Cottage Garden Charm

One of the most alluring aspects of an English cottage is the garden. The well-worn path that winds through fragrant and colorful roses, phlox, and lilies can bring a calming force to even the most seasoned home remodeler.

There are many ways to add a cottage garden by renovating the garden you have or starting from scratch. This could involve plenty of labor to define planting beds, add walkways and fencing, and perhaps include a patio of aged brick or stone, but the hard work will pay off in the end.

Depending on your desires and dexterity, you may want to consult with a landscaping contractor for an overall perspective or help with certain stages.

The English Palette

One of the striking aspects of an English cottage garden is the use of color. The easy part for you is the informal nature of the palette. Your garden can be shaped around any colors you want - from bold oranges and yellows to soft blues and purples.

You may have a tall grouping of orange cornflowers staking their claim above low-lying section of fragrant sweet woodruff. The beauty is that colors will ebb and flow as visitors wander through the paths.

Planning a Cottage Garden

As you plan your garden renovation, look to history for inspiration. Most cottage gardens are an informal collection of colorful flowers and native plants that have created their own path over time. This is not to diminish the gardener's role in shaping the garden, but it points to the power of nature in leading us in the right direction.

If you are renovating an old garden, start by assessing what you like and don't like. Remove any overgrown plants that have outlived their usefulness. You may want to try a plant swap with a neighbor to recycle plant material and steer the garden toward your liking. If there is a well worn patio with grass growing between the bricks, tidy it up and leave it. You may find that it fits right in with the future of your landscaping.

Start With Hardscapes

With any landscaping project, you want to start by defining and installing the "hardscapes," such as a patio, fence, or walkway. This might mean making an opening for a new patio, working around the one you have or expanding it. In any case, think about what size you want and how it will function. You may want a few small sitting areas for placing wrought-iron tables or the antique wicker furniture.

Many cottage gardens have low-picket or simple wood style fences. They serve as the backdrop for the colorful plantings that will become the focal points. If you plan to add a fence, plan to do it before the flowerbeds are prepared.

Getting Around the Garden

An important aspect of effective gardening is the ability to move people through the space naturally. If you want people to stop and smell the roses in another part of the garden, make the steps unstructured and curved. It naturally will slow them down.

Flagstone is a popular garden path material, particularly in the cottage garden. The stones are heavy, however, so it might be worthwhile to talk with a landscaping contractor about this part of the project. Otherwise, look for small stones that can be grouped together to create an informal path leading to a birdbath.

Starting From Scratch

If you are creating orginal landscaping, begin with the framework of the planting beds. While many cottage gardens grew out of years of hard work and happenstance, you'll have to push the envelope a little to get yours started.

You'll want to start the planting by carving out flower beds. Then focus on where you want to add impact. The areas in front of a fence, under a graceful tree or lining the front walkway are all prime spots for bold color. The borders along a walkway, street and garage are ideal for lower growing plantings.

The Right Conditions

If you're looking for a colorful garden, work in areas that receive at least five or six hours of sun each day. Make sure you amend the soil with compost or manure to give everything from rose bushes to peonies to phlox the best possible base for growing.

Another key to successful gardening is to include a mix of evergreens, perennials, annuals and bulbs. This helps create diversity while giving visitors changing textures and colors to view throughout the year.

If your yard has several shady areas, there's nothing wrong with carving out the cottage garden in the only sunny place in your landscaping. Define the space with a decorative border, a low wooden fence or a trellis that separates it from the shady areas. This will give it distinction and added interest.

There are no real rules, after all. A cottage garden is one place where almost anything goes.

About the Author

Allison E. Beatty is an avid old- house enthusiast who has been renovating houses and writing about them for more than ten years. She contributes regularly to national newspaper, magazines, and Web sites. She lives in an 1888 Victorian-era home.

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