Different garden styles abound and there is no hard and fast definition for any one style and every style is open to interpretation by gardeners everywhere. Even the same style can be identified differently between continents. A cottage garden style here in the UK can be very different from the cottage garden or ‘dacha style’ in Russia. Cottage garden style, fern garden style, herb garden style and Japanese garden styles are all covered here.
Similarly in any one country there are different styles according to the natural environment in which they are built or wish to depict. In the UK we speak of a ‘seaside garden’ and a ‘woodland garden’ for example, and there’s no reason why you can’t have a seaside garden style on your city centre roof terrace! . While in the USA, Americans speak of East Coast, West Coast, Southern and Prairie styles. Continuing the theme, in Africa they have the tropical garden style or their individualistic desert style which is derived from the beaten red earth, native pots and tough desert plants. Then there’s ‘Mexican’ and ‘Spanish’ garden styles. These hot themes are strongly reminiscent of their namesake with cacti, red-browns and bright blues and reds that may reflect different scenes and themes recalled by the gardener.
Whatever the chosen garden style it’s ‘feel’ is closely linked to what’s available in any particular locality. Tall buildings around a garden give an enclosed impression and different gardeners may tackle the same situation differently. Some might look to try to create a more ‘open’ outlook, while others may choose to intensify their outlook by creating a garden style that amplifies their situation to create a protective ‘cocoon effect’. It’s also easy to forget the influence that natural sunlight can have upon your preferred chosen garden style. Colours that can look fantastic under strong sunlight when seen in some bright exotic location don’t have quite the same result under a heavily clouded sky.
Cottage Garden Style
The cottage garden design style is based upon an informal profusion of flowers. Traditionally, such profusion of planting completely surrounded a small cottage in the country. The term evokes different images depending upon your national viewpoint. The cottage garden style is difficult to define, yet instantly recognisable. Perhaps the cottage garden style that evokes the most famous romantic image is that of Ann Hathaway’s country garden surrounding her thatched cottage near Stratford-upon-Avon and immortalised by William Shakespeare.
The cottage garden style can be different things to different people. For some the romantic cottage garden style includes a small cottage in the country, scrambling roses over an arch and a winding path in to the woods beyond. For others there must be a profusion of informal, mixed planting, wild flowers and a vegetable patch at the bottom.
A cottage garden design style needs if anything, more control and more work than other. Sure, there should be a relaxed, informal planting style with the emphasis on dense planting and perennial borders, but it requires a strong theme running through it and a strong framework. The colours of which should reflect and harmonise with local colours which are then softened with the planting bubbling up through and around it.
The cottage garden style may look haphazard and simple to create and maintain, but all too often ‘the tail can wag the dog’. While many gardeners try to recreate this style, believing they can plant pretty much plant anything, anywhere, just so long as the planting is dense and full of variety ‘with a natural look’, the style can all too easily become haphazard and incoherent.
The ‘natural look’ can so easily become a cop out for avoiding the essential tasks of weeding and pruning which are so necessary in a cottage garden. The ‘natural look’ can work well for a few years before mother nature reclaims her own, and as the natural look garden loses its direction it becomes lost in a haphazard mix of general untidiness and complacency.
The original cottage gardens were created by working-class country people who would spend many hours maintaining their plot in order to feed themselves and provide personal pleasure. They cared for their plants over many hours and this style requires a keen and enthusiastic gardener to maintain it – not a garden style for the faint-hearted.
The garden design style at Winsford Walled Garden draws heavily from the cottage garden style. Within the framework of its magnificent Victorian garden walls which are festooned with sub-tropical climbers and clematis, there is a hidden world of protective shrubbery and unusual perennials amidst almost sublime hard landscaping like the circular brick patio with the brick pathway snaking away towards the enormous pergola made from foot-thick timbers. There are great columns of slated up to 6 inches thick rising from the ground. Once in a while one of the twelve coniferous steeples will burst the planting heading skywards and, throughout the excitement a 5ft wide meandering path runs through it like a country stream, opening new vistas at every turn.
Some borders are up to 30ft deep, all of them are mixed and crammed with unusual herbaceous perennials and shrubbery. The general theme of individual spaces running through the gardens is both harmonious and practical. Harmonious because there are no distinct hedges creating definitive garden rooms. Instead, these spaces are like the pages of a book which you can leaf through. Move seamlessly from one garden section to another and move from one chapter to another. Practical, because visitors can view the numerous individual spaces and can easily imagine the same planted space transplanted in to their own plot. This is Winsford Walled Garden.
Herb Garden Style
Herbs are undemanding plants and the herb garden design style is an undemanding one. All herbs ask for is a spot of sunshine and the chance to bed their roots in some well-drained soil that doesn’t have to be all that nutritious. Herb gardens were the first ever gardens. Simple areas within easy reach of the kitchen, for the benefit of the cook and thereby for the benefit of the household. It was the same in the time of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans and it remains the same today.
