Spaces may be small, but gardenersâ€™ plans are big for plentiful landscapes in German Village, Grandview and Clintonville.
John Lane says the Grandview garden that he and his wife, Lori, nurture is done in a laissez-faire style other than their regular fertilizing, watering and weeding.
Michael A. Foley/MAF Photography
Traditional cottage gardens may conjure images of heirloom flowers, picket fences and cobbled walkways. But at least three Central Ohio gardeners are refashioning the time-honored style for cottage gardening by adopting unconventional plants, intermixing interesting styles and adding distinct personalities to their small, informal landscapes.
Early English gardeners who called them “wild gardens” should see Paul Schrader’s German Village landscape. Here, he surrounds his one-and-a-half-story brick cottage with densely planted tropicals—more than 100 varieties in riotous colors. Pink-flowering mandevilla vines climb eight-foot bamboo poles along an iron fence at the front of the house. At the side are 20 colorfully variegated coleus plants. On the back porch, containers filled with other exotics, including Schrader’s 30 beloved Cajun and grafted hibiscus plants, provide intense color and spectacular blooms.
Schrader’s passion for mandevillas began 20 years ago when he bought his first vine. The next year, he expanded to four vines, and this spring he will plant 130 in 12 different varieties. His favorites are ‘Sun Parasol’ for its vibrant trumpet-shaped flowers and ‘Alice du Pont’ for its vigorous vine and nonstop blooms. He’s just as crazy about coleus, he says.
While Schrader may have sidestepped foxgloves and cottage roses in his tropical garden, he embraces the tight plantings, informal appearance and plant variation of traditional cottage garden design. He characteristically fills every inch of his corner lot and further maximizes vertical space by growing vines on poles, fences and even trellises made of fishing line.
Schrader says the key to growing tropicals in northern climates is to fertilize frequently. He applies Jack’s Classic 20-20-20 every two weeks, using a hose and siphon.
While cottage gardening may look carefree, he confesses to spending 30 hours a week tending to the fast-growing tropicals. Rising at 5:30 am to hand-water plants and clean up the hundreds of dropped blooms, he uses a telescoping wand and a Shop-Vac. Before his retirement in late 2010, Schrader says he would retreat to his back patio each evening to enjoy the twilight glow of the Kangaroo Paw blooms, the fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine and the evening blooms of the 15 moonflower vines that climb his back wall. This spring, he looks forward to spending even more time in the garden.
Open the wooden gate of John and Lori Lane’s Grandview garden to notice the hollyhocks, coneflowers and blazing stars along the brick paver path. A further look into this backyard garden reveals a formal English influence.
When the Lanes purchased their 1930s two-story home, they called on her brother, a landscape architect, to design a garden plan. He proposed a symmetrical layout with a central path, three circular openings and perimeter plantings.
John says they began the multi-year landscape renovation by hosting a champagne demolition brunch to tear out the garage and concrete driveway that were behind the house. Later, the couple cleared overgrown trees and shrubs. They then installed a privacy fence around the backyard’s perimeter and a pergola in its center. They rebuilt the property’s original granite fireplace that now serves as a focal point at the rear of the garden.
Eventually, they hauled in soil and began planting new material, starting with trees, then shrubs and perennials. Within the plan’s geometric design, they planted many cottage garden must-haves in the style’s characteristically tight and irregular way. A circular pond filled with water lilies, sweet flags, cattails and horsetail completes the landscape design.
Today, the finished garden abounds with flowers. Six different roses climb the pergola, and ever-blooming shrub roses surround its base. The garden’s perimeter beds include a mix of flowering shrubs including viburnums, hydrangeas, serviceberries, rhododendrons, red twig dogwoods and azaleas.
The Lanes say their favorite is the ‘Gibraltar’ azalea with its unusual orange blooms. Among their garden’s perennials and bulbs are liriope, astilbe, day lilies, phlox, hostas, heucheras and crocosmias. John says his wife will “come back from a garden center with a carload of plants whether we have room or not.” Indeed, they’ve tried many different plants and appreciate their struggle for existence in what he calls their “Darwinian garden.”
“Other than fertilize, water and weed, we have a laissez-faire style of gardening,” says John. Of course, it’s this approach that’s made cottage gardening so appealing for centuries.
Patricia Campbell’s bungalow and cottage garden are easy to spot along a side street in Clintonville. The yellow cottage provides a cheerful backdrop for her flowerbeds, which teem with landscaping favorites and are accented with interesting found objects, including a red Adirondack chair in the front yard.
When this Ohio native decided to return home after living two decades on the West Coast, Campbell says she was happy to find the arts-and-crafts-style bungalow she’d always wanted. She affectionately named her home “Moon Cottage” in honor of its original owners, Dave and Norma Moon, who built the home in 1921. While drawn to the cottage, this seasoned gardener was not content with the home’s yard, a grassy lawn featuring a large, dead maple tree.
To transform the sloping front lawn, she replaced the maple tree and created terraced beds with stone retaining walls. New beds were gradually filled with perennials, including bargains from garden centers and gifts from neighboring friends’ gardens. “There’s Tina’s irises and rose, and Bev’s windflowers (Japanese anemones),” she points out, regarding the many gardening neighbors’ plants that grow here.
Lamb’s ear, daisies, coneflowers, false indigo, hostas, Mexican sage, sedum, monkshood, bear’s breeches, castor bean, catmint, Russian sage and snapdragons also are situated in the garden. Typical of cottage gardens, Campbell’s is sprinkled with several self-sowing flowers. For instance, she says, she began planting moon flower seeds for her Moon Cottage and now has vines voluntarily sprouting up everywhere, which allowed her to give away moon flower seeds to visitors on last fall’s Clintonville home and garden tour. “They’ll be all over Clintonville next year,” she says.
For the front porch, she had the concrete floor resurfaced with a spray-on acrylic overlay in a brick pattern and added a clever privacy railing with moon-shaped cutouts. Along the edge, she planted hops and trained its vines to weave along the railing.
Later in the front, she added the red chair which she decorates with seasonal items. Throughout the garden, she skillfully intersperses other found objects including three retro swirl bowling balls, vintage buoys from a friend’s antique shop and carved lintel stones from the West Coast.
“If I like it, I keep it,” says Campbell, who doesn’t worry about over-packing her space. “There is not a plant that I’ll turn away.”
Along the sides and rear of the house, beds are brimming with a dozen hydrangea varieties, eight lilac shrubs, serviceberry, boxwood, holly and more perennials and annuals. “The moon flowers even wandered into the backyard,” she says. Here, she also added a grape arbor, nine birdhouses and brick edging to define the overflowing beds.
Teresa Woodard is a freelance writer.