A Sydney cottage garden

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Rosa Duchesse de Brabant in the garden of Beverley and Ron Jenkins in Sydney

It is difficult to create an English-style cottage garden in our Sydney climate. The hot, humid summers and mild winters are not conducive to the growth of most of the traditional stalwarts of these gardens and many of us have broken our hearts trying to nurture them. However, last week I visited the garden of my friend Beverley Jenkins that really does have 'the look' - using plants suited to our climate put together in true cottage style.

The front garden with roses and perennials

I have known this garden for over 20 years and it has been fascinating to watch it evolve over the years. This year it seems to be the best it has ever been. The structure of the garden come from an extensive collection of old roses, growing as shrubs or scrambling over archways. Roses are not always easy to grow in Sydney but over the years, Beverley has trialled many different sorts and found that heritage Tea roses are one of the best types. They need little pruning and flower over a very long period. One particular favourite in the garden is 'Duchesse de Brabant' (pictured at the start of the blog), with its beautiful full blooms, coloured in delicate pale pink and with a delightful perfume.

Limonium perezii in the garden

Beneath the roses are grown a variety of perennials, again ones that have proven their worth for Sydney: Echinacea, Campanula species including Campanula poscharskyana and Campanula rapunculoides, Phlomis fruticosa, trailing Verbena, species Geraniums, big clumps of Limonium perezii, perennial Dianthus, daisies of different kinds, the silvery curry plant (Helichrysum italicum and yarrow (Achillea species). Using massed plantings of each type and repeating them through the garden gives a cohesive and restful effect. Annuals, such as a very pretty pink Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica)and foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), self-seed from year to year, giving a natural, informal feel amongst the other plantings.

Roses underplanted with low-growing Salvia specimens

In recent years, Beverley has introduced a lot of the lower-growing Salvia plants into the garden, particularly including Salvia microphylla and including Salvia greggii cultivars - which come in many different hues. She has found them an excellent companion planting for her roses, and the combination really does give a very 'cottagey' effect, as they provide the spires of bloom that seem so quintessential in this garden style.

Vegetable seedlings growing amongst the flowers

Another change which has given the garden a traditional cottage feel has been has been the addition of vegetables to the garden beds. Beverley's husband, Ron, has become interested in vegetable gardening in the last few years, and has managed to plant seedlings in amongst the flowers, as was done in the original cottage gardens, so that beetroots and capsicums grow amongst the roses! Many vegetables have attractive foliage and the effect is fabulous! He now has taken over one whole section of the garden for other vegetables, and neat beds have been created here, with wooden walkways to allow access to the crops. They are almost self-sufficient in vegetables these days!

The vegetable patch is very productive

The key to the health of the plants is the ongoing addition of organic matter to the soil - cow manure and pelleted chicken manure are added every year in late winter, and cane mulch is applied over the top after good rain had fallen when the soil is damp. The cane mulch holds the moisture and inhibits weed growth. It eventually breaks down and contributes to the humus content of the soil. A well-maintained compost heap provides additional organic material to use when planting out new specimens. A manure 'tea', brewed in an old half-barrel with a specially made metal lid, is applied regularly to feed the vegetables.

Few sprays are used against pests; instead ingenious tactics are employed, such as catching cabbage moths in a butterfly net, and placing netted frames over the top of crops such as cabbages to prevent butterflies and moths getting to the plants.

With its profusion of roses and perennials in harmonious colour schemes, and the soft buzzing of the bees at work amongst the flowers, the garden was a joy to visit at this time of year. I came home with some cuttings and seedlings, along with some new ideas for my own garden borders.