The traditional herb garden has been an arrangement of small, regular beds in a formal and geometric arrangement. Square, diamond and triangular arrangements are frequently used. The French Parterre is a level garden, usually rectangular and divided into ornamental beds, often dwarfed by box edging has been a fine model on which to build a herb garden since the seventeenth century.
Today’s formal herb garden is usually based upon a single focal point. It may be a statue, bird bath or even a sundial. Because of their warm climate origins, herbs need protection from the winds of more northerly climes and low-growing, neat box hedging (Buxus sempervirens) has almost become an essential part of every herb garden design. Alternative hedging includes cotton lavender (Santolina), the silver-leaved form (S. chamaecyparis ‘Nana’) is particularly worthy.
Each bed can be filled with all manner of herbs or small quantities of vegetables which are grown in quantities too small for the main vegetable area. Herbs can be divided into different groups such as those for flavouring, garnishing, sweet smelling, medicinal or even for a pot-pourri. Anyone can grow herbs, a plot size of six square feet and provides fresh produce throughout the summer.
Using raised beds for those plants which tend to be ‘lost’ over the winter period will give them a good chance of pulling through each year. You can control which compost is used and incorporate as much or as little sand, grit and stone as you like for drainage. A simple short cane pushed into each corner of your raised bed can support a temporary covering of frost fleece as and when required. Use it for frosty nights or when your Mediterranean plants are suffering consecutive days of heavy downpours. It will really help your arid plants.
Garlic (Allium sativum) must be one of the most widely grown herbs in the garden, certainly it must be the strongest flavoured. Another plant with a strong flavour is horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) although not strictly a herb, it is often grown in the herb garden for the kitchen. Certainly nothing from the supermarket can compare with the wallop of the freshly grown variety.
The unmistakeable aroma and taste of fresh basil (Ocimum basilicum) makes any good salad a great salad. Although very tender, basil can be started under cover and transfered outside for the summer. The more commonly available annual French varieties (Ocimum gratissimum) are not nearly so hardy as the Russian varieties which can be grown outside from one year to the next. Add olive oil to the crushed leaves for a fine pesto, mmmmm. But add basil with tomatao to utterly transform this ever deservedly popular vegetable.
Grown from bulblets Chives (Allium scboenoprasum) these hardy plants are easy to grow from year to year. Enjoy with salads and all kinds of sauces.
The luscious leaves and young stalks of lovage (Levisticum officinale) are slightly nutty to taste and make a good herb for the pot. Even the roots can be stripped to add flavour to casseroles. Then in late summer sprinkle the seeds over freshly-baked home made bread.
You’d miss oregano in your pizza! No matter how small your herb plot you ought to make space for this small bush. Oregano or pot marjoram (Origanum vulgare) is yet another Mediterranean region native its fresh leaves are frequent ingredients to French and especially Italian cooking.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)is that other fragrant herb that is synonymous with Pizza. Thyme is low-growing and looks like a rich colourful carpet of colour when in flower. Thyme does not like a lot of wet, cold winds even less and the combination of the two can lead to some pretty ropey-looking plants that will may convince you the plant has gone for good. But, no matter how dead the plant may look in March, if it still remains fast, there’s a good chance it will pull through for the summer.
If your location is a cold one, Thyme is worth perservering with. Even a patch of frost fleece spread over a low wire hoop will make all the difference to a young Thymus during the winter . . . and it tastes and smell soooh good!
Fresh mint (Mentha spicata) makes a refreshing drink at any time, add it to hot tea or cool lemonade. This hardy perennial is almost indestructable and it will take over if planted in open ground. Best advise is to plant mint, any mint (i.e. peppermint, spearmint, applemint), in a pot in order to restrict its root growth. If roots appear near the pot surface remove them quickly. You have been warned.
Lamb and mint sauce go together like strawberries and fresh cream.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is another mediterranean aromatic herb which is very useful in the kitchen. Used in association with onion it is often used for flavouring meats, especially pork and poultry. A fairly hardy plant once established, and worth growing just for its very attractive and fragrant flowers.
Japanese Garden Style
The Japanese garden style is a highly controlled style of garden design which strives to be a symbolic representation of nature itself. It is a garden style which if it is to be truly authentic needs to built according to strict rules. The great Japanese gardens have evolved over a great length of time with the traditional Japanese religion of Shinto having a strong influence and both these factors are seldom appreciated by western gardeners who wish to build a Japanese style garden ‘over the weekend’.
This is to say, there is a great deal more to a Japanese style garden than a Japanese maple beside a stone lantern amidst a sea of wavy gravel lines. Yet, this should not detract from the many good Japanese garden styles around – it’s simply an attempt to put things in to perspective.
