How to Have a Glorious Country Garden On A Tight 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6) Think about winter structure.
Kylie has topiary, grasses, and some evergreen hedging.
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.
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.
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.
10) Trust your judgement
‘This is what works for me,’ says Kylie. ‘ See what works for you – it may be different.’
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!