The Garden at Park Lane Cottage
The case study below shows what you can expect from the consultation report. This case study is the full, unedited report that was written for a real client after they commissioned me to help them rejuvenate their tired and lack-lustre garden.
Even in late winter the appearance of the 30 year old garden at Park Lane Cottage is quintessentially charming. Indeed from the moment one enters the village one is treated to a visual feast and Park Lane Cottage reinforces the peaceful environment of calm that’s populated by residents who are clearly proud of their surroundings. You have though, recognised that after 30 years there are some aspects and areas of the garden that are in need of a rethink and I’m very happy to have been asked to help you achieve this aim.
The point of this summary is for me to let you know how I think I can help you with the garden. Below is an explanation of how I have interpreted your brief; please let me know whether or not you agree that I have correctly understood what it is that you want from this exercise.
My interpretation of your brief is that:-
- The garden lacks interest in the summer, autumn and winter
- The current plant choice is based upon individual flashes of inspiration rather than a consistent or coherent design theme
- Design opportunities have not been exploited i.e. focal points, views, overall visual cohesion and associating the garden with its surrounding landscape
- You like and enjoy the garden although you do not want to be working in it any longer than is absolutely necessary
- You like the traditional, cottage garden style
- Slugs and snails are a constant pest that have to be considered when choosing plants
- Some aspects of the garden suffer from strong and chilling winds
- The soil is a fairly heavy clay, stony mixture
- There is one aspect of the garden that is overlooked by a neighbour’s first floor window
- Some shrubs need either removing, moving or restorative pruning
Based on the above information I would summarise my approach to your brief as follows:-
The appearance of the garden needs refreshing rather than a complete overhaul, more evolution than revolution. A lot of the current planting is perfectly suitable although you, just like every other garden owner, continue to experiment with what will grow best in your particular patch. There is no substitute for trial and error and although I will be recommending some new planting I cannot save you from having to garden your garden. I will however, offer suggestions for very low maintenance planting ideas. I will also offer design suggestions that will enhance currently unexploited opportunities as well as some ideas that answer your specific needs; overlooking neighbours for instance.
Please do let me know whether or not you agree that I have correctly understood what it is that you would like to achieve from this exercise. If I have correctly interpreted your brief I will go ahead with writing up my recommendations. If I have failed to interpret your brief please correct me so that I can make progress along the correct lines.
The Garden at Park Lane Cottage, My Appraisal and Suggestions
I have broken this appraisal into four distinct sections, each section deals with a specific issue but all are directed by the two guiding principles of creating overall visual cohesion based on a cottage garden style.
The four distinct sections are:-
- Hedges and boundaries
- Focal points, views, borrowed landscape, overlooking neighbours
- Shrub removing, moving and pruning
- Summer, autumn and winter planting
The rationale for this approach is based on the idea of starting with the big picture, (hedges & boundaries) before moving into the slightly more detailed topics of focal points, views, borrowed landscape and overlooking neighbours. Then follows a further step into the detail by looking at managing the existing shrub planting. Finally, the icing is put onto the cake with plant suggestions for summer, autumn and winter planting. Inevitably there will be some overlap between the sections but in the interest of clarity I have tried to keep them distinct.
Section 1. Hedges and Boundaries
Starting at the front door of Park Lane Cottage I will go around the boundaries in a clockwise direction.
The most dominant feature at the front of the cottage is the Cotoneaster outside the kitchen windows. It serves a very good purpose of bringing some privacy, however, in my opinion it is a sledge hammer used to crack a nut – it works as a screen but does not work as something interesting to look at, and is not in keeping with the cottage. Its bulk has become overbearing and it is now doing more than its intended job.
Indeed, its presence appears to be moving in and threatening to smother or choke the cottage.
It is also heavy handed in its message to passersby. A more discreet hedge would imply that it was there to sympathetically screen the cottage; the Cotoneaster gives a blunt ‘keep away’ message.
My suggestion for this part of the garden is to remove the existing hedge and replace with something that easily associates with the local visual vocabulary as well as offering ease of maintenance. Nothing suits this role more fittingly than the beech hedge illustrated below.
A further advantage of using beech or hornbeam compared to an evergreen is their tendency to allow some light through during the darker, winter months. This is a useful quality when planted relatively close to the windows of the house.
