Here’s how a florist and a builder created a blooming cottage garden

Some overzealous tenants meant this green-fingered couple had to start their cottage garden from scratch, but the result is bloomin’ beautiful 

Here’s how a florist and a builder created a blooming cottage garden 

Creating a cottage garden to suit their old Tauranga homestead involved no brain strain at all for Meg and Brian Claxton. Meg is a florist and part-time artist, and Brian a retired builder turned pounamu carver, so there’s plenty of creativity on tap. Besides all that, the couple formerly owned a nursery, and cottage gardens are something of a specialty.

The two moved into their 1903 cottage – the original farmhouse for the area – eight years ago but had owned it for longer. Taking over residency came with a rude shock: their former tenants had dug up the gardens and given the plants away.

“It was devastating,” Meg remembers.

“We had planted lovely things from the nursery. We basically had to start from scratch as there was nothing left except weeds – a lot of them.”

The tenants did, however, leave the property’s large trees in tact. These include a cherry and a gum (the latter is great for Meg’s floral arrangements) and a “tortured looking” weeping elm of a very old vintage. A mulberry stands sentinel at the door of the gallery Meg and Brian have recently opened in front of their house, which sells their pounamu carvings, art, and seasonal flowers from the garden.

A fresh start

Brian started by digging some borders and creating vegetable and herb gardens. Those edible plots have since been boxed in, bay and lime trees planted in the herb garden, and an old gate (perfect for climbing beans) has been added to the vegetable patch.

The original borders failed to fulfil Meg’s flower-growing ambitions. “Those borders just started edging out more and more and the grass area became less and less,” she laughs. Brian adds that the greatest amount of lawn left to mow on their 840-square-metre site is the berm.

To get the flower gardens started, Meg planted cuttings from friends and “threw some seed around” and her cottage garden was underway. “I’m that sort of gardener. Whatever happens, happens, and nature is allowed to take its course. I don’t have a need for structure in my garden.”

She also had lillies, roses and fruit trees in pots that had been carted from pillar to post, and these quickly found new homes in this fertile patch. Plum jam and crab apple jelly in the Claxtons’ kitchen attest to the success of their fruit-tree planting.

A picking garden also features prominently and has been planted with a focus on flowers that last well in a vase. These too have flourished over time.

Living Colour

Meg and Brian’s garden is a mass of mainly white, purple, blue and pink blooms thanks to a whole array of flowers that best suit a cottage garden. Bright orange Californian poppies spring up every year and Meg allows them to stay. Yellow is a colour she is “quite constrained with” although the ‘Graham Thomas’ rose is smiled upon. Apricot hues also feature as Meg’s two favourite roses, the crépuscule rose and the ‘Pat Austin’ both appear in this creamy shade.

Plant types

Meg and Brian’s garden includes many perennials, self-seeding plants and those they have grown from cuttings. The latter include geraniums and hydrangeas (of varying hues), while lavender and penstemons are amongst the perennials. The self-seeders are many and mainly thrive over the summer months – zinnia, cosmos, foxgloves, Queen Anne’s lace, granny bonnets, larkspur and poppies are all colourful cases
in point.

The garden features an abundance of roses, mainly of the climbing variety. Meg enthuses over David Austin’s ‘Mary Rose’, which is a pink beauty that hardly stops blooming, and ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ (light pink and white), which transforms a rickety fence-line.

Meg also has a garden dedicated to dahlias, and bromeliads – much loved by her mother, Mona – have their own little place, too.

Sweet peas clamber up a frame and are kept company by other delights such as cornflowers, mignonette, Sweet William, dianthus, viola, hollyhocks, echinacea, hellebores, tulips and bells of Ireland. Queen Anne’s lace and centranthus are among the plants that “just go nuts”, Meg says.

A white sasanqua camellia hedge and an old farm gate divide the garden from the road frontage. A recent addition is an old wooden extension ladder that Brian hung under the eaves of the gallery. It’s been earmarked for hanging baskets of blooms.

Seasonal splendour

Being cottage themed, the Claxtons’ garden is at its prime in November, but continues to look especially lovely until March or April. Winter is a time to cut back the perennials and let the garden rest. There’s still a little colour on offer over the colder months, though, thanks to geraniums, daphne, bergenia and marigolds (companion planted among the vegetable garden that produces year-round). And even on the coldest days, fruiting citrus trees are a reminder of summer sunshine soon to come.

Words by: Monique Balvert-O’Connor. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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