May 1st – International Workers’ Day or Labour Day – is a public holiday in many parts of the world. It coincides with the much older traditional festival of May Day – springtime festivities, associated with May Queens and ribbon-dancing around the maypole. In France, it is also the Fête du Muguet, the day when the little Lily of the Valley, with its delicate sprays of white bells, is elevated to the position of celebrated star for the day.
The earliest May Day celebrations honoured the ancient Roman goddess of flowers, Flora, and flowers inevitably feature in many of the traditions associated with this day. Traditionally, “May baskets”, containing flowers or sweets, were given at this time of year. They would be hung anonymously on the doors of friends or neighbours.
A May crowning – honouring the Virgin Mary, by placing a crown of flowers on the head of her statue – takes place in many Roman Catholic parishes. Young girls in white dresses carry flowers to place on the head of the statue. Throughout the month of May, the flowers may be replaced to keep them fresh.
A charming tradition, in France, is La Fête du Muguet, the festival of the Lily of the Valley. It dates back to the 16th century and is associated with the ill-fated Charles IX of France, son of Catherine de’ Medici.
The young King Charles – he acceded to the throne at the age of 10 and died before reaching the age of 24 – was prone to illness and dementia. He suffered from fits of violent, mad rages and was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Huguenots, in what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.
Despite his gruesome history, however, he has left behind a much more pleasant legacy. In the spring of 1560, the young prince was apparently presented with a sprig of the sweetly scented lily of the valley (muguet in French) as a lucky charm. He was so delighted with the gift that, each year on the same day, May 1st, he gave sprigs of lily of the valley to the ladies at court.
The custom continues in France, with fragrant posies of lily of the valley being presented to loved ones as a token of appreciation or good luck charm on 1st May. Street stalls and supermarket shelves are laden with little pots and tall, elegant vases containing sprays of the dainty, bell-shaped flowers, rising from a scroll of bright green leaves. More than 75 million sprigs of the flower will be sold across France for the Fête du Muguet.
The tradition has been incorporated into Labour Day activities too. During the Second World War, a buttonhole of eglantine rose, which had been worn by marching workers as a symbol of the Left, was officially replaced by a spray of lily of the valley.
There are now special rules in France allowing lily of the valley to be sold on May Day without the usual taxes having to be paid, provided the flower is homegrown or gathered from the wild. Fortunately, the little plant’s propensity to spread by means of underground runners, means that it copes well with any amount of cutting back and will continue to bloom undeterred in subsequent years.
Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we see it in someone else’s garden!
In all these internet searches every month, what gardeners are looking for is a little inspiration. Pinterest is great for sharing ideas. Try scrolling through some images to see which ones you instinctively fall in love with and start collecting your favourite pictures on your own board.
For thousands of gardening ideas, click here to follow the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner on Pinterest.
Even with a glorious mood board of beautiful images to inspire, though, it’s not always easy to transfer these ideas to our own garden borders. Here are some ideas for creating the garden of your dreams.
The first step is to decide on the style of garden you prefer. Are you a minimalist, in search of contemporary planting ideas and modern materials? Or do you have a passion for cottage gardens – billowing roses and white picket fences? Perhaps you want to create a Mediterranean-style garden border or a shady woodland retreat?
Read more here on different garden styles to help you decide.
Now look back at your mood board of favourite images – which style of garden features most prominently in your chosen images? Is that the type of garden you would like to recreate in your own backyard?
Formal or Informal
The next step is to consider the overall layout of your garden. Will you need to stick closely to the structure you have already or are you prepared to invest in some major restructuring, involving moving or laying new paths or seating areas, perhaps? Read more here about disguising awkwardly-shaped plots.
There are some changes you can make, without huge cost implications, such as widening a flower bed or tweaking the shape of a lawn. We were able to change the look of our triangular garden by rounding the lawn and losing the sharp angle amongst a sea of tall planting.
Before you head out with a garden spade, think first about whether you want to create a garden which is formal or informal in design. Do you prefer a naturalistic, informal look or do you hanker after the elegance of formal lines and symmetry? Have a look at the following design tips for creating a formal or informal style of garden border.
