Old House Gardens for the Winter Weary

An old house garden

An old house garden

Gardeners love this time of year almost as much as gardening season. No you can’t go out and get your fingers all nice and dirty. You can’t see the flowers start to bloom or the trees start to bud.

But you can dream. And you can plan.

The images I have on this blog post are from a historic house in Lethbridge, Alberta. It is a Victorian style house that was built just after the turn of the 19th century. The owners have done a great job of restoring and decorating the interior and for this reason this house is one of the homes I am featuring in my book on period interiors.

Meandering Paths

Meandering paths

But, it is at this time of year, when the cold is inhumane, that we long for something to remind us that all will be green again. Yes the flowers will bloom, and trees have leaves.Old Houses are special – you know that or you would not be reading this post. Owners of such treasures often spend a lot of time and money to restore the interior of the home as well as the exterior.Just don’t give up when you get to the garden.

It is just as important for an old house to have compatible surroundings as it is to have authentic or inspired interiors. Gardens of times past were meant to be enjoyed by anyone who passed by. This is why fences were low and why picket fences were so popular and why they still look great.

In Victorian England the amount of space between the street and the sidewalk was determined by the wealth and social standing of the homeowner. What was in that space was important too. A straight tiled path commonly led from the garden gate to the front door. High quality houses might have a flight of wide steps flanked by terracotta urns leading to the front door much like the large country houses of the rich.This is a great idea for our own houses today. Having a wide path and wide steps to the front door always looks so much more elegant that those dinky little concrete sidewalks that are in front of most houses – our own included.Eventually the orientation of the house moved away from the front garden to the back. The more private back garden became important.Although many grew vegetable gardens the back garden became less practical and more concerned with recreation and decorative effects. Amateur flower gardening became a popular pastime. Garden centers, garden books and competitions fuelled the passion for gardening.

A Back Yard Garden

A back yard garden

The popularity of gardening grew in combination with increased home ownership. According to author Helen Long of “The Edwardian House“, a suburban garden contained a “square of grass, one round bed of geraniums, two clipped holly bushes, a mixed evergreen shrubbery, two urns joined by a balustrade fifteen feet long and white rockery on one side”.It’s a real treat to go to England and see the wonderful front gardens in spite of their having almost no room at all to grow anything! Maybe the problem is that we have too much land!Some things I learned from looking at this garden:

  • Use curves as much as you can so you get a feeling of “strolling through the garden”.
  • Have a place where your eyes can “rest” in your garden. This means if you have a lot of plants everywhere plan to have a part of the garden that has nothing – it could be just grass, or some hardscaping, or mulch.
  • Plant lots of the same flowers together for maximum impact. 10 geraniums planted together looks better that those same 10 geraniums planted all over the place one at a time.
  • Have a backdrop that is not all the same height. This means that you have plantings of various heights at the back of your plants. A fence that is the same height everywhere is BORING!

What kinds of things have you learned?

2 responses to “Old House Gardens for the Winter Weary

  1. My Mother was, a Master Gardener, self taught. She spent all winter planning flower beds with graph paper in hand, She planted according to colour, texture, (including foliage) sun and water requirements) and of course paid close attention to height and season, with shorter plants in front, taller in behind…also she considered early, mid and late blooming so that the beds always had some show of colour right into fall and early winter- including trees and shrubberies. There is alot more to planting a garden than just deciding what you like and plunking it in the ground!
    She must have been doing something right, as people often rented our grounds for thier wedding photos.

    I am not the great gardener my mother was. But Im learning. I have an interest in Heritage and period plants, and my efforts are often frustrated by the restrictions imposed by Alberta’s severe climate. Its always a challenge!

    • Beverly: This winter season will be especially challenging this year. I love the look of gardens although I am more comfortable with designing the “rooms” than I am with plants. I admire those people like your Mother who know which plants to use where!

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