However, if you prefer to keep the Cotoneaster, an alternative would be to prune it in mid-spring, it will reshoot even if cut back hard into old wood. Given the size of the existing hedge I would suggest using a three stage pruning approach; one side in year one, the other side in year two and the top in year three. It could all be done in one go but the resulting bald, empty appearance that would last a couple of years might be too much of a price to pay. Once a more manageable shape and size has been established it can be maintained on an annual basis. The ongoing annual maintenance could then include the removal of one stem in three; this will encourage the hedge to fill out and lose its current slightly moth eaten appearance.
Moving on to the next portion of the boundary brings us to the open space between the Cotoneaster and the side gate to Park Lane Cottage. I believe that leaving this space open is entirely the correct decision, mainly because it exposes the wonderful wall trained planting. Also, because no downstairs windows in the cottage open onto the road there is no need for privacy screening. The photograph below illustrates these points. Having given this part of the boundary some consideration I cannot see any advantage to adding planting, trellis or any other feature here. The only point of interest that comes to mind is the planting in and on the boundary wall; I’ll return to this when we get to the fourth section of this appraisal, i.e. planting suggestions.
Before moving on to the next section of the boundary, I’d like to make a comment about the maintenance of the hedges that are illustrated in the pictures below.
The right-hand picture illustrates the powerful controlling, calming effect that a crisply clipped hedge can exert on its surroundings. Picture in your mind’s eye the same scene but with the hedge allowed to become unruly; it changes the feeling of the whole garden. The tightly clipped, straight sided hedge brings order and stability to the otherwise overpoweringly loose feel of the garden. In contrast, the picture taken at Park Lane Cottage on the left shows the opposite effect. I mention this in case you may want to apply the same design principal as illustrated on the right to the hedges surrounding Park Lane Cottage.
Continuing to move around the boundary in a clockwise direction we arrive at the gate leading into the side entrance of the garden. The following two images show the same scene from both inside and outside the garden at Park Lane Cottage.
The main visual components in this scene are:-
- The rose arch
- The small hedge in front of the wall (on the road-side)
- The Choisya
- The Euonymus
- The diamond trellis
- The rose arch is visually in keeping with its surroundings although the rose could be lowered slightly with more vigorous pruning.
- The small hedge in front of the wall (on the road-side)is currently not making either a positive or negative statement although on balance I’d recommend making a decision about whether it stays or goes. If it stays I would suggest that it should be given a more defining role by extending it for the full length of the wall and/or lowering it so that the cock ‘n’ hen detail that runs along the top of the wall is exposed.
- The Choisya has become overgrown and should, I believe, be removed.
- The same goes for the Euonymus
- The diamond trellis clearly gives an element of privacy and screening although I would suggest that a visually more cohesive solution would be to extend the beech (or is it hornbeam?) hedge from the rose arch all along to the corner where the oil tank sits. The trellis could be removed and the hedge would only need to be as high as the trellis currently is. Indeed, the existing hedge, (on the left of the gate in the picture above) could also be lowered to the same height. If you do decide to extend the hedge all along the wall I would definitely consider removing the small hedge that’s on the road-side of the wall.
The picture below illustrates how the current arrangement allows sight from the road deep into the garden and how little privacy it brings for the white, cafe table and chairs that are situated in what could be a secluded spot.
The following three pictures show the scene as we continue around the garden in a clockwise direction.
The boundary in this part of the garden is perfectly in keeping and serves a very practical and satisfactory purpose. The only addition that you might want to consider is the addition of a trellis that runs along the top of the fence. This would increase the privacy, remove a lot of the visual clutter that’s seen from next door and it would provide the opportunity for planting a climber should you so wish. Please see the illustration below, it shows how trellis can be used to soften or blur the harsh distinction between property boundaries. When planted with climbers, the effect becomes even more successful.
Note: I will also be referring to the picture below when I discuss Section 2. Focal points, views, borrowed landscape and overlooking neighbours.
The final part of this section on boundaries brings us full circle to the back of Park Lane Cottage.
The pictures below show the wall that separates you from the neighbouring property.
This is the view that’s seen on a daily basis from inside the cottage whatever the season or condition of the weather. It’s also the view seen from the patio when sat at the table or relaxing on a recliner. Given how significant the view is in this part of the garden I would make the following recommendations.
- Any planting on your side of the wall that inhibits the distant view should be removed. Too much clutter along this wall simply draws the eye downwards and interferes with the distant view that’s one of the great assets of the Park Lane Cottage garden.