Ideas for formal gardens and borders
The amazing, formal gardens at Villandry in the Loire valley are a great source of inspiration. You may not be able to create something on quite such a grand scale, but the elements of symmetry, geometric shapes and well-manicured topiary are the basis for a formal garden border.
Tips for creating a formal garden
Choose straight lines and geometric shapes, such as circles, squares and triangles, to define planting areas.
Aim for a symmetrical design, repeating planting and colours in matching borders or arranging features such as pots, fountains or obelisks in a symmetrical pattern.
Formal gardens need to be carefully maintained, hedges and topiary well-clipped and borders neatly edged.
Containers of topiary in neat geometrical shapes sit well in formal designs.
Ideas for informal gardens and borders
Tips for creating an informal garden
Use gentle curves, rather than straight lines, to define border edges.
Planting can be allowed to spill over the boundaries of flower beds to break up hard edges.
Use natural materials, such as wood and weathered stone.
Collections of pots and containers in a mix of heights and sizes create a natural look.
So, you’ve decided on the style and layout of your garden. Take another look at all those beautiful images you’ve collected. Chances are the most important feature in those pictures is the choice of plants. The crucial step to making your dream garden a reality is getting the planting right.
Take time to study the plants used in the flower borders and how they are combined to great effect. Try placing plants in groups or drifts – an odd number usually works well. Contrast tall plants with low mounds. Choose plants for all year-round structure as well as summer colour.
Getting the planting right can be tricky. Many home owners have spent a small fortune in garden centres only to find that the plants they have chosen aren’t suitable for the growing conditions in their own gardens.
It’s a good idea to check on the acidity of your soil and take time to work out whether your borders are well-drained or water-retentive, sunny or shaded, as these factors will affect which plants will thrive in your borders. Read here for more on my endeavours to create a successful planting plan.
The interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans, tailored to your garden’s soil and light conditions.
Draw your garden layout using the onscreen drawing tools.
Select your choice of style and preferred colour scheme.
Enter your garden’s climate, soil and light conditions.
That’s it! The PlantingPlanner will generate your bespoke planting plan, complete with colour photographs, descriptions and full maintenance advice for individual plants.
You can tweak and modify your generated plan, by excluding any plants you don’t like and substituting them with your favourites. The PlantingPlanner will tell you if your choices are suitable for your location. Find out more here.
Our main garden is an elongated, right-angled triangle, bordered by a wild hedge edging a country lane. When we first moved in, the entire garden was laid to lawn and could be viewed in all its triangular, tapering glory! Pythagoras might have been delighted with the opportunity to experiment with the properties of our triangle. We were more perplexed by the dilemma of how to make a triangle look more like a rectangle!
In our vast expanse of grassness, we were also keen to add interest by creating pathways and hidden areas, as well as planting up flower borders to soften the boundaries.
We ended up making the lawn area smaller, with a more curvy shape, by lopping off the tip of the triangle. We laid stepping stones to create a winding pathway up to the tip of the triangle and used taller planting to obscure the shape.
As the planting started to become established, the stepping stones began to disappear into our secret garden.
We planted a pair of columnar silver birches, their narrow lines perfect for small gardens, and used plants which naturally favour woodland conditions.
It has become our wild area – not least because it’s not so visible from the house so is always last on the weeding list!
This area of the garden is glorious in spring, when the aquilegias, candelabra primulas and forget-me-nots are all in flower. In summer, the geraniums, hydrangeas and persicaria do well.
I tried hostas up here, as they are a perfect choice for a shade garden, but they were too far from the house for me to remember to slug-proof them and I decided to move them nearer to the back door where I could keep a wary eye on them.
Over time, the shrubs have grown tall and the planting has become dense and overgrown. It’s definitely time for another make-over – or at least, a good sort-out and pruning session, but the basic structure and pathways are still good and I’m happy that the garden no longer looks too angular.
Disguising awkward shapes
Changing the shape of features such as lawns and planting areas can help disguise unusual shapes and smooth out sharp angles. Circles (or even octagons) make interesting lawn shapes as they create intriguingly-shaped borders around their edges and draw the eye away from the less-than-perfect outline.