People appreciate the calming influence they feel when gazing upon a Japanese garden style scene, and it this feeling which most people wish to recreate for themselves in their own garden when they announce to friends and family they want a ‘Japanese style garden over there in the corner’. They simply wish to capture the mood. It’s enough enough to have their garden design influenced by Japanese style garden design.
How much the Japanese garden design style is introduced in to your garden plot is a personal choice. Quite often the Japanese garden style can be introduced to a garden using a ready-made bamboo screen and a couple of Japanese Acer palmatum plants. The beauty and success of the Japanese garden style is that this instantly recognisable look can be created so simply and quickly.
The inherent simplicity of the Japanese garden style is not it’s only advantage. It is a garden style that can fit in to any suburban space and does not require a great amount of regular garden maintenance – like weeding. The raked gravel in Japanese style gardens symbolises the movement of water amidst rock islands. The movement of the wavy gravel counters the dramatic still and calm of the carefully placed rock.
Timber beams creating a footpath on stilts can symbolise a great journey over many difficulties.
Bamboo is often used in Japanese style garden design. Large canes are both dramatic and last many years and can be used as low fences beside footpaths and gravel features.
Water is a popular feature of so many Japanese garden style designs, barely moving, it’s often used for reflective reflective effect – both visually and mentally.
There are many Japanese lantern designs each with a particular significance. Pedestal Lanterns or Rankei, should be used adjacent to water so the lantern itself can extend over water for its reflective beauty. Pagoda lanterns or Kasuga, are majestic and should dominate the area.
Once you have your Japanese lantern beside your contemplative pool it would be very difficult not to incorporate a bright red Japanese style bridge which never fails to draw the eye. There is no need to make a long bridge indeed, many of the best simply rest above a narrow inlet that gives the illusion of a tributary beyond.
Garden centres abound with expensive metallic Japanese style ornaments which should be simple and striking and should be left alone if you prefer to have the classical stone lanterns – unless your garden is a large one – and they can be located well apart from each other. This is because both bronze birds and stone lanterns create an imagery that’s often too powerful for both to remain comfortably in the same scene together. It a question of maintaining the inherent simplicity of the Japanese garden design style.
There are three basic Japanese garden stylessukiyama gardens (Hill Gardens), Karesansui Gardens (dry gardens) and Chaniwa Gardens (tea gardens). This link is a good place to begin your journey to discover more on the Japanses garden style.
The Fern Garden Style
No plant gives a greater feeling of cooling calmness than the fern. Ferns have a tranquil aura about them. They provide great diversity and form and, because they can comfortably grow and excel in locations where normal sun-worshipping plants fear to tread ferns (pteridophytes) are once more gaining in popularity.
During the nineteenth century no self-respecting Victorian gardener did not have a fern garden. Victorian fern gardens were often tucked away beneath the shade of mature trees, and the whole area might be landscaped like a warren with rock strewn walls over which myriad ferns would cascade down vertical sides along which visitors meandered to the cooling sound of a nearby stream. By the 1870′s the proliferation of fern nurseries and the demand for ferns was having a serious impact upon the available national natural stock.
There are approximately 12,000 species of fern around the world today. They grow naturally in forest and woodland, verges and the banks of our waterways, upon walls, limestone crags and marine cliffs, in marshes, moor and mountainside. In fact they grow naturally just about anywhere – even dry areas!
Ferns can grow just about anywhere provided they have unrestricted access to moisture, particularly during their growing season. If an individual fern is short of the essential moisture it needs it will wilt and can quickly dehydrate to the point of no return.
The trick with creating any fern garden is to provide a) the moisture in the first place, b) provide sufficient shade to reduce the evaporation of that moisture to a minimum. Finding these already available in your garden may be easier than you think.
Do you have wild ferns already established and tucked away in an odd corner? Or do you have an area of your garden which is overhung by a tree? Such a tree may be in your garden or it may be your neighbour’s tree. Whatever the case, your garden may already provide sufficient shade under which you have found it difficult to grow anything with colour due to the poor light available. Even your grass may have given up in this area and succumbed to a large area of moss. If such is the case, your garden is showing you that it already has shade and moisture in that location. Are you ready to take advantage of the fact?
You could locate a water feature such as a cool trickling bubble fountain that will raise the humidity of the immediate area on even the hottest day. All you would then to add are the luscious and exotic-looking greens of some ferns to create a cool, tranquil haven from the summer heat in your garden.
Ferns prefer a humus rich compost able to retain the moisture they need but also, in ideal conditions, they simultaneously prefer a free-draining compost that enables the all-important air to reach the roots and prevent rotting.
