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Cottage Garden Primer

July 30, 2016

I once worked with a lovely client ( now a dear friend!) who wanted a cottage-style flower garden.

Now there are cottage gardens and then there are cottage gardens…know what I mean?

In Great Britain, it seems everyone has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next…

their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens that makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., ‘Would you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?”

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

But of course, the call of a cottage garden, filled with a profusion of flowers and smelling of roses, peonies and lilacs, makes one dizzy with anticipation.

All you need in my part of the world is a deer fence, deep fertile soil, constant watering and someone to tend it lovingly… a tall order indeed.

But it can be done. And that is what we did – installed a deer fence, brought in great topsoil and carefully amended it and added irrigation. My client followed through and tended it with a loving hand and added wonderful flowers whenever she saw the need.

The result? A sumptuous garden filled with a riot of colors, lurid with intoxicating scents.

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I planned the garden to be a 10 foot wide curved plant bed bordering a level lawn. The only problem – there was no level lawn.

The rear property sloped steeply downhill and in order to make it level I needed to bring in soil and retain it with a wall. This is a big proposition in any situation but here it was especially dicey because I didn’t want to disturb the roots of the native hemlock trees growing near where the wall was to be located.

To accomplish this, I used the stacking, concrete units that are part of a wall system called Alpenstein. This is a great solution because no footings are required and Alpenstein allows you to plant within each unit!

It is a versatile, plantable wall system. Once planted with vines and spreading groundcovers, an Alpenstein wall blends with the natural setting.

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

After the site was perfect, I set about planting perennial and annual flowers. Perennials come back every year and form the backbone of the cottage garden. For that I set out large drifts or groups of medium tall, durable flowers in the mid-zone of the bed to add height and variety.

These included ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Speedwell (Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’), the PPA Plant of the Year 1993, and ‘Caesar’s Brother’ Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’), a reliable and graceful flower with pansy blue coloring….

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials

Additionally, I planted the graceful Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus) and other ‘foolproof” perennials like dwarf Gayfeather, (Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’), the tall ‘Magnus’ Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’).

Below is the list of the dependable flower varieities I used for this garden. No unusual cultivars here – just a cottage garden full of faithful staples that work together in cozy harmony..

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My Flower List for This Cottage Garden

Jan Johnsen

Perennials

Botanical Name Common Name
Artemesia ‘Silver King’ ‘Silver King’ Wormwood
Astilbe chinensis pumila Dwarf Chinese Astilbe
Coreopsis vert. ‘Moonbeam’ ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis
Dianthus ‘Bath’s Pink’ ‘Bath’s Pink’ Dianthus
Echinacea purp. ‘Magnus’ Magnus Coneflower
Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ ‘Palace Purple’ Coralbells
Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’ ‘Caesar’s Brother’ Siberian Iris
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ Dwarf Gayfeather
Lilium orientale ‘Stargazer’ ‘Stargazer’ Oriental Lily
Peonies Peonies
Persicaria ‘Donald Lowndes’ Don. Lowndes Fleeceflower
Phlox pan. ‘Bright Eyes’ ‘Bright Eyes’ Garden Phlox
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ Dwarf Black eyed Susan
Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’ ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Speedwell

Annuals

Botanical Name Common Name
Senecio cineraria Dusty Miller
Cosmos sulphureus Cosmos ‘Klondyke mix’
Ageratum ‘Blue Hawaii’ Blue Hawaii Ageratum
Catharanthus roseus Annual Vinca
Heliotropium arb..Marine ‘Marine’ Heliotrope
Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’
Salvia ‘Sparkler Purple’ ‘Sparkler Purple’ annual Salvia