Splitting up the overall garden into sections, especially where there is a journey to follow to reveal each part, can be a clever way to disguise an unusual shape.
Ideas for long, narrow gardens
I appreciate that dealing with a triangular garden is not a problem too many people have. A much more common garden shape is the long, narrow plot and the geometrical puzzle becomes how to make a narrow rectangle look like a circle – or even a square!
If you have a grand estate to play with. long, straight vistas are rather wonderful. But in a ‘normal’ back garden, the idea is to break up the linear view.
You know the fashion advice – if you’re short and dumpy, vertical stripes are better; beanpoles look better proportioned if the stripes are horizontal. The same ploy works for gardens. For plots which are long and narrow, you need to trick the eye into looking from side to side, instead of along the length. (Of course, if your garden is wide and shallow, you can use the same tricks – this time emphasising the length instead of the width.)
So instead of laying a path which runs straight down the length of the garden, create sinuous, walkways, with interesting features along the way, to create different vantage points as you walk through the garden.
More ways to break up the linear look:
Place a path, seating area or pond widthways across the garden.
Lay an area of decking so that the planks lie across, instead of down the length of, the garden.
Set open spaces, like a lawn or sitting areas, on the diagonal.
Place large objects, such as urns or obelisks, at the edges of the plot.
Long gardens can benefit from being split into sections horizontally, with each section given its own distinctive role and style e.g. an alfresco dining area, a lawn area, the kitchen potager.
Garden designers often recommend building in ‘obstructions’, to prevent the whole garden being seen at once. Try adding arches, obelisks or fencing panels, clothed with climbers, so that each section of the garden is revealed in turn. Tall planting can also be used in this way.
Choosing the right plants
Once you’ve got the basic structure right, it’s time to think about updating tired garden borders or choosing plants for new flower beds. For plantaholics, that’s where the fun begins!
If you need help selecting plants to make a stylish border, you could try The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner. This interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans, choosing plants which are tailored to your garden’s growing conditions. You can satisfy your inner garden designer by tweaking and modifying each plan until it is just how you want it to look!
What’s the collective noun for a group of crocuses? A cluster, a crowd, a colony? A swathe, a dazzle, a drift?
On a bright, chill-nipped, late-February afternoon in Cannizaro Park, the word which comes to mind is crescendo – the pale buds, pushing up in clumps through the crumpled dead leaves and winter mud-brown soil, gradually increasing in number and intensity of colour, spilling across the grassy borders, unfurling to reveal orange stamen and deep purple petals, peaking at the very moment I reach the park gates!
Cannizaro Park is a 34-acre Grade II* listed English Heritage garden, to the south of Wimbledon Common. A private garden for 300 years, it was acquired by Wimbledon Borough Council, now London Borough of Merton, in 1948 and a short time after, opened to the public.
The stately home it surrounds is now a hotel and the gardens provide the backdrop to many wedding reception photographs. A little later, and it will be transformed by the mass of blossoms in the azalea dell and then the brightly coloured summer bedding in the formal Sunken Garden, but for now, the crocuses hold sway.
The statue of Diana and the Fawn, originally from a Sicilian villa, can be found at the north-western tip of the park.
Lady Jane’s Wood is known for its collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Here, only a few are flowering just yet but the plump buds hint at lots more to come. Walking through the dark azalea dell, with London’s emerald parakeets screeching overhead, it felt very much as if I was exploring a tropical rainforest!
The next day, I had a close-up view of the ubiquitous exotic parakeet – this time in Margravine Cemetery. In fact, I felt a little like Francis of Assisi, surrounded as I was by curious and hungry squirrels and pigeons.
Margravine Cemetery is just around the corner from Barons Court tube station and forms part of the Barons Court Conservation area. It was opened in 1869 in response to a shortage of burial plots caused by outbreaks of cholera, and became a Garden of Rest in 1951.
Nowadays, it is a peaceful, atmospheric mix of wildflower-rich grassland and ancient gravestones.
Like the Friends of Cannizaro Park, the Friends of Margravine Cemetery are a voluntary organisation dedicated to improving and supporting the gardens. In 2016, they entered the Cemetery into the London in Bloom awards gaining ‘Outstanding’ in the ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ category, and a silver-gilt in the ‘Our Community’ award.