- Any planting that does go along this wall should not come above the top of the wall and it should not be so heavy or bold in appearance so as to encroach upon the lawn. The ultimate effect of heavy or bold planting in a narrow space is to make the space feel crowded and slightly claustrophobic. (I will go into planting detail when we come to Section 4. Summer, autumn and winter planting).
Section 2. Focal points, views, borrowed landscape, overlooking neighbours
In this section I will go around the garden from the front gate and in the same clockwise direction as we did in Section 1. As we go around the garden I will be making observations and suggestions on how to capitalise on the opportunities offered for focal points, views and borrowed landscape. I will also look at ways to mitigate the effect of overlooking neighbours.
Borrowed landscape is a term used to describe the visual trick of associating features within one’s garden to those outside it. The distance between the associated features can legitimately range from a couple of yards to many miles. One of the videos on my website www.geoffreycarr.co.uk shows how I used the technique to make a tiny, town centre garden associate with the wider landscape by using the same trees as a neighbouring garden. The effect is that the visual boundaries of the garden are diminished because the eye is simply tricked into joining the entire view into one seamless vision. The overall effect is one of harmony, the examples below illustrate this.
Although these images show examples on a grand scale there is no reason why the same technique cannot be used to great effect at Park Lane Cottage. If it’s good enough for vast estates it’s good enough for more modest gardens too.
The borrowed landscape picture below shows how the placed rocks and planted trees/shrubs echo and associate with the distant landscape.
The picture below illustrates how two borrowed landscape elements have been used in one garden. The distant hill is framed by the tree trunks and the trees are associated with the garden by the uprights of the pergola.
The example below works because the outline of the distant trees is copied by those within the garden. Also, rather helpfully, the upright fence posts at the end of the garden associate with a similar shaped object that’s on the horizon
The front gate at Park Lane Cottage provides a good example of how borrowed landscape could be used on a modest scale. The picture below shows how your neighbour’s property dominates the view as you stand on the threshold or leave the cottage. Why not wring every last drop of value from Park Lane Cottage and borrow the view opposite, thus, subtly, owning the entire view?
The rectangular shape of the front gate is mirrored perfectly by the gap in the wall that leads under the roof and into your neighbour’s property. However, the apex roof that spans the gap in the wall remains to be exploited as a borrowed feature. The picture below illustrates how a simple, apex wooden arch would associate the view seamlessly with Park Lane Cottage.
With your mind’s eye imagine the arch as seen from outside the gate of Park Lane Cottage looking towards the front door.
Not only would the arch associate with the dominant apex above the front door but it would also harmonise with the apex in the dormer window too.
Moving around the garden in a clockwise direction we come to the next area for consideration. The pictures below show the kitchen back door, the kitchen patio doors and the decorative timber wall cladding.
I believe that this area could be exploited with either some creative, wall trained planting or the use of large, feature pots containing boldly shaped plants. (Note: I understand that the wooden cladding needs to be accessible for maintenance and I have considered this when making my suggestions.) There are two reasons why I believe it’s worth investing in this area. The first is because the existing collection of pots and containers fail to harmonise with each other or to exploit the height that this space offers. This area is clearly seen from the road and also acts as a welcoming sight for those entering Park Lane Cottage via the kitchen door. The second reason is inspired by the bench on the lawn that sits opposite the kitchen doors. Clearly this is a pleasant place to catch the sun but the view would be greatly improved with some planting that exploited the height of the cottage and the expanse of the bare walls. The lack of visual harmony between the existing pots only helps to make this area seem in need of some tender loving care.
The pictures below illustrate how trained planting could enhance the view of the kitchen wall. Adding height to a small space will create the opposite effect than you might imagine. Height draws the eye with interest and discourages close scrutiny of the overall context.
The above pictures illustrate the principle of how wall trained planting could enhance the view of the kitchen wall, (the three columns of stone that frame the kitchen back door and the patio doors). There is a very wide choice of containers, supports and plants that would satisfy these criteria, the choice is, of course, one of personal taste. However, I would suggest avoiding camellia if there is the possibility of morning sun falling directly upon it. When considering the suggestion of pot grown, wall trained planting don’t discount any type of plant, very few cannot be successfully grown in containers for many years. The star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, pictured bottom left will happily grow in a pot; on warm evenings its fragrance would drift into the kitchen via the patio doors.