The best advice is to identify the existing conditions of your proposed fern garden and then identify the ferns that will best suit those conditions. You will need to discover whether your proposed fernery contains acid, neutral or alkaline soil because this affect the ferns you can grow. The majority of ferns prefer slightly acidic soil. The majority of ferns will not like 100% clay soil because it does not drain or breathe well. You should aim towards an ideal soil composition consisting of about 20% clay, 30% grit and 50% sand. This provides the best balance of anchorage, moisture retention and free draining soil.
Pure peat doesn’t breathe sufficiently and is too acidic, but the addition of peat to a chalk soil will dramatically improve its soil retention and humus such as leaf mold will not only further increase its moisture retention abilities but also provide sufficient nutrient. While adding lime to your clay soil will improve its structure, I have yet to add any to my own clay soil in which Athyrium, Blechnum, Dryopteris and Thelypteris species survive quite happily.
If your chosen fern area is modest in size you might consider restructuring the soil if it’s unsuitable. A little work here at the outset and the resulting success of being able to cultivate a much larger variety of ferns would far outweigh the effort and cost in the longer term.
Choosing and planting ferns
The most readily available ferns are those that catch your eye in the local garden centre or nursery. In my experience, more often than not these are pot-bound specimens crying out to be re-potted in a new home. These garden centre varieties, while readily available, they are as nothing compared to the specialist fern nursury stock available through the internet. But, and this is important, they will enable the newcomer to ferns to ‘cut their teeth’ with replaceable plants. Also, by growing your ‘specials’ amongst the common varieties will protect them from the extremes of your local climate.
Plunge your new purchases into a container of rainwater when you get home and leave them there overnight. Next day remove them from the pot. They may need the pot cut from around them. Plant to where the plant’s crown is just above soil level. Plants with rhizomes should be planted so that the rhizomes are about an inch below soil level.
Avoid planting ferns in the winter. Ferns prefer rainwater wherever possible. The chemical componds (chlorine and fluoride) added to tap water nowadays to ensure it is fit to drink can build up to toxic levels in plants so that regular use of tap water is best avoided.
Care for your ferns
Fern care is straightforward and easy and mainly involves removing damaged fronds and any debris littering the crown. A sprinkle of slug pellets around the tops in spring time will deter molluscs from munching through the new growth, particularly that of young ferns.
When ‘spring is sprung’ pull back any protective winter mulch material which had previously been added in the autumn to allow light to reach the crown and the emerging new growth.
Ferns should not require any supplemental feeding. But, if for example, your fern fronds are turning yellow at the edges as a result of nutrient deficiency, then a light to modest application of powered bone meal in spring/summer should be all they need.
The fronds of deciduous ferns will die back in late autumn. Cut the fronds to prevent die-back and any subsequent rotting and lay the cut fronds over the crown in frost-prone areas to add some frost protection. The risk of frost damage should be at a minimum due to the ferns being under protective tree cover.
Ferns for your garden
Here is an introductory starter list of ferns to try out in your new fern garden arranged by their soil type. It is unusual for a garden soil to be pH neutral, invariably they are disposed to either one side or the other. All the ferns listed will survive temps to -5C (22F), and even beyond.
Ferns for Acidic soils
Adiantum pedatum varieties, Blechnum chilense, B. spicante, B. penna-marina, Cryptogramma arostichoides, C. crispa, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, Matteuccia struthiopteris, Polypodium vulgare, Polystichum aculeatum, P. scouleri, Thelypteris phegopteris,Woodsia alpina.
Ferns for Alkaline soils
Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, Asplenium trichomanes, Ceterach officinarum, Cystopteris alpina, C. montana, Gymnocarpium robertianum, Pellaea atropurpurea, Polystichum spp. Woodsia glabella.
Ferns are complex plants, and the easiest way to get more is simply to divide them up. Propagation by division in other words. However, for those who wish to go down the propagation route here is a brief summary of their reproduction.
Unlike any flowering plant they do not have the sexual organs of reproduction (anthers and stamens). The ferns you see in your garden are simply undergoing one stage of their life cycle. When during the latter part of summer fruit (the seed bearing organ) are formed during fruitification, tiny dust-like particles are produced on the back of the fronds. Later these spores fatten up, mature and burst forth in their thousands.
If the environmental conditions are right these spores will form a chain of cells and eventually become a small organism or prothallus. About 5mm in size the prothallus anchors itself to the soil. During this, the sexual stage, the male parts (antheridia) and the female parts (archegonia) enable sexual reproduction that fertilises the egg.
Thus begins the next stage of the fern lifecycle. The fertilised egg grows upon the prothallus which nourishes it. By the time the egg has developed into a new fern with its own roots the prothallus will have shrivelled up and disappeared.
Enjoy your ferns and good luck!