It’s not surprising then that the crocuses are magnificent here as well. As the earlier-flowering snowdrops fade, the crocuses push up, pooling around tree trunks and lining the pathways with a sea of delicate purple.
Winter is not all bare branches and empty garden borders! Camera in hand, I set myself the challenge of tracking down plants which brighten up the dead days of winter.
Even when frosted with ice or with a sprinkling of snow, holly can be relied on to provide deep greens and rich red berries. Ivy and mistletoe complete the trio of festive evergreens.
In the medieval, walled town of Pérouges, in eastern France, I spotted a collection of window boxes which combined Christmas baubles and pine cones with winter pansies and cyclamen. When it’s time to take down the Christmas decorations, the pansies and cyclamen continue to brighten up the window sills.
Decorating the house walls above them, traditional bunches of sweetcorn, together with gold and red baubles, were tied onto the winter vines, adding a splash of vibrant colour amongst the fading vines.
By early January, the spidery flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia are starting to appear, while the delicate pink blossoms of Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ – the winter flowering cherry – appear in mild spells throughout the winter months.
Mahonia is a useful winter plant with evergreen leaves and fragrant lemon-yellow flowers. Winter jasmine – Jasminum nudiflorum – is a vigorous climber, with yellow flowers providing a cheery sight on grey days.
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ carries pretty, pink flowers for months through autumn and winter, while the peony-like ruffles of Camellia provide handsome clusters of colour in late winter and early spring.
And with snowdrops starting to open and green shoots of early-flowering daffodils poking up from the ground,it will be spring before we know it!
With leaden skies and the days getting shorter and colder, it was time to inject a splash of colour on our front door step!
1. Skimmia, heuchera and winter pansies
A trip to the local garden centre is a great pick-me-up at any time of year, but on a chilly November day it was a heart-warming experience! Fairy lights twinkled and deliciously cute, fluffy rabbits waved from their glittery warrens as I passed through the Christmas grotto and out into the plant sales area. Of course, there wasn’t the huge array of colourful flowers you’d find at other times of the year. Still, there was plenty of choice for garden lovers hoping to cheer up their winter flower beds – or front door steps!
Pots of young trees and evergreen topiary are superb for creating structure at the time of year when many of the perennials are fast retreating underground. I also spotted a good selection of autumn/winter flowering and berrying shrubs. These included both white and red berried Gaultheria and Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’, which has colourful autumn leaves and violet berries.
Plants don’t grow much during the winter months, so to make an immediate impact, it’s important to choose enough plants to look good right from the start. The first step is to choose the focus plant. After that, it’s relatively easy to create an effective arrangement – just keep pottering around the shelves, picking out plants and trying out different groupings, until you find the perfect combination!
For structure, I chose a striking Skimmia japonica, dripping with red flower buds, together with a couple of ornamental grasses. I picked up a heuchera with dark purple evergreen foliage, which would look stunning in my slate grey pot. It wasn’t labelled so I’ll have to wait till summer to find out what the flower looks like! Finally, a collection of winter pansies found its way into my trolley. There was a huge choice of cheerful colours, both single and bi-coloured, but I liked the sultry deep red-purple ones, that complemented the other plants in my trolley.
Back in the warmth again, I got side-tracked on the way to the till by the spring bulb collections and ended up throwing in a packet of Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’, which also included some free Iris reticulata bulbs. Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’ only grows to about 15cm so is perfect for small pots. It has slightly reflexed, golden petals, with deeper golden cups. Twin flowers, sometimes triplets, are carried on each stem in early spring. The beautiful iris reticulata flowers in late winter to early spring, growing to 12cm high.
I found some small stones to sit over the pot’s drainage holes, to prevent them from getting clogged up with soil, and added a layer of compost. Then it was time to be creative. The Skimmia japonica went in at the back, flanked by the two grasses.
Before adding the smaller plants, I planted a handful of the bulbs as deeply as I could. Bulbs need to be planted at 2-3 times their depth and one bulb width apart. My container wasn’t as deep as I would have liked, but I’ll hope for the best!
