Country cottage garden

Peter Wilcock and Phillip Williams' outdoor project evolved over 10 years forming a beautiful country-style space with sweeping pathways, year-round colour and functional spaces for entertaining

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Peter Wilcock and Philip Williams have turned a large, mature plot into an attractive outdoor space featuring stylish areas for entertaining.

Fact file

The owners: Philip Williams (right) and Peter Wilcock (left), who run a property design and rental company, as well as a luxury villa rental on the Greek island Rhodes ( property: A two-bedroom, semi-detached Grade-II listed cottage dating from the 17th centuryThe location: Higher Whitley, CheshireWhat they spent: The couple’s garden project cost around £9,900

The large corner garden in a rural setting is what won us over when we moved from a modern townhouse in Nantwich, Cheshire, to a quiet country cottage in a village,’ says Peter. ‘Both myself and Philip love gardening and being outdoors, so the balance between house and garden was just right for us.’

The plot, with access to a pretty lane, was private and full of character, and had plenty of room for improvement – exactly what they were looking for. The garden had been established for years and the previous family had created a practical outdoor space with a pond and mixed planting.

Philip and Peter’s aim was to develop it into a series of natural outdoor living rooms, including a large terrace, paths leading to year-round borders, and defined seating areas to catch the sun throughout the day. They were also keen to separate the landscaping from the driveway and garage by creating a walled garden that would look as if it had been there as long as the cottage.

‘We agreed to work on the garden while renovating the house – actually spending more time on the garden so the plants could become established,’ says Peter. ‘The way we used the house would influence the garden design and vice versa. For example, we wanted a garden room with doors onto a terrace and outdoor eating area. We had to think about our lifestyles and the ways in which the garden would work best for us.’

During the first year, Philip and Peter spent a lot of time tidying the garden. Many of the planted areas had become overgrown and straggly, so the couple thinned out the plants that were not flourishing or had become woody, and cut back those they wanted to keep to encourage thicker growth. ‘We also wanted to see what was in the garden through the seasons,’ says Peter. ‘There is a curly hazel that looks fabulous in winter, for example, and bulbs that come up in spring. Each season had its surprises.’

Meanwhile, they started to work out a basic design that would change as time went on. ‘We never plan in detail, and instead let things evolve naturally,’ adds Peter. The couple soon realised that there were too many trees around the garden – and three 35ft-tall conifers were eventually taken down. ‘So many trees were planted close together that they couldn’t flourish,’ explains Peter. ‘We thinned them out to allow the best to thrive. Now we get more light in the garden and we can see the lovely wooded backdrop beyond the garden wall.’

Philip and Peter drew up a wishlist of everything they wanted in the garden, including insect houses, plants to attract bees, a herb garden, a compost area, a pond for wildlife, plus year-round colour, box hedging as well as pergolas and trellises for climbing plants. ‘The garden evolved very gradually,’ recalls Peter. ‘After the first few years of clearing, tidying and designing, in 2007, we made the first major structural change by building a wall with reclaimed bricks along the length of the drive. It has an arched wooden door, to create the sense of walking from the car into a secret garden.’ The wall ends where a laurel hedge begins, maintaining an element of privacy.

Behind the garage was a mess of rubble and old compost. This was cleared to reveal an original stone herb wheel in the ground, which Peter and Philip restored and planted afresh. They then turned their attention to the pond, building a wall around it to make it ornamental and planting the fringes with giant, rhubarb-like Gunnera leaves to add softness and proportion.

An old pergola with a corrugated roof was taken back to the frame and planted with wisteria, ivy and roses for year-round colour. Next to it, Philip and Peter laid a patio bordered by box hedging, taking inspiration from Bodysgallen Hall in Wales. ‘The clean lines and symmetry link the angular dimensions of the house to the soft curves and colours of the garden,’ says Peter.

As well as the terraced seating area, the couple have built a thatched pergola where they can sit during a summer shower or in the shade on a hot summer’s afternoon. ‘We’ve always been keen gardeners,’ says Peter. ‘My parents’ garden is 2.5 acres, so we’ve picked up information and ideas from them over the years and learned the rest through trial and error. If a plant doesn’t suit one position, we move it to another.’ Originally, they introduced dozens of pots, which they have reduced and simplified over time for easy maintenance. With a little outside help, they keep on top of the garden by weeding once a week and cutting the lawn regularly during summer.

‘We walk round it most days and spend as much time outdoors as we can,’ says Philip. ‘We get a lot of pleasure from taking in the sights, smells and sounds.’ Yet, they regularly share the fruits of their labour with family and friends and, two years ago, held their civil partnership in the garden. ‘You can be very sociable here or tuck yourself away in a corner to read a book. The different areas of the garden link together, but there are plenty of places where you can escape for peace and quiet.’

Philip and Peter believe the garden is now complete after 10 years’ hard work and evolution, but say they will always make ‘tweaks and small changes’ to keep it fresh. ‘We’ve tried to achieve variety and interest, along with secret areas and natural features, without making the garden look hard and structural,’ says Peter. ‘For our villa in Rhodes we designed a Mediterranean garden, but didn’t want to re-create that in England.’

‘We believe in working with what you have – our home is a country cottage and we’ve created an English country garden.’


The costs

Reclaimed bricks£3,000
Thatched pergola£1,900
Urns, statues and pots£1,000
Plants and shrubs, box hedging and topiary£600
Furniture (tables, chairs and umbrellas)£600
Paving stones and edging£200
Materials for gate in wall£120