The following pictures illustrate some free-standing, containerised planting that would be suitable for placing in front of the wooden cladding. The free standing nature of these suggestions would allow the containers to be moved when maintenance is required for the wooden cladding.
As is the case with the choices for the wall trained planting the choice of free standing planting is extensive and ultimately comes down to personal preference.
If none of the suggestions above are to your taste you could still refresh the area by replacing the existing containers with some large, identical containers containing plants for all year round interest.
The pictures below show some suggestions for specimen planting that could be used to bring height and interest. Please note that if you decide to use pots in this area, they should be a suitable shape; the classic terracotta flower pot shape is very unstable when planted with anything tall, even huge heavy ones will topple in the wind. A better option is a fairly squat container that has a base as wide as its brim.
The above pictures illustrate only a very small number of options, the choice of container, shape and variety of plants is almost limitless.
Continuing around the garden in a clockwise direction we come to the trellis screen that’s between the side and rear garden areas.
I believe there are three options for this feature. Option one is to leave it exactly as it is and to allow it to fulfil its functions of dividing the garden into sections and giving some screening from the road. Option two is to either cover it with an evergreen climber or replace it completely with beech hedging that’s clipped into a thin, living screen. Option three is to remove it completely thus opening up the garden into one continuous flow around the cottage. This last option is only really viable if you decide to follow the suggestion I put forward in the Hedges and Boundaries section of this appraisal, i.e. remove the roadside diamond trellis and replace with beech hedging.
Continuing the clockwise journey around the garden we come to the next area for consideration; the corner with the overlooking neighbours. The picture below clearly illustrates the situation with the overlooking window. There is however, a further element for consideration which is exposed by this photograph. This corner of the Park Lane Cottage garden is dominated completely by the presence of the neighbours’ house. The overlooking window is only a small part of the visual confusion that’s causing such a distraction to the eye. I suggest that you consider reclaiming this part of the garden and making it truly ‘belong’ to Park Lane Cottage.
The Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’ serves as a useful distraction and I should imagine is particularly effective when in flower. It does however, only partially succeed in its attempt to both distract from the neighbour’s house and screen Park Lane Cottage from the overlooking window. From a design point of view this tree now poses a dilemma; on the one hand it is a fabulous specimen whose qualities are rightly praised, but on the other hand it is not the most successful way of dealing with overlooking neighbours. The picture below illustrates what the ideal solution would be if the Prunus wasn’t there.
A triangular, corner pergola complete with the added height of an evergreen such as honeysuckle will obscure a large part of any overlooking property. The picture below clearly shows how a neighbouring property and all of its overlooking windows are almost completely obscured by using this technique. The dilemma though, is that in order to succeed in its purpose, the triangular pergola would have to cover the area where the Prunus now stands.
Sacrificing the Prunus to achieve this effect would probably be too high a price to pay although you could consider leaving it and putting a pergola in as well.
On balance though I think that the two in such close proximity would look cramped and slightly odd. A possible solution to this problem is illustrated below.
In this example the illusion or effect of a pergola is achieved in the fraction of space needed for a full size triangular version. If this solution was used at Park Lane Cottage it would require the structure to be in two sections, one along the wooden fence and the other along the stone wall.
The final section of this journey around the garden brings us to the lovely view over the wall towards the distant landscape.
This part of the garden has already been discussed in Section 1. Hedges and Boundaries; please refer back for my suggestions for this area. There is however, a small but significant detail in this area that I’d like to mention before ending this section of my appraisal.
This fabulous holly serves several very positive purposes. It is a fascinating form, it punctuates the garden with a definite full-stop, it gives some cover from the neighbouring property and probably most importantly its shape associates perfectly with trees that are way off into the distance. The qualities of this borrowed landscape association are discussed where we started this garden journey at the front gate of Park Lane Cottage.
The small detail that I’d like to mention is the domed outline of the holly. It is starting to show signs of getting the better of the secateurs; it is losing its round topped outline and is in danger of becoming a peak rather than the dome that it so obviously needs and wants to be.
Section 3. Shrub removing, moving and pruning
In this section I will follow the established route of taking a clockwise journey around the garden starting at the front gate.
The picture below shows two plants that I suggest need some radical attention.