To finish off my winter pot, I added the remaining plants. The heuchera went in front of the skimmia and the pansies squeezed in around the edge, where I hope they will flower their little socks off in milder spells throughout the winter.
2. A collection of winter interest shrubs with white Helleborus niger
Gaultheria’s red berries, purple-red Skimmia flower buds and the fiery winter foliage of evergreen Nandina domestica line this weathered stone trough. Trailing variegated ivy softens the edges while the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) adds a splash of winter white.
Gaultheria is an acid-loving plant, so to do well will need ericaceous compost. It’s easy to give plants the conditions they need in containers, so if you love a plant that won’t survive in your garden soil, planting up a container is a good way to fit it in.
Senecio cineraria and cyclamen are happy in all soil types, so they make good companions for the Gaultheria. Not all cyclamens are hardy, so it’s best to choose hardy Cyclamen hederifolium or Cyclamen coum for your winter pots.
There were plenty of ornamental cabbages in the garden centre, which I passed by without too much hesitation. They just seemed a bit too clunky for my liking. However, in this collection of winter containers, the delicate spires of heather and the fine filigree of senecio balance the heavier purple cabbages. The cyclamens and ivy help to tie the display together.
For the easiest of winter pots, try some box balls, cones or pyramids. Box (Buxus sempervirens) grows from mid-spring to early summer. It will need trimming in mid-summer to maintain its elegant shape but will provide year-round structure in the garden.
Looking for more ideas? The RHS has more advice here on suitable plants for winter containers.
Tips for Winter Containers
Plants don’t need feeding in the winter months, but they will need watering in dry, mild spells.
Standing pots on bricks or pot feet will improve drainage and may help protect pots from cracking in icy conditions.
Deadhead flowers when necessary.
Place the container where it will get the best of the winter sun. In severe weather, move pots to a sheltered spot or wrap in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap.
Need a Planting Plan for Autumn Colour? Click here
The trees are looking spectacular at the moment and it’s hard to resist taking yet another photograph of the glowing colours at canopy level. But down on the ground, there are some hardy perennials which are still flowering their socks off!
Here’s my choice for the best 5 perennials for autumn colour.
These are stunning perennials with daisy-like flowers on an upright, clump-forming plant. They flower profusely from mid-summer into the autumn.
Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ has glorious autumnal colours – fiery orange-red rays surrounding a velvety brown central disc. The rays reflex strongly as the flowers age. It has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
‘Pipsqueak’ has yellow rays surrounding a velvety yellow and brown central disc. The rays are relatively short and reflex very strongly, giving extra prominence to the central cone.
Another award-winning Helenium is ‘Waldtraut’. The flowers have a velvety brown central disc, surrounded by coppery-orange rays, streaked yellow.
Helenium appreciates moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Cutting back the stems towards the end of May by about one-third should promote better flowering on more compact plants.
Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’
A superb, late-flowering perennial, spreading slowly by means of rhizomes.
A mass of golden, daisy-like flowerheads are carried on upright stems from late summer to mid-autumn. The flowers have prominent black-brown, cone-shaped discs. These become an interesting feature in their own right when the glorious, yellow ray-florets have fallen.
Rudbeckia likes moist, well-drained soil in sun or part-shade. Divide every 4-5 years to maintain vigour. Like Helenium, these too can be cut back at the end of May to encourage flowering.
Anemone x hybrida
Japanese anemones are vigorous, upright, perennials, bearing numerous flowers in late-summer to mid-autumn.
Anemone x hybrida ‘Königin Charlotte’ has soft pink flowers, while ‘Honorine Jobert’ has pure white, single flowers, with rich yellow stamens.
Happy in moist soil in sun or part shade, japanese anemones will spread to cover bare soil. Pull up rooted suckers to curtail its spread.
29th September is Michaelmas Day, the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. The Michaelmas daisies flower around this time, with sprays of daisy-like flowerheads from late-summer to mid-autumn.
Many suffer from powdery mildew, so look out for Aster novae-angliae varieties, which have relatively good mildew resistance.
My favourites are the starry, pale lilac flowers of Aster pyrenaeus ‘Lutetia’, and, as an added bonus, they are completely resistant to powdery mildew. A great late flowering garden plant.
