Cottage garden favourites

My front path is at its best in May and into the beginning of June. The roses are in full swing, and they look really good now with their cottage garden companions: Nepeta (cat mint), alliums and geraniums.

Nepeta, geraniums and alliums jostle with the roses

I’ve chosen these plants for three main reasons:

  • They attract pollinators, especially bees. This area has been buzzing non-stop ever since the Nepeta came into flower in early May.
  • They are pretty drought tolerant. This is a hot south-facing spot, and our summers, even our springs it seems, are getting drier and drier. It seemed like a good idea to minimize watering.
  • They hide the extremely straggly, downright ugly legs of the old roses, and make a romantic unashamedly cottage garden colour combo of soft pinks, blues and purples, offset by the gentle creamy yellow of Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’ further up the path.
The soft and delicate Rosa ‘Heritage’ against Nepeta

A year ago, this part of the garden looked completely different. Both sides of the path were long strips of lawn, interspersed neatly with the established roses that were already here. As this is one of the sunniest sections, it felt like a wasted planting opportunity, and mowing it was a pain, involving complex contortions with the mower to get it around the roses and along the narrow strip.

Looking up the path towards the house. The exuberant soft yellow rose is Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’, a David Austin English rose.

I love the way the Nepeta tumbles over the path, it is just the right height to brush against and I love rubbing my hands through it as I walk past for that aromatic Mediterranean scent. I have to be careful not to rub a bee by mistake, as they are here all the time. This variety is Nepeta faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’, which isn’t particularly low as you can see. It’s a fantastic value plant, as it is so easy to take cuttings and make new plants, and it will flower again later this season if I take the shears to it soon. I will definitely take some more cuttings too, as I think it would be nice to have another patch of this blue fuzziness repeated further up the path. You can also make tea from the dried leaves and flowers, although I haven’t tried this yet so if any readers have any tips on that, I’d love to hear them.

The alliums, all Allium ‘Christophii’, are adding a nice little bit of spikiness to this soft and gentle theme, and they hang above the other plants at just the right height. I am so glad I moved them here, before this they were rather sad and uninspiring in an east-facing border and are much happier here in full sun. I remove the seed heads around now because they tend to flop over, and hang them in the house to dry and hopefully use for Christmas decorations.

As for the other part of this trio, the pink Geranium, this was given to me by my mother-in-law, from her country garden in Kent, England. I don’t know the variety, but it is a wilder form of geranium, loved by the bees but with a tendency to grow outwards energetically, baring it’s centre. This isn’t the best look to be honest, but it doesn’t show up too badly here with all the other planting, and can be remedied by cutting back hard when flowering time is almost up.

While it always feels like such a pity to cut back the Nepeta, the good news is that a large patch of lavender is just coming into flower at the bottom of the path, making a perfect nectar bridge for the bees, who will soon to moving on to that. They have also been feasting on the bramble flowers, and it looks like we’re going to have an incredible harvest this year, and an early one too – the fruit is already setting and it’s only early June. I will freeze some so that there will be plenty for apple and blackberry pie in the autumn, probably one of the most divine ways to enjoy blackberries, hot from the oven with lots of cream! Yum, yum…

9 thoughts on “Cottage garden favourites

  1. What a pretty path! I haven’t made apple-blackberry pie, which is a surprise since I’ve made LOTS of other combinations over my years. Our brambles are setting on nicely as well, so I’ll be sure to give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you! Apple and blackberry is such a good combo in a pie, not least because the blackberries give it a wonderful rich colour, so it looks great and tastes great. Do give it a try!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it 😊. We are keen veggie-growers already but I would like to also set up a cottage flower garden at my place (not this year as I have a newborn & a 2 yr old – but eventually…). It would be starting from scratch as that area is currently gravel. Since you did something a bit similar with yours I was wondering if you can recommend any books or websites with practical information & tips on cottage garden planting?

    1. Thank you Clare, am so glad you enjoyed reading it. I started off by just googling “cottage garden plants” and also looking at google images to see what I liked. Here’s an example from the GW website:
      If you are thinking of keeping the gravel, Beth Chatto is famous for lovely planting in gravel, so check that out.
      My advice is to start small, especially as it sounds like you have your hands full. We did one section of the path at a time and have only just lifted the last of the grass a few weeks ago.
      Good luck, am sure it will be fun!

      1. Thanks a lot for these tips! It hadn’t occurred to me to work with the gravel and its the first time I heard of Beth Chatto. The idea of her garden appeals to me though, especially the ‘no watering’ aspect given that more hot & dry summers are likely in the coming years…

    2. Ahh…I remember those days, newborn and toddler. Enjoy every moment with them. I know people tell you that they grow up “in no time” but it IS true. A blink or two of an eye, and they are off on their own, having children, and you will look back on these days with longing…..the cottage garden can wait a bit, when they can help you do it and that will make it even more special.

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