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Creating A New Cottage Garden

The most unique feature of the front of our house is a beautiful, ornately carved Gingerbread-style porch. When we first moved in, it was obscured by a set of scraggly bushes. The front garden was mostly grass, with a big patch down by the road of overgrown weeds, poison ivy, and pachysandra. There were also a few Japanese maple trees that had been planted in the last 10 years or so.

The patch by the road made the view of the house look scruffy. We hated it and wanted to clear it out as soon as we had a chance. For the first few years we needed to prioritize the back yard, but this season we agreed to tackle it and turn it into something beautiful.

Mom has always loved English cottage gardens and felt that the soft, informal style would give the front yard a much-needed burst of color and life, and it would be a fun contrast to the Victorian architecture. Overall, we wanted the house to look inviting and cozy.

The design goal was to enhance the house from the road, and also make the view of the front yard looking out from the porch cheery and enticing. Eventually, we would like to turn most of the front yard into garden beds, but we are tackling it in stages.

Mom chose plants and flowers that are commonly used in cottage gardens, but that met other criteria as well. The perennials needed to be hardy for our Zone (6) and we wanted to support pollinators as much as we could.

Niko thinks this is a good time to explain what perennials and annuals are! Perennials are plants that come back each year, and annuals are plants that don’t come back. Some annuals (like poppies) re-seed themselves, so they can seem like perennials because new plants grow, but the original plants only live for one growing season. There are also biennials, and those are plants which have a growing season that lasts two years. The first year they grow roots, stems and leaves, and the second year they flower and then produce seed before dying.

It might also be worth explaining about herbaceous perennials – herbaceous plants do not have a woody stem that stays above the ground over the colder months. Instead, the leaves and stems die back into the ground and it almost looks like the plant has disappeared. Some perennials are always visible in the garden over the Winter, and you can see their structure once the leaves have fallen, but others seem to disappear and then pop up again in Spring. A good example of this that most people are familiar with are herbaceous peonies.

The plan for the new cottage garden was to create two different garden beds in a long row. They are separated by an old stone pathway. The term flower bed or garden bed simply refers to a contained area that is specially prepared for planting. Although the beds are alongside each other, they have different conditions. One is in heavy shade from a large Maple tree, and the other is in full sun.

Some plants thrive in shade and some need full or part sun. You can’t just plant any plant anywhere you like. You have to consider the conditions that they grow in best – this includes the type of soil, the amount of light, and how much moisture they can handle.

We felt the shady side of the garden should be planted with lighter colors – white, peach and light pink – because they would stand out more against the shade, whereas brighter colors would be muted. The sunny bed would be planted with “hotter” colors like red, yellow, orange, and darker pinks because these would pop in the sun.

The first step was to clear out the overgrown mess. We decided the best method would be to cover it with a tarp and secure it tightly to the ground. This would starve the plants underneath from light and rain, and they would die back, which makes it easier to clear. We left the cover on for a month, and when it finally started to warm up, Dad pulled the cover off and dug everything out. It was a pretty tough job!

Dad found a neglected rosebush underneath the mess and Mom transplanted it into a pot and gave it some love. We are very curious to see what it will look like when it flowers!

Once we stripped the bed down to dirt, we added a layer of organic topsoil to help the new plants get started. The other half of the garden (the sunny side) had to be carved out from the grass lawn. Mom used an edging tool to cut the sod into small squares and Dad and Sebastian dug up the squares with shovels and put them into the wheelbarrow. Niko transported all the soil and discarded plants into the far back of the yard, where we made a pile. We made a pretty good team. We keep the very far back of the yard as a wild section for animals to shelter and birds to nest in.

This is what the shady side looked like when it was cleared:

The sweet peas that we had grown from seed were mature enough to plant. And guess what, some of the seedlings that we had cut and re-potted when we were thinning them out, actually did grow! So Niko and Mom planted them in the sunny side of the garden.

We tied together wooden dowels for the sweet peas to climb up. We used green velcro plant ties to tie the seedlings to the dowels to get them started climbing. Niko invented a clever way to hold the ties that she cut for Mom – she stuck them to her pants! She says it’s an invention and a new fashion trend. Here’s the two workers in action:

We watered the garden and magic happened:

Here is Niko helping plant the garden:

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