The sedums also bring interest to autumn flower beds, with the colours often getting better and better as the season passes.
From late summer to mid-autumn, Sedum telephium ‘Munstead Red’ has clusters of starry, deep pink flowers, with purple-red centres, darkening with age. The upright plant has green leaves, flushed purple, on bright red stems. Seedheads persist over winter, prolonging the season of interest.
‘Purple Emperor’ has pale pink flowers, with deeper pink centres, while the dark red-purple leaves on ruby-red stems bring a royal richness to garden borders.
‘Matrona’ has pale pink flowers, with rose-pink centres. Green leaves, flushed purple, are carried on bright red stems.
Sedum telephium subsp. maximum ‘Atropurpureum’ has pink-white flowers, contrasting with dark purple leaves on purple stems. It has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Sedums like well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil in full sun. They perform well in poor or moderately fertile soil, as richer soil conditions encourage foliage growth rather than flowering.
Need a Planting Plan for Autumn Colour?
When planting up a garden border, it’s easy to end up with a one-season wonder. The flower beds are a delight in spring or early summer, but tail off at the end of the main flowering season. It can be hard to juggle all the factors which contribute to make a cohesive, all year round planting plan – finding plants which provide structure and interest in all seasons, complement each other, as well as thrive in the particular conditions you have in your own patch of earth.
The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner does all this for you, making it easy for you to create garden borders with all year round interest. Enter details of your garden’s soil and light conditions, choose your favourite planting style (for example: cottage or contemporary) and pick your colour scheme. The intelligent garden design software will create a planting plan which is tailor-made for you.
You can regenerate a plan or tweak it to add personal favourites. Let it bring out the designer in you, as you experiment with different colour combinations or scroll through the list of suggested plants to further personalise your design.
For more inspiration for your autumn borders, click here to follow the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner on Pinterest.
There are some things the French seem to do effortlessly. Crème de cassis and white wine. Raspberry tarts. Shabby chic. The careless and uncontrived juxtaposition of faded elegance and modern buildings.
And what is it about the French and flowers? Their streets are a blaze of carefully designed colour and a visit to a public park feels like an outing to the botanical gardens.
Grasses and sedges add movement and airiness to the designs. In a park near the railway station, fluffy lagurus ovatus contrasts with statuesque canna leaves. The pretty, delicate Gaura lindheimeri adds a light touch to many of the flowerbeds. I want to whip out my camera and analyse the plant combinations.
At every roundabout, there’s a new combination of flowers to admire. It’s hard to resist pulling up and leaping out of the car to admire the planting plans close up.
Outside the Hôtel de Ville, vertical height lends structure to the schemes, while the vibrantly contrasting rich purples and yellows are a source of inspiration for flower beds anywhere.
Perhaps it’s the French sense of style? Certainly, their street containers are so much more than an attempt to add a splash of colour. The designs are vibrant and contemporary, but there’s a restrained colour palette which avoids the often garish effect of summer bedding in some of our British parks. There’s no hint of municipal planting here – just a careful mix of perennials and shrubs that would look at home in someone’s back yard.
Cottage gardens are all about abundance of planting and random drifts of colour. Ground covering plants weave through the planting, spilling over border edges and stitching everything together. In the same way, scattering the seeds of annuals amongst the permanent planting will plug any gaps and contribute to the random charm of the design.
Annuals are plants which germinate, flower and set seed all in one year. They die after flowering, but many will helpfully self-seed leaving a new generation of flowers to appear the following spring.
Annuals are perfect for a high-impact quick burst of colour. They are fast-growers and, because packets of seeds are inexpensive, can cover a big area at a low cost. Ones that will grow directly where they are scattered are the easiest option.
Hardy annuals can be sown in the autumn to get off to a flying start the following spring. Half-hardy ones can’t take the cold. They can be sown indoors in spring, but you will need to wait until the frosts are past before planting them out in the garden. Or you can sow them directly in the garden when there is no more risk of frost, but they will take a little longer before they start to flower.
Eschscholzia californica is the state flower of California, flowering prolifically in shades of gold, orange and red, with finely dissected blue-green foliage.
