Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Delightful Cottage Gardens

Cottage gardens embrace charm and character, but they rely on the same basic principles as any other style of garden.

Start by creating a basic shape of hard landscaping, then add ‘core’ trees, shrubs and perennials that give the garden its personality. Leave the fine detail until last.

Cottage gardens conjure up small gardens full to the brim of plants, so much so that the plants dominate the garden — and why not? Mix every colour and shape and pack them all into a small space to create a sense of fun.

These gardens offer somewhere to potter about in and lose yourself for a while. All those little nooks and crannies to hide gardening objects, like those that you see in the small Flower Show gardens. Objects like old bikes, wheelbarrows, bird baths and terracotta pots can add fun and personalise your garden.

Anyone who has ever attempted to create a cottage garden has probably already discovered that the concept is somewhat hard to define in an exact and precise manner. I do, though, disagree with people who insist that you cannot have a cottage garden without a cottage. While there are many elements that may be present in the majority of cottage gardens, as the term is more widely applied, it is also true that some ambiguity applies as to whether certain items and design characteristics are required as essential features.

The cottage garden is an adaptable style and one can easily venture away from the mould of the traditional. One could easily create a cottage garden of only native plants or use only the new and exotic. This style is especially suited to the plantaholic that is continually searching out the rare and unusual and would definitely lead to the creation of a non-traditional cottage garden.

I have had a great deal of fun writing the extensive post on cottage gardens which you will find on my website Drop by, you’ll enjoy the visit.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alluring and Healing Agapanthus

Easy-to-grow Agapanthus (African Lily) produce glorious clusters of lily-like blooms that last throughout the summer.

Yesterday I posted a new Agapanthus plant profile on my website.

The six or so species that comprise the genus Agapanthus (African Lily) are found growing wild along the coastal belt and inland mountainous regions of southern Africa. These clump forming perennials have been collected from their natural habitats and developed into many spectacular garden hybrids that adorn landscapes all around the world.

I guess, as I live and garden in South Africa, the native home of Agapanthus I have tended to take this amazing plant for granted. The gardens of my childhood home always included masses of both blue and white varieties. As children we loved to use the tall flower stems (after the flowers had withered) for Zorro style sword fights! My garden now, has a number of the indigenous species all of which give great pleasure.

Perhaps what most gardeners fail to give much thought to, is the wonderful medicinal properties of so many of the plants we grow in our gardens. In South Africa, many of the indigenous African people consider Agapanthus to be both a magical and a medicinal plant, and the plant of fertility and pregnancy.

Traditionally Xhosa women (of the Eastern Cape) use the roots to make antenatal medicine, and they make a necklace using the roots that they wear as a charm to bring healthy, strong babies.

The Zulu people of KwaZulu-Natal use Agapanthus to treat heart disease, paralysis, coughs, colds, chest pains and tightness. It is also used with other plants in various medicines taken during pregnancy to ensure healthy children, or to augment or induce labour. In some tribal groupings it is used as a love charm and by people afraid of thunderstorms, and to ward off thunder.

Margaret Roberts a renowned herb grower, author and specialist in the use of herbal remedies, advises hikers to put leaves in their shoes to soothe the feet, and to wrap weary feet in the leaves for half an hour. The long, strap-like leaves also make an excellent bandage to hold a dressing or poultice in place, and winding leaves around the wrists are said to help bring a fever down.

Agapanthus contains several saponins and sapogenins that generally have anti-inflammatory (reduce swelling and inflammation), anti-oedema (oedema = swelling due to accumulation of fluid), antitussive (relieve or suppress coughing) and immunoregulatory (have influence on the immune system) properties. Although the precise activity of Agapanthus compounds is not known, preliminary tests have shown uterotonic activity (increases the tone of uterine muscles).

Agapanthus is suspected of causing haemolytic poisoning in humans, and the sap causes severe ulceration of the mouth so the plant should not be chewed or swallowed.

If you would like to know more about the propagation, planting and growing of these wonderful plants and the many hybrids now available, visit my website . I am sure that you will find the visit rewarding.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cottage gardens are all about plants.

So often the cottage garden tends to be glorified, as if it stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale or a Thomas Kinkade painting. In reality, along with being beautiful, it is a highly useful style of garden. It can be, and has been, adapted to fit our modern life styles and its appeal is truly global.

Cottage gardens reflect your own personal mix of plants — whether flowers, fruit or vegetables. The emphasis is on the year-round pleasure of enjoying their form, flowers and scent - not to mention picking your own salads, herbs, fruit and vegetables.

I am currently working on a new section for my website that will deal with concepts for cottage gardens, the plants that are most appropriate, the use of hard and soft landscaping and so on. Looking back at the many plant profiles I have posted on the site, I suddenly realised how many of the plants are suited to cottage gardens. I have subconsciously gravitated towards writing about the plants of my childhood, the plants that my own father favoured in the garden.

Two of my most recent posts to my website deal with what are quintessential cottage garden flowers — Hollyhocks and Delphiniums. What gloriously reliable plants these are.

You can never have too many delphiniums. They are glorious plants with flower spikes that can grow up to 180cm tall. Normally, they are a range of blues, but are also available in white, pinks, and purple. They are standouts as background plants.

Hybridisation of delphiniums has resulted in many new colours and attractive flower forms and growing heights. Flower colours range in shades of blue from palest sky, through to gentian and indigo; rich purple, lavender, pink to purest white.

The resurgence in Hollyhock popularity comes from several factors. Renewed interest in cottage gardens, a desire for drought and heat tolerance in garden flowers and the introduction of many new varieties are all helping fuel their new popularity.

Hollyhock plants are a fun and easy to grow flowering plant. It’s an old time favourite. Hollyhocks are a large plant with big leaves and big blossoms. They produce a profusion of big flowers from summer through autumn. They are perfect to fill large areas, and the back of a flowerbed. Hollyhocks can be used in perennial, biennial and annual applications depending on the type and treatment.

If you would like to know more about these venerable cottage garden plants visit for information about hollyhocks and for the low-down on Delphiniums. It really will be worth the effort!