I have been asked by many people how to make their cottages look attractive without a lot of work, many of you arrive at the end of June, with children, husbands dogs cats etc. in tow and do not have the time, or energy to do a lot of gardening. I always suggest containers. Just check around the garden centres that are still open and see if they have any left. The Greenhouse on the River and Griffins Greenhouses are known for their containers. Loblaws has closed for another year - but come and see me next spring!
I was judging in Lakefield and saw the most beautiful, very simple containers, grasses in the middle and a lot of annuals for colour. It would not cost a great deal of money to do this but the containers must be large and preferably beautiful in themselves. Plastic ones work just fine and they are easier to move.
For your containers, choose plants with:
- naturally compact rather than straggly, or vigourous growth unless you wish to be pruning constantly. Avoid plants that are not too large or have greedy, dense root systems that guzzle water.
- long or at least repeat flowering.
- attractive foliage, for sometimes the foliage is prettier than the flowers!
- multiple interest (flowers, attractive foliage, berries and autumn leaf colour).
I would recommend annuals for your cottage containers. They are over and finished by the time you pack up the cottage and return home to the city. All you have to do is pull out the dead plants, empty the containers and store them somewhere so that they will not freeze and crack. Upside down is the best way, so that water will run off and not lie inside to freeze. If you have used some of those beautiful grasses, roses or other perennial plants find a sheltered corner of your garden, dig them in and they will be waiting for you next spring. Be sure to give them a big drink of water before freeze up. I have a number of containers and love them. I have them by the lake and they usually only get watered when either it rains or when a boat goes by they get splashed.
Some of you would like to put in a garden. I suggest that it be something simple - a couple of flower beds perhaps, or a real English garden with lots of flowers that bloom from spring onwards until the frost cuts them down. A cottage garden look has been described as an "exuberant excess!" However you do not want to end up with a jungley nightmare.
Make sure that you include pathways, this is a way of saying "Welcome to my garden please come inside and spend a little time with me." They should be wide enough for you to stroll through side by side with a lover or a friend but it should not be so wide that it looks like a driveway or a two-lane jogging path. It should give a feeling of intimacy. If you make straight paths your guests will see the whole garden at once. Add curves and angles and you add mystery. A walk along this path can be a journey of discovery with something unexpected - a rose arbor, a small stone figure, perhaps a bench or a sundial surrounded by fragrant herbs. For the paths themselves, use fieldstones, stepping stones, or mulch. Do not leave the earth or you will end up with a muddy mess when it rains. Even grass works if kept short and within bounds. A low gate or a rustic fence will add interest and invite the visitor into the garden. Do not choose anything too fancy or upscale - this is after all a cottage garden.
Ideally the plants furthest away from the path should be within arms reach, about 31/2 to 4 feet where a path runs to one side or 7 to 8 feet for a bed flanked by paths. For the opulent look that deeper beds give, build in discreet access points, stepping stones, or here you can place narrow walkways that thread through the bed without being noticed too much. The plants will grow and eventually fill in any open spots.
Do not overlook bulbs. I remember the first spring that I returned to the cottage and saw the daffodils blooming under the trees. It was so beautiful that I wept and the next fall I planted a lot of tulips as well. From a very small beginning it just keeps growing. Easy-care perennials including hostas and daylillies like ones Dawn Tack sells at Gardens Plus in Donwood are good choices. These do very well in a cottage garden. Do not forget to include some old fashioned roses and lavender, be careful not to make yourself a lot of work, for you have come to relax and enjoy looking after husbands, children, grandchildren and pets!
A wooden bench is traditional in the garden, blending beautifully into the garden, leave it unpainted it will not only look as though it has always been there but you will enjoy the warmth of the wood when you sit on it. Jack built a stone bench for me. When the sun has been on it all day it is a pleasure to sit on, but when the weather turns cold - you need a cushion!
The most important thing is that you should have fun gardening. It should be a pleasure not a chore - when it becomes hard work, we lose interest. So get out into the sunshine, not forgetting to wear a hat and sunscreen, relax and enjoy - it is often a pleasure to escape the kitchen (and guests) to pull a few weeds.