Romance in the Garden

Don’t worry, this post isn’t going to get mushy, it’s more about garden style. There are many styles of gardening, Cottage gardening, formal, wild, naturalistic, rock, landscape, forest, romantic etc. and that’s before we come onto geographic and climatic styles such as prairie, tropical, desert, alpine, Chinese, Mediterranean, Japanese and so on. A garden can have multiple styles and can have blends or mixes of styles leading to endless variation, it’s what makes it so exciting.

In this garden, I haven’t consciously attempted to apply a particular style, instead I first began with loose ideas of the feeling I wanted to create when in the garden and that was one of lush abundance and overflowing borders with hidden areas and quirky features. I already had an advantage to bringing about this cornucopia-look just by being in a temperate climate with lots of rain, comparatively mild winters and a soil composed of heavy clay (incredibly fertile but not without its problems).

The two styles that best resemble this feeling or atmosphere are a mix of Cottage gardening and the Romantic style. Cottage gardening is all about borders crammed with billowing plants and flowers, with a good dose of edibles too. It’s meant to look chaotic and unplanned as a direct response to the strict formal gardening that was the rage at the time. Cottage gardening does in fact, require careful planning to ensure the right plants end up next to each other (so no thugs out-competing delicates) and to give the widest season of interest. This style brings the billowing borders, lush verdant growth and the sense that the garden is just on the tipping point of being out of control. It’s a balance that needs to be carefully maintained for the best effect, not looking too manicured nor too wild, but walking the knife-edge in between.

The Romantic style brings the atmosphere, it excludes the outside world and replaces it with the sense of escapism and immersion in fantasy. Garden views are blocked, the boundaries are hidden, paths lead to hidden areas, alcoves, surprise features or simply dead-ends. There is a sense of mystery and the garden doesn’t give up its secrets, instead it needs to be explored and experienced. There is a wild and uncertain element and a sense of great age, even abandonment. Paths may be worn, plants overgrown, walls tumbled. It’s usual to have something unusual and unexpected. Statues, pools, ruins and follies all add to the feeling of stepping into another world far removed from today’s one.

For those that are lucky to have visited both, Sissinghurst Castle in Kent is predominantly a Cottage garden style with its many garden rooms packed with all manner of cottage garden classics and fruit orchards. Nymans in Sussex is a Romantic style with ancient wisteria winding around the stone mullions of empty windows, surrounded by unexpected plants such as bananas in a tropical border set against the backdrop of a ruined country house.

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have a moated Elizabethan castle or a burnt-out country house for a romantic ruin, but that doesn’t mean smaller gardens can’t in some way have some of the elements of these two garden styles. Indeed while cottage gardens can be any size, romantic gardens tend to require space to recreate the fantasy world, after all, it’s hard to escape when the neighbour’s fence is only a few metres away. I’m lucky to have a medium-large sized garden that I can attempt some extent of romance. Despite being far from complete, it’s been particularly noticeable this year that the peak-flowering in May gives the garden the “Cottage garden” feel while at this time of year, when the flowers have mainly finished and the light is changing, the slider moves more to the “romantic” style.

Hopefully you can feel some of the “romance” in the deep greens, obscured paths, dramatic lighting and overgrown plants that the garden has around this time of year. I’d be interested to know what you think, whether I am close to giving that romantic atmosphere or whether I’ve missed the mark.

6 Comments


  1. Wouldn’t mind a wander round there, Sunil. Just one thing missing – a little bit of statuary!! Only joking, you put what you want where you want, for it is for you to enjoy, and for us to observe. Mine is a sort of “formal” cottage carden at the moment, lots of straight edges but borders crammed full. But next year part of it should become romantic when I put in arches over a side path over which my neighbour has a right of way. So the path will always be there, and already has two birches, one silver and one red – but I want to make it a bit wiggly (it is straight at the mo) and the space is wide enought to do that. I am glad you are beginning to enjoy the look of it all at your end. You have managed a big empty space so well – and it not very long, either! Enjoy the rest of the summer.

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    1. Hello Mrs Mac, the statuary will come in at the very end as the finishing touch I think. I want urns on plinths, astrolabes and armillary spheres, but they’re all so expensive and the other half categorically hates them so it’s going to take some time to convince him that’s he’s wrong and to change his mind!

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  2. No matter what you call it Sunil, your garden is lovely and becomes more beautiful with every passing year. I aim for the cottage garden look (my tidy mess as Gertrude called it.) But this time of year is a challenge with some plants looking sad and tired. I’ve added a few colorful things to carry me to the next flush of blooms. Before we know it. cold weather will be here and I’ll be dreaming of spring.

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    1. Thank you, Lynn, I can imagine the nights are beginning to get cold in the mountains where you are and you’re looking at the end of the season very soon. Late flowering perennials or annuals that finally give up with the first frosts are going to be what you need.

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  3. You explained the difference between the two styles very effectively. I really feel I understand it more clearly now. I guess there’s much more “cottage” and less “romance” in our garden.

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    1. Hello Jason, I think your front garden is very much “Cottage Garden” but the shady back has more romantic elements in it from the trees, stones lining the beds and quirky wheelbarrow and other planters.

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