Firstly, the Fatsia is a good example of the correct plant being in the wrong place. It is too dominant and although Fatsia respond well to pruning I think its qualities would be more beneficially exploited in the back garden. Also, I believe that it is too exotic in appearance to be the welcoming plant for a cottage garden. I shall return to this plant when we get around Park Lane Cottage and arrive in the back garden. I will be making recommendations for planting at the front of Park Lane Cottage in the Section 4 of this appraisal.
The second plant that needs attention is the ivy. Ivy is one of my favourite plants; it’s tough, grows anywhere, is evergreen and comes in a variety of colours and leaf shape/ size. It makes good ground cover and it can be grown up a wall or into a column (as illustrated below). Indeed, you might want to consider this ivy column as a solution to the container grown planting that I recommended in Section 2 for outside the kitchen door. Please let me know if you’d like details on how to achieve this ivy column effect. However, the ivy’s current position on the wall outside the front entrance to Park Lane Cottage simply gives the impression of a self-sown plant that’s been allowed to get a strong foothold. It doesn’t look considered and indeed is starting to look slightly scruffy. I would suggest cutting its main stems and spraying it with a weed killer such as Roundup. It will inevitably look untidy while dying but I think this approach would be better than trying to pull and rip it from the wall. The structure of the wall appears to be suffering already and it might start to fall apart if you remove the ivy whilst it’s still alive and growing through the stonework. Once the plant has finally died the leaves and small stems can be removed leaving the bigger, main stems to dry and wither. They can then be removed without fear of damaging the wall.
The above picture shows ivy ‘Eva’ grown in a container up a support to create a column.
Continuing around the garden we come to the side gate and the Choisya and Euonymus. Both of these were discussed in Section 1 and you may remember that I commented on how they have become overgrown and should be removed. Having considered the merits of these two plants I don’t think there are other suitable positions for them within the garden. The Choisya could possibly go into the border that runs along the wall opposite the living room patio. The only problem with this is that it would require annual pruning to stop it taking over the border and encroaching onto the lawn. If you are happy with including the Choisya into your annual maintenance regime then moving it here would be a good option. The same does not go for the Euonymus; it is simply too big and mature to be moved anywhere useful within the garden.
Continuing around the garden we come to the fabulous cordon fruit trees. Although you say that they are unproductive, I would be very hesitant to suggest removing them. A well maintained cordon can be productive for decades if not hundreds of years, I would be very surprised if your trees’ lack of enthusiasm is age related. I suspect that a more focused maintenance regime would bring these lovely trees back into full health.
I would suggest an overhaul of their supports and growing environment would be a good starting point and that giving them a couple of years to buck up their ideas would be a reasonable compromise. If the existing wire supports are not strong enough (does this explain the wooden crutches?) then they need upgrading to a more substantial system. Apart from their unnecessary function the wooden crutches distract from what should be a delightful scene of beautifully husbanded cordons. A well and correctly built support system will encourage plenty of air flow between the tree and the fence; a gap of at least 6” is required. A further improvement would be to remove the bulbs and all other planting (including grass) and create a clear bed of about 15” width between the fence and the lawn. Removing nutrient hungry, competing plants from around the trees will give them the chance to fully exploit the available goodness from the soil. A cleared bed will also provide plenty of space for a really thick mulch of energy giving compost or manure. Further help could be sought by re-evaluating the pruning regime; I would suggest researching resources such as the RHS for the specialist requirements of cordon grown fruit. There are also many web sites associated with fruit growers that give the specialist advice required. If you go to any of the RHS flower shows you will find the RHS help desk as well as fruit growers who you can talk to in person. (Consider showing them photographs that illustrate your trees in both close-up and wide angle). All of the above may help to stimulate the trees into more productivity although there is one area for improvement that cannot be rectified. The ideal aspect for cordon trees is on a south facing brick wall which both faces the sun and stores its radiant heat. However, few gardens can provide these ideal growing conditions and I would encourage you to do all you can to give the trees the best possible chance of thriving. Finally, we have to assume that fruit trees within the correct pollinating group are growing nearby, given the village setting of Park Lane Cottage I would be very surprised if this wasn’t the case.
The remaining area for discussion is the border that runs below the wall opposite the living room patio doors, as illustrated below.
I believe that apart from the domed Holly tree the only shrub that could be considered for keeping in this border is the Forsythia. Its saving grace, apart from its spring colour, is its ability to be pruned into a manageable shape – as shown in the picture below. This quality could be used to follow the borrowed landscape suggestion made in Section 2, i.e. that plants in this border should be kept below the top of the wall and that their form should echo that of the distant trees.
