Tag Archives: cottage garden style

Apparently, almost everybody loves a meadow

“Wow! Moved to tears at the beauty around the river, couldn’t drink it in fast enough! Well done! ❤️” (Thanks, Amanda and Tim.)

I can admit now that the aspect that worried me most about opening the garden after seven years was how people would react to the meadow we are developing where it was formerly all neatly mown parkland. Would others like it as much as we do or would some visitors criticise it for being ‘full of weeds’?

There is no doubt that the meadow harbours many plants that are generally regarded as weeds. Buttercups, dandelions and daisies abound, along with Herb Robert, the interloper Mark refers to as ‘stinking billygoat weed’ and Yorkshire fog grass. We try and keep in check the common, weedy crocosmia (orange montbretia) that washes down to us from upstream every flood. I dig out flowering docks and pull out cleavers and Mark will resort to spray to get the onion weed out before it gets too widespread – it too has washed into our place from upstream. We have a zero tolerance policy on tradescantia. But there are a lot of common weeds in amongst the long grass.

The streambanks were cut back with the weedeater this week. We have learned we need to do this more frequently to stop the grass from invading the stream bed.

Maybe New Zealand is moving on from its dedication to gardens as an exercise in total control. At its worst, this may be seen in scalping lawns (cutting with the lawnmower set on the lowest level possible), spraying along all path edges with glyphosate and a scorched earth approach. Equally, it may be seen in gardens laid out in straight lines with rows of tidy edging plants or low hedges defining the end of paved areas or mown grass and the start of all garden beds. Certainly, visitors who have looked at the UK, European and American traditions of meadows and long grass could relate to what we are doing, but would New Zealanders understand it, I wondered.

The lovely Higo iris are coming into bloom

The answer was a resounding yes. The comments we received in person were all very positive and it was the area of the garden that attracted most comment overall. The language in the visitor book kept using words like tranquil, inspiring, magical, relaxing and restful. It may be that anybody who didn’t like the meadow was too polite to say anything but we were only aware of one dissatisfied visitor. An older lady, she asked three of us in turn where the meadow was and insisted that somewhere there was a flat field of flowers. I am sorry we disappointed her but I am also surprised and reassured that there weren’t more people like her.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Maybe the reason our meadow works is in part because the rest of the garden is as close to free of weeds as humanly possible so it doesn’t look as if we are weedy everywhere. We love the softness of it, the more natural feel that comes with keeping a much lighter hand on its maintenance and management. It has certainly reduced the maintenance burden and is more environmentally friendly than keeping it as mown park. But it is the feeling of romance that comes with that softer approach that delights us. The plants that have naturalised within it are seasonal pleasures – from the common yellow primulas and bluebells to the irises, the lysichitons, Mark’s unexpected trilliums, even the white ox-eye daisy that is now settling in. We keep adding a bit more as we find plants that we think will fit the environment without becoming a pest.

It was affirming to have so many visitors who found our meadow just as charming as we do. I hope some will be inspired to find ways to implement this gentler style in their own home spaces. Also, given how wet the ten day festival was, it was reassuring to find that even in such conditions, the meadow can still be a delight and not just acres of unappealing, sodden, rank, long grass. That was a good test for it to pass.

More cottage garden than anything else. But with a few unlikely plants like the nuttallii rhododendrons as well as feijoas and flowers.

One visitor solved a different problem for me. I was struggling to explain the bee and butterfly garden we refer to as the Iolanthe Garden a few weeks ago, landing eventually on the descriptor of it being a form of  freestyle, transitional meadow. “I am English,” this visitor said. “So my favourite part of the whole place was the cottage garden.” It had not occurred to me that what I was planting was a cottage garden but I looked afresh. She was right. The Iolanthe Garden is a cottage garden. I shall describe it as such from now on. It makes simpler sense.  

Modern directions in perennial planting patterns

Hampstead Heath1) Confining planting to geometric blocks (Mondrian-style perhaps, for students of art), has been evident in show gardens in recent years but has now become mainstream. This is a new planting on Hampstead Heath, done by the public authorities. The sharp lines will blur over time. It is a shame about the buxus blight that is already evident. A different clipped shrub may have been a better choice.
Wisley2) Piet Oudolf’s rivers of colour in the modern borders at Wisley have been controversial since they were planted in 2000, but we think they are glorious. They also take much less labour to maintain than the traditional twin herbaceous borders. Each ribbon of colour has about four different plants in it and the colours will change through the season. You need to be able to look up or look down on this type of planting (or both). Viewed on the flat, you would not see the diagonal effect.
A river effect3) Less ambitious may be to snake a river of one perennial through clumping plantings. In this case it is an erigeron daisy but I have already done it in my own garden with irises (the blue sibirican ones and also Higo iris). A river effect alters the dynamic of big, round clumps of plants or can give some visual unity to an otherwise disorganised planting.
Tom Stuart Smith4) Big generous clumps of perennial plants, each standing in its own space, are one of the hallmarks of the New Perennials Style that has been widely adopted in modern UK and northern European gardens. This is a private garden, the work of British designer, Tom Stuart Smith. It takes a big area to carry out well. Each plant is occupying an area at least a metre across, sometimes more. Clipped shrubs act as punctuation points.
Dorset garden5) The classic cottage garden mix and match style is harder to manage than it looks if you are determined to keep both a succession of flowers and good coverage – to avoid bare patches – throughout the warmer months. This is in a Dorset garden owned by a good gardener. In lesser hands, it can become a hodge podge with bare bits and small plants of potted colour added in an effort to fill in the gaps.
Gresgarth, near Lancaster6) The classic twin herbaceous borders adapted to a more personalised, private garden (in this case Gresgarth, near Lancaster) by breaking up the expanse into shorter sections using clipped hedging in battlement style and strategic topiary. In line with modern expectations, planting is now deliberately colour-toned and separate sections allow the colour palettes to be kept apart. The effect is deliberately refined.
007 - Copy7) Grasses! Grasses! More grasses! And many meadows, let alone prairie plantings. No discussion about modern perennials is complete with referencing these major trends. These deserve attention in greater detail and are part of a bigger picture of focussing on more environmentally friendly approaches to gardening.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.