How to Have a Glorious Country Garden On A Tight Budget

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: July 11th, 2015 In: Gardening on a budget

The English country garden is a classic, beautiful garden style. But it doesn’t have to be expensive.

And you don’t have to spend all your time working in it – there are a few clever short-cuts that will save you time and money.

Kylie O’Brien is an award-winning former gardening editor of the Daily Telegraph. Her half-acre garden overlooks fields in Kent. You can visit it via the NGS Open Gardens Scheme on 9th and 10th July 2016.

Such gardens can be expensive, too – to design, landscape, plant and maintain. Kylie has created her garden on a tight budget while working full time and bringing up a family.

So her approach is very useful for everyone trying to get their slightly larger middle-sized garden under control without spending all their time and money on it.

How to create a perfect country garden

Kylie’s half acre garden blends into the countryside behind it.

1) A country garden has to work with its location

‘You’ve probably got a view, so what you can see from the garden will be your starting point,’ says Kylie. Her garden over-looks fields and the winding country road to her house is lined with wild flowers.

Look at what grows naturally when planning a country garden

The roadside and fields leading up to Kylie’s house – slightly blurred because of the winds that sweep across the fields.

Tip 1: a country garden is much more affected by its location than a town garden

The trees are in a neighbour’s land – the garden blends visually with the fields behind.

2) Find a word that sums up what you want to achieve with your garden.

This gives you an anchor when choosing plants or features. Kylie’s word is ‘airy’. She uses grasses, plants and flowers that are often transparent – like Cephalaria gigantea – which waves in the breeze. She achieves height by using vertical accents, with tall plants like hollyhocks and verbascum rather than using big shrubs or more solid shapes.

Choose a word as a theme for your garden.

Cephalaria gigantea is hardy, transparent and airy – everything Kylie wants from a good plant.

Look at the shape and structure of local plants when planning a country garden

Eryngium, verbascum and alliums echo the shapes found in the roadside verges.

Add vertical accents to your country garden

Vertical accents are important when there’s lots of open sky.

3) Right plant, right place is even more important

If you can’t afford gardening help and are short of time, ‘right place, right plant’ is even more important. Kylie thinks it’s also critical in the country, where gardens may be less protected by buildings and more vulnerable to local conditions such as wind and drought. There’s no time to cosset fussy plantings. Things that don’t do well must go. ‘Look at what does well in your neighbours’ gardens,’ says Kylie.

Choose trouble-free plants for larger gardens, such as argyranthemum

Cheery anthemis and frothy gypsophila are trouble-free plants.

4) Go for ‘species’ plants or hybrids that are as close to their natural origin as possible

This is where Kylie’s horticultural knowledge shows. ‘Species’ roses (or any other plant) are plants that occur naturally without a variation. They are, effectively, the wild version of the plant or close to it. Roses that are close to dog roses and rosa glauca, for example, and the charming species tulips you see dotted along verges. Kylie’s theory is that the closer the plant is to its wild form, the tougher and easier to grow it will be. This is certainly borne out by her verbascums (Verbascum, species nigrum), which have more thuggish leaves than mine but are still standing proud weeks after they first blossomed. My over-bred verbascums made one delicate, shy appearance in Chelsea week and have virtually disappeared. It’s not all that easy to find species plants, but one bit of advice is that they don’t have names attached to them like ‘Cotswold Queen’ or ‘Jack of Spades’. And they’re likely to look quite like the original wild plant. Ask a qualified horticulturalist at a good nursery – and bear in mind that some hybrids have been bred for toughness so the hybrid/species issue isn’t necessarily all about survival of the fittest.

How to choose plants that will last

Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ and and Ballerina roses – Kylie chooses plants that require very little maintenance.

5) Grow plants from seed or take cuttings

There’s usually space for a greenhouse in a slightly larger garden. Growing from seed and taking cuttings keeps costs down. It also means you have a wider range of choice on plants, and can get the varieties that are hardy but not currently fashionable. Kylie grows unusual variants, but also uses growing from seed to make sure that she gets the right resilient plants that will last and last.

Growing plants from seed is cheaper and you get the varieties you want

Kylie grew most of these from cuttings: Lavandula angustifolia ‘Ellagance Ice’, Salvia Nachtvlinder, nigella, perovskia and pinks.

Tips for creating a romantic country garden

Kylie’s water butt with its romantic roses and grown-from-seed artimisa. Kylie has to fill alot of planting space – growing from seed dramatically cuts costs.