They seem to have far too many letters in their name, but are one of the easiest annuals to grow. (They are grown as annuals in temperate climates, but considered a perennial in hot areas.) Tolerant of heat, drought and poor soil, these sunny little flowers bloom all summer long and are a magnet for bees and butterflies. Removing the flowers as they go over, encourages the plant to continue flowering. Leave the last flowerheads on the plant at the end of the flowering season, to allow it to self-seed.
The flowers in my garden are E. californica subsp. Mexicana, the Mexican Gold Poppy. They have masses of silky flowers, which are often two-tone, with the golden centre slightly darker than the outer edge of the petal.
Limnanthes douglasii, poached egg plant, has pretty yellow and white flowers. It self-seeds freely and is also attractive to pollinators, so is a good choice for cottage gardens. It will naturalise around the garden, providing useful ground cover. It has been granted the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by The Royal Horticultural Society.
Nigella damascena is the prettiest of annuals. The flowers float in a delicate mist of ferny foliage, giving it the common name of Love-in-a-Mist. Though most usual in its blue variety, seed mixes often include pink and white flowers. Nigella will self-seed readily and is attractive to wildlife.
The annual cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, carries ruffled flowers in shades of blue red, pink, and white. Deadhead flowers as they go over to prolong flowering, leaving those at the end of the season to develop seedheads to provide food for birds. Check out Centaurea cyanus ‘Blue Boy’, which is a large-flowered cornflower in traditional bright blue. Taller varieties may need staking in exposed areas.
Look out for packets of bee flower mix, which are perfect for a cottage garden. These are seeds of nectar and pollen rich wildflowers, which not only fill in any gaps in your borders but also encourage native bees and other pollinators.
Well, maybe not total self-sufficiency unless you have space for chickens and a pig or two – but you can make a stab at it by mingling fruit and vegetables in with your ornamental flowers. Grow runner beans up willow obelisks, strawberries in pots, tomatoes in growbags. Potatoes, carrots, courgettes, colourful peppers and lettuces can all be grown in containers, so can be squeezed in to any free spaces in the garden.
Fruit trees can be grown on dwarf rootstocks, which will stunt their growth, or prune trees to form single cordons, fans, and espaliers. I have a step-over apple in my garden and a small number of columnar fruit trees, which grow to only 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) tall.
Don’t forget a ready-to-grab clutch of herbs near the kitchen door. Grow a collection of your favourites in pots – rosemary, mint, chives, thyme, sweet basil and coriander – for adding flavour to your winter casseroles or summer salads.
Sweet basil complement tomatoes beautifully. Scatter torn basil leaves over the top of a tomato and mozzarella salad, with a splash of balsamic vinegar and oil. Or rub cut garlic over a slice of grilled baguette, add a dash of olive oil, freshly chopped tomatoes and basil for a fantastic tomato bruschetta lunch.
Rosemary is the most useful herb I grow, as it is evergreen and can be harvested all year round. One of our favourite family meal is lamb chump chops with tomatoes, courgettes and a handful of aromatic rosemary.
I also love fennel – Foeniculum vulgare – an aniseed-scented herb with umbels of yellow flowers. This tall Mediterranean plant has finely dissected leaves which can be sprinkled over pork, fish or used in salads. It also looks pretty fantastic!
Chives (allium schoenoprasum) are easy to grow and make a great addition to salads, soups and omelettes. They have a slight onion flavour, so are perfect for sprinkling over potato salad. The honey-scented flowers are also edible and can be added to salads.
And the most important thing to remember when planning what herbs, fruit and vegetables to fit into your cottage garden? Only grow what you most like to eat!
The interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans, tailored to your garden’s soil and light conditions.
Select ‘Cottage Garden’ for your choice of style and pick your preferred colour scheme. Enter your garden’s climate, soil and light conditions. The PlantingPlanner will draw up a planting plan with flowers, herbs and shrubs, which are perfect for creating your very own cottage garden.
You can tweak and modify your generated plan, by excluding any plants you don’t like and substituting them with your favourites. The PlantingPlanner will tell you if your choices are suitable for your location.
If you want to grow vegetables as well as ornamental plants, you could use a collection of pots and containers to cram into gaps around your garden. Try here for inspiration.