Before finishing this section I would like to return to the Fatsia that was mentioned in the opening paragraph. This plant could be transplanted to the border below the wall but only if you’re happy with the demands of including it in your annual garden maintenance regime. These plants respond well to pruning and it could easily be kept from growing over the lawn or above the top of the wall. It could also be cleared of its lower branches in order to make it associate even more with the shape of the distant trees.
The final shrub of interest is found on the corner of the living room patio, it is pictured below.
Although this shrub may give some scant screening from the overlooking neighbours, its ultimate effect is to clutter the space and add visual confusion. Rather than mask the problematic adjacent scene, its efforts to distract from it simply draw attention to it. I believe that it should be removed and that the suggestion in Section 2 of trellis and/or a wooden pergola would serve a better purpose. A further reason for removing the shrub is that it draws the eye when seen from the house or patio. This is counterproductive for a patio with such a far reaching and interesting view.
Section 4. Summer, Autumn and Winter Interest
This section will follow the same clockwise route around the garden that we’ve used in the previous three sections and, as usual, we shall start at the front door. All of the plant suggestions that I’ve made below are in the context of your comments about the problems associated with slugs, snails, biting winds, shade and heavy clay soil. Most of my plant suggestions are for structural, year-round-interest; herbaceous planting is very much a matter of personal taste and is, therefore, mostly left to your own discretion.
The recessed and welcoming nature of the Park Lane Cottage front door is, in my opinion, an under-exploited feature.
The garden is perfectly capable of bringing out the best of the beautifully designed entrance to the cottage; the first part of this section explains how I suggest this could be done.
On arrival at Park Lane Cottage the first thing that the eye sees is the front door, currently this view is squandered although it could be brought into sharp, engaging focus by framing the doorway with two evergreen plants that would bring year round interest and height. I suggest that the plant with the correct design style for Park Lane Cottage is the lollipop version of Ilex aquifolium ‘J.C. Van Tol’ (Holly) as illustrated below.
Ilex aquifolium ‘J.C. Van Tol’
The sketch below illustrates how the symmetry and height of two lollipop hollies immediately brings a powerful sense of considered order that makes a very clear statement. The statement prepares the visitor for a garden and dwelling that live comfortably in harmony, working to bring out the very best of each other. Compare the visualisation sketch below with the photograph above that shows the existing scene. In the photograph the door is pleasingly flanked by floor to ceiling windows, lanterns and side windows. The current planting fails to mirror this deliberate symmetry and thus greatly dilutes and squanders its effect. Something else that would help to emphasise the ordered symmetry is the placing of a terracotta pot to match the solitary one that’s currently sat on the doorstep. These pots could be utilised for splashes of seasonal colour thus providing summer and winter interest.
I will now describe my suggestions for revamping the planting in the border that’s on the right-hand side of the front door as seen from the garden gate. This is the border that sits between the path and the wall.
The plan on the next page shows a yellow and green circular Ilex aquifolium ‘J.C. Van Tol’ placed top centre of the sketch. To the right of the Ilex is a hedge of tightly planted Cornus ‘Mid Winter Fire’, (Dogwood). To the left of the Ilex is a low hedge of Sarcococca confusa (Christmas Box). Photograph examples of the Cornus hedge and the Sarcococca hedge are shown below the plan.
The Cornus should be planted closer together than those shown in the photograph below. The more tightly together they are planted the more intense is their winter impact. Also, make sure that they are planted tightly against the wall; this will leave more room for other plants but will not diminish the stunning, winter effect.
Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’
The Cornus will bring dramatic red and yellow winter interest but it will also serve a very productive secondary purpose; it will contrast in colour and texture with the evergreen winter leaves and white flowers of the Sarcococca thus giving a result that’s greater than the sum of the parts. The Sarcococca will bring all-year-round evergreen structure but perhaps more importantly it will fill the winter air with its sweet scent, a real bonus when placed near to the front door. It can be trimmed to size after flowering; the Cornus is cut to the ground before it starts to leaf in the Spring.
Sarcococca confusa hedge
Any space remaining in the border could be filled with the existing planting or you may like to consider using the plants shown below.