6) Think about winter structure.

Kylie has topiary, grasses, and some evergreen hedging.

How to have a beautiful country garden

Kylie’s main bed in winter – grasses, topiary, hedging and some evergreens create colour and contrast.

7) Exclude a colour rather than colour-scheme

In time terms, it’s less demanding to exclude a colour rather than to have a strict colour scheme. Kylie’s garden achieves unity by largely excluding red.There is some – but just a few splashes and highlights. Otherwise the garden is mainly yellows, whites, greys and purples.

Tips for creating a glorious garden include simple colour scheming

Kylie mainly excludes red from the garden, which gives her a palette of yellow, grey, purple and some pinks.

8) Half an acre is a bit too small for ‘garden rooms’.

If your garden divides naturally into different areas because of the way the house sits or because of geography, then it may work, But trying to do a mini Sissinghurst in half an acre will make everything feel boxy – a garden which flows into the countryside around it will feel bigger than one that is sub-divided up.

You can fit a greenhouse into a half-acre garden...

Half an acre is big enough for a greenhouse – but creating the ‘garden rooms’ that you find in larger gardens could make the space seem boxy.

Use low and high hedges as a wind-break in country gardens

Kylie’s main bed in summer. Clumps of low and higher hedges act as a wind-break without turning the garden into a series of small rooms.

9) Have big, lavish beds with paths ‘inside’ them

If your garden can take huge beds (and most gardens can), then getting access to work on them can compact the soil. Kylie has added lots of simple brick paths across the borders, which disappear when the planting grows up. She puts them in herself.

Tips for planting and maintaining larger gardens

One of the brick paths Kylie runs through her beds. It’s about to disappear as the planting takes over. The other beds also have similar little walkways, which can’t be seen in summer.

10) Trust your judgement

‘This is what works for me,’ says Kylie. ‘ See what works for you – it may be different.’

See our 10 tips for an idyllic country garden on a budget

To complete the country idyll – hens. Kylie keeps part of the garden for keeping hens and growing fruit bushes and trees. She has grown the crab apple trees from pips.

Money-saving tips for a romantic English country garden

A romantic country garden evolves rather than being designed – give it time to develop and for you to work out what works for your site and what doesn’t.

For more real-life English country garden musings, do read Miranda Alexander’s post here on gardening in Dorset after decades of gardening in London.

Do let me know if you have good time or money-saving tips for the larger end of the middle-sized garden world. And I’d be really grateful if you could share this using the buttons below – thank you!

13 Comments

  • kate Patel says:

    Thanks for your kind replies – and for taking the time to look at the barn house garden website and blog. As I said, your own garden and site is a huge inspiration.

  • Kate Patel says:

    Hi Alexandra, this was the dilemma I faced (biggish garden for small budget but big dreams). My solutions include growing a lot of low maintenance plants that can be raised from seed or by division, even by me, as an amateur.I too inherited concrete pavers … but found ways to use then with the planting. I’m new to websites and bloggin and would like to say I think your highly professional blog is both practically helpful and inspiring, thank you.

  • Miranda says:

    Actually I’m not quite sure I agree with you about dividing the garden up into rooms. I think sometimes, following the same principle of using large furniture in small rooms, it can actually make the garden seem bigger. Hugely more high maintenance of course, but much more exciting than great expanses of lawn. Question is how, and having courage of ones convictions.

    • I think the ‘how’ is probably the key to it – expertly divided garden rooms created by someone with a good spatial and creative eye can be brilliant – but certainly our garden here is better since it was more opened up. And I agree with the ‘large furniture’ principle – large plants and trees can be great in middle-sized gardens…

  • I have quite a large garden but mostly it’s lawn. I do make the most of self-seeding plants as they are easy to pull out if in the wrong place but make amazing drifts in a large border which meld easily with other plants. My favourites are Nigella (hardy annuals), Geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ and G. palmatum (beautiful leaves but a big plant), Alchemilla mollis, Aquilegia and Linaria. They are all bountiful and prodigious breeders but good for filling large spaces and also brilliant as cut flowers.

  • Matt says:

    I’d say try and use what you already have in your garden. Our little garden was full of ugly concrete pavers, which I’m breaking up to use in a gabion wall. It’s easy, and cheaper than buying new materials. The obvious option might have been to chuck these in a skip and pay someone to build a brick wall. But I like the way the gabions look (http://garden59.co.uk/2015/05/14/the-great-gabion-garden-wall/) and I like how little they cost.

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