer peren­ni­als, lupins (above), from the pea fam­ily, come in all colours and in vary­ing heights, and are ac­tu­ally re­ally easy to grow from seed, es­pe­cially if you soak the seed for 24 hours be­fore sow­ing. They pro­duce dense spikes of pea-like flow­ers of­ten up to 90cm tall above pal­mate leaves. They also ben­e­fit the soil by tak­ing ni­tro­gen from the air and stor­ing it in their roots.

FOR A DEL­I­CATE LOOK, PLANT FOX­GLOVES

These self-seed­ing stat­uesque spires of wild­flower seen on rail­way banks or in over­grown coun­try lanes also look im­pres­sive in the cot­tage garden. The del­i­cate-look­ing bell flow­ers of these ma­jes­tic bi­en­nial favourites are a mag­net to pollen-seek­ing bees, which will climb into the tubu­lar bells. Leave the flow­ers to drop their seeds in the au­tumn and you should get flow­ers two years on.

FOR SOME COLOUR, ADD NEPETA

Along with laven­der, nepeta (cat­mint) pro­vides an im­pres­sive swathe at the front of a bor­der, thanks to its clouds of tiny mauve flow­ers on gen­tle spikes, which flower from early sum­mer to au­tumn. The most widely avail­able is ‘Six Hills Gi­ant’, which grows up to 90cm and can be a bit un­ruly. A less slouch­ing type is be N. race­mosa ‘Walker’s Low’, which is more up­right and reaches about 60cm.

PICTURE PER­FECT: an idyl­lic coun­try cot­tage garden. Be­low, plant care­fully to en­sure a colour­ful dis­play such as this

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