You don’t have to be planning any big gestures this summer to justify adding a little romance to your garden. The magnificent tradition of the Romantic Garden dates back to the 18th century and glimpses of its influence can be seen everywhere from Rome’s achingly lovely Villa Borghese to Munich’s ‘English Garden’ and more intimate aspects of Versailles. The style has nothing to do with pledging truths or declaring undying love and everything to do with creating an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace where beauty’s essential, views are framed like paintings, planting appeals to the senses and time spent in serene contemplation is time well spent. If it just so happens to lead to a romantic encounter, wonderful, but incidental. So if you don’t spend enough time smelling the roses, taking moonlit walks or watching the sun rise over your blossom filled patio, here are a few ways to easily change all that this summer.
Create an inspiring view
The great romantics were more than a little fond of finding the muse in nature. If you don’t have days to spare on that quest, the alternative is to design an enchanting garden view to inspire you anytime. If you have a pretty tree, think about putting a small garden bench against the trunk, arranging different sized pots of fast-growing, trailing annuals around it and making a delightful picture from a distance and a shady retreat, close up.
Shine by the light of the moon
Take a look at your garden at night and plant some ethereal romance where the moon shines most. Drifts of Shasta Daisies look gorgeous and cottage garden by day and magical under the moon. Silver foliage plants like Lamb’s Ears, Wormwood and Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ are stunningly bright in the evening but a perfect quiet moment in a summer flower bed when the sun’s out. ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ lavender grows in big, spellbinding mounds of silver. And you can add scent and drama with night-blooming exotics like Casablanca Lily, Night Gladiolus, Night-Scented Stock and Moon Flowers.
Transform your patio into a ‘Romantic Terrace’
Reinventing your patio as a romantic terrace doesn’t take much more than a little imagination. Tall wigwams of cherry tomatoes and runner beans (heart-shaped leaves, very appropriate) grow well in large pots and make a lovely frame for folding patio doors. Fill spaces with herb plants for texture and scent. Sage, chives, mint, lemon balm and curly leafed parsley look even more romantic in old, distressed pots (great way to re-use chipped and cracked terracotta). A simple pergola can be transformed with a net of fairy lights. Candles in storm lanterns or tea lights in ordinary glass jars look lovely round the edge of the patio in the evening. And, with a few large cushions, a basic garden chair or bench becomes instantly romantic.
Don’t be too tidy
No true romantic has time to be constantly weeding, pruning and edging, so naturally the romantic garden can afford to be a little wild in places. You don’t have to down tools completely, but letting plants grow a little along a garden path prettily softens the edges. Hollyhocks and Delphiniums are more ‘cottage garden’ than romantic garden but they’re wonderful against walls and less of a commitment than climbers. Plant ground cover to give a lush, calm to flower beds if they feel too formal. And spot plant stately bulbs like Allium to add some fast interest in boring areas.
Put romance in the shade
The original 18th-century romantic gardens weren’t complete without at least one shady spot to dream away an afternoon. Hostas have a bit of a reputation for being the last refuge of the sun-poor gardener but don’t be too quick to dismiss these big, glorious, leafy specimens. The giant glaucous blue varieties are stunning, easy to grow and spread beautifully even in the shade. Intersperse them with tall ferns to create a woodland effect in the smallest space. One word of warning: slugs are not romantic but they love hostas, so you might want to hide a beer trap in your shady glade.
Statuary, urns and even miniature temples were all beloved by the traditional romantic gardeners. But before you head off to the garden centre, think about flea market finds first. A large, distressed terracotta pot planted with trailing pink and white flowers can be just as dramatic as expensive planters. Old, framed mirrors tucked into flower beds double the size of planting and look stunning. A collection of smooth pebbles or stones arranged prettily on the patio add an element of Zen romance. And if you must have statuary, think about small, inexpensive classic columns trailed with ivy instead of overpriced concrete nymphs.
Now you have the basics, you can release your imagination. But whatever you do, don’t forget to make time this summer to enjoy your romantic creation.