Creating a traditional cottage garden

Sarah Styles has used her passion for vintage and traditional looks to transform a run-down plot into a country cottage-style garden, complete with patio, pergola and free-range chickens

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‘Until we moved to this house in the centre of Hungerford, I’d lived in the countryside all my life,’ says Sarah, who has always been passionate about gardening. ‘Being outdoors is such a huge part of my life, so I knew that transforming our garden was going to be one of my priorities.’

The couple’s Grade II-listed property was in need of some serious renovation work to turn it into the family home they longed for – but for Sarah, the outside space was just as important as the interior of the house. ‘As soon as we started thinking about planning the space, I knew that I didn’t want a contemporary garden,’ she explains. ‘Instead, I wanted to re-create the charm of the rambling rural landscape I had grown up in by transforming this uninspiring plot of land into a pretty country cottage garden.’

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The original garden was incredibly overgrown, but thanks to her creative vision, Sarah saw it as a blank canvas with exciting potential. Rather than having to undo the previous owner’s work, she was able to put her ideas in place and plan her dream design. As the garden was a long, narrow space, one of Sarah’s main criteria for the redesign was to break up the garden into various zones with a winding path linking the different areas. ‘I wanted to create a sense of intrigue here,’ she explains, ‘similar to the feeling of taking a walk through the countryside.’

Sarah and George carried out the majority of the work themselves, only hiring landscape gardener Chris Duck (chrisduck.co.uk; 01672 540111) for some of the more structural landscaping, such as laying the new garden path and fitting new fencing. Sarah also asked Chris to lay a circular lawn in the middle of the garden, flanked by raised beds that she now uses for growing flowers, herbs and vegetables. The colour theme mainly consists of soft pastels, with the odd flash of brighter colours.

Sarah has been very careful to plan a garden that provides lots of impact, whatever the season. By introducing grasses and structural, hardy plants, there’s plenty of texture and interest in the new space. ‘I love entertaining in the garden during the summer months, but the view of the garden from inside the house during the winter is just as important to me,’ she explains. ‘I especially like the effect that frost has when it settles and crystallises on the grasses.’

Sarah’s love of plants and flower arranging started around 10 years ago when she created the flower displays for her grandmother’s funeral. Everyone told Sarah she had a natural talent, which was enough to convince her to start her own business. Since then, she has learnt a great deal about plants and flowers, and loves to trawl car boot sales and flower fêtes in search of bargains for the garden. ‘They’re a great place to find a wide variety of plants and garden ornaments at fantastic prices,’ she explains. ‘Some of our best buys have been young plants that were home-grown and ready to plant, which we picked up at car boot sales.’

One of Sarah’s biggest inspirations for her outdoor space is gardening expert Sarah Raven, and she often refers to her award-winning book The Cutting Garden (Frances Lincoln) for advice. ‘I also use her website (sarahraven.com) to buy a lot of seeds for our garden,’ says Sarah.

When redesigning their outdoor space, the couple also re-painted the outside of the house in a hardy, weather-resistant paint that Sarah discovered in a new collection from paint manufacturer Mylands. ‘I fell in love with a colour called Acanthus Leaf – a shade inspired by the colour of the carved marble relief on columns at the British Museum, which is one of my favourite places to visit,’ she says. The paint is guaranteed to withstand all manner of weather conditions and was therefore an ideal choice, especially as Sarah plans to grow plants up the exterior walls and doesn’t want to damage them through repainting of the walls every few years.

Elsewhere in the garden, the couple have cleverly introduced ornamental features, such as a garden arch and pergola, to encourage climbers and provide height, as well as old-fashioned bird baths and feeders to encourage wildlife. The flowers and plants seem to ramble over their environment in a pretty, organised chaos, evocative of wild flowers in the countryside.

The overall feel of this enchanting outdoor space is one of nostalgia and fun, especially with the Frizzle Pekin chickens strutting around. ‘From my favourite spot by the house, I can gaze down the garden and watch the chickens, which I think look like funny feather dusters,’ smiles Sarah.

As Sarah continues to pick up new finds at the car boot sales and fairs she frequents, and as her family grows, with the couple’s first baby on the way this summer, there is no doubt that this charming cottage garden will continue to evolve and mature.