A white Hellebore would bring winter interest and its leaves when removed after flowering would give space for the Brunnera ‘Jack Frost.’ The Brunnera can be ‘Chelsea Chopped’ if you prefer a summer display of blue flowers. Snowdrops planted throughout the border would work their usual magic in the grey month of February.
Looking at the border on the other side of the front door there is another opportunity for enhancing the appearance of the cottage. The sketch below shows one of the proposed lollipop hollies, it also shows a proposed expansion of the existing border. The area shaded in green illustrates the space that I’m suggesting for the new border.
The gap in the border represents a small side extension to the existing pathway. I would suggest that the far side of this new border (where the border meets the lawn, but leaving a gap for the new side extension of the path) is lined with a Sarcococca hedge kept low to match that on the other side of the path. The planting of this hedge would complete the symmetrical, evergreen all-year-round structural planting but would leave plenty of room for bulbs and herbaceous planting in front of the hedge. The bulbs and herbaceous planting should match whatever you decide to put in the border opposite, beneath the Cornus and Sarcococca hedges.
Moving on and around the garden we come to the stretch of low, stone wall, as shown below.
You mentioned that you’ve tried plants that usually colonise rocky walls but they don’t do too well when put into the top of this wall. I’m not 100% certain why this might be but I do have an idea that’s based on what I observed when you were describing the problem. It seemed that parts of the top of the wall were built to last a very long time and that it was sealed or capped off with mortar. While stopping the ingress of deteriorating water and expanding ice it makes an environment almost impossible for plants to put down the seeking roots that need to find their way inside cracks and crevices in order to thrive. Assuming that my theory is correct it will leave you with the dilemma of either leaving things as they are or making holes in the capping mortar.
The next area of the garden for consideration is the side gate that leads from the road. This area contains a bed on each side of the attractive brick path. These beds are an obvious and successful addition to the garden although they could be used more successfully to bring the all-year-round interest that you want. They could also be utilised to bring the harmonising effect of planting repetition. By repeating a plant throughout a garden one’s eye is calmed and the whole space becomes a more ordered, consistent and relaxed experience. Therefore, I suggest repeat planting of the lollipop hollies. To mark the transition from the slightly more formal front entrance to the more informal side entrance I would suggest repeating perhaps one herbaceous plant from the front border and using more ‘cottage’ style planting for the remaining space.
The pictures below illustrate the next part of the garden that would benefit from some new ideas to help bring the additional summer, autumn and winter interest that you require.
As mentioned in Section 3. Shrub removing, moving and pruning, the Fatsia that currently sits by the front door could be moved into this border. As long as you’re happy to keep it pruned, it would provide year-round structure and its outline would associate with the trees on the distant horizon. Further examples of shrubs that could be planted here to bring summer, autumn or winter interest include the plants listed below. This list is by no means exhaustive, the choice of shrubs for summer, autumn or winter interest is very wide although those listed below are all medium sized plants that should need only light pruning to keep them below the top of the wall.
Acer Palmatum (Japanese Maples), summer flowering Clematis, Weigela, Philadelphus, Spiraea ‘Anthony Waterer’, Deutzia ‘Rosealind’, Carpentaria California, Berberis ‘Orange King, ‘Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald n Gold, ‘Hebe ‘Red Edge,’ Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’.
The final area of the garden to be considered is the patio that’s outside the living room windows.
This is a lovely open space but it suffers from being overcrowded with too many pots that don’t match or associate with each other or their surroundings. Using pots is a great way of placing seasonally interesting plants, (shrubs, herbaceous or annuals) in direct sight from inside the house. However, the pots need to be uniform in style, shape and colour and in this instance I would suggest using the square shape and colour of the terracotta pot that’s seen top left in the above photograph. It associates perfectly with the style of the cottage and its straight lines compliment those of the cottage and the patio. The pots can be moved when the plant has finished its performance and a new act can be brought in from the wings. I would suggest that at least one pot contains an evergreen display that provides winter interest when seen from inside the house. This could be structural planting such as some modest topiary or something more relaxed such as a bright green/yellow ivy accompanied by a rich, plum Heuchera ‘Palace Purple.’ It is important though, to make sure that the patio does not become overcrowded or too busy with pots; sometimes less is better than more.
Some height introduced between the doors and against the cottage walls would help to bring a lot of interest; this could be climbers or shrubs; all of the advice given about containerised shrubs in Section 2 is also relevant for this part of the garden.