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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
18 Oct 20
Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
11 Oct 20
Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
04 Oct 20
October is iris time in Sydney gardens: the best are the tall bearded irises and Louisiana irises.
One crowded hour
27 Sep 20
Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.
20 Sep 20
We may not be able to grow massed displays of tulips in our climate, but try some of these South African corms instead.