Country Gardens

Ilona Erwin

Let the Land Suggest Your Garden Style

A Place in the Country……..finding the Genius Loci of the wide open spaces

Country garden

Country gardens are somewhat different than city gardens. Besides the onslaught of the elements, the broad vistas create a demand on design. The large expanse of sky or wide swathe of trees may swallow up even a group of flowering plants quite large by city standards.

The Less Is More Design Sense

I remember a lesson from an English garden book I read:

A plantswoman had an estate with a broad lawn that sloped down to a stream and had planted a rose garden within it. She remarked how she had toned down the colors, and almost regretted the planting altogether, since it was visually jarring to see the beds of color within the landscape. It is important to situate beds in such a way that they relate to the buildings and surrounding area.

I also grappled with style, since a house’s architecturefits better with some forms of gardening than others. This is personal preference, of course, but I hate to see a desert-like garden with cactus and aloes in Ohio.

So, when I looked at this flat landscape with its old, plain farm house, it seemed as though a few styles presented themselves. A rough interpretation of neat estate plantings (analogous to the French provincial interpretation of Louis XVI), or an English cottage style in contained areas, or a rustic freestyle garden were the choices I looked over.

Many old fashioned gardens were copies of grand estates in detail, if not in grandeur.

old farmhouse in the country

old farmhouse in the county

If Only Thinking

If I had enough free time to keep up the work I would be able to choose the highly gardened estate look, but after several pregnancies a meld of the other two predominated. It eventually took on the rustic and somewhat wild look of a slightly shabby cottage garden.



Too many exotic forms and brightly sophisticated combinations do not fit here in the broad sweep of the plain, anyway. And the house would not fit with too particular a garden. (I do try to fit in whatever flowering trees I can get away with, and using evergreens around the periphery…which isn’t “native”, but looks good to me).


Bloom where you are planted


  • Part-time help, if feasible
  • Mulching landscape beds whenever possible
  • Keep flowerbeds edged
  • Use native plants, or plants suited to your environment
  • Collect rainwater, use xeriscaping methods
  • Use a plan and space out projects and planting
  • Grow from seed whenever possible for more plants and economy


Midwest Garden Tips:

  • Working with nature in a country garden involves the same thing that smaller scale gardening utilizes; just in larger amounts!
  • Besides mapping out the situation of the wind and the sun’s position regarding your garden borders. Knowledge of your soil and its PH are important, simply because it will be difficult to greatly change this.
  • Concentrating on fertilization, humus addition, and delivering proper water should be the primary considerations. what I am talking about here has a label: Xeriscaping.
  • Working with what you have, and blooming where you are planted. Good advice for life in general. I would rather have a gorgeously healthy viburnum than a sickly rhododendron, any day.

country roses

Tackling the Workload

Another need when you have large work areas is proper equipment: heavy duty and equal to the job. This is an investment that many gardeners overlook. High on my wish list is a combination vacuum/shredder, since the large trees can deposit limbs and leaves in back breaking amounts. If you are just beginning to garden I have page of garden tools advice. While one could run a country garden with hand tools, remember that in the past such gardens had many ‘hands’. The modern answer to the limitations of the single handed gardener is ….POWER TOOLS. The words that bring a smile to every man’s face, and women once they’ve tried getting a decent sized vegetable plot ready for the season! If you have more than one acre, with alot of grassed area, a tractor mower is necessary. Our first two years we kept breaking power push mowers, an expensive proposition. A tractor mower became a high priority. Tillers are needed if you have a vegetable garden area, and helpful in flower beds, sometimes. If you have hedges or large bushes, you may consider a motor driven hedge clipper, although I only wanted one when I did other peoples yards. My own gardening is the fuel-free sweat equity type (except for the mowing mentioned).

A Place to Sit

bench under the lilac

bench under the lilac

One of the things I have most enjoyed, in my garden, are the seating areas- which I call (borrowing from Beatrice Potter) “places of repose”. There is a two-seater Andirondack bench under the sheltering branches of a large lilac, and two chairs by the little pond. These places are wonderful for meditation and intimate restful talks. Every garden area needs a nearby perch (a little birdie told me that).


Years Pass By

the update

This was one of the first pages I had written about my garden, when I was still in the midst of raising my large family, trying to homestead on my four acre place, and still had a lot of youth and enthusiasm. I still have the enthusiasm, but the years have changed some of the other conditions of life.

New Tools To Make Life Easier

I traded in the big back tine tiller for a Mantis (because it is an investment I wish I had made much earlier). I stopped the big vegetable gardening for a number of years, but with the “new economy” started it back up again.

Chickens: Eggs, Fertilizer, and Insect Control

I lost my chickens to raccoons a number of years ago, but now I began a small flock is presently.

The garden grows so much better when you have a few chickens (free fertilizer!) and the eggs are incomparable. Not to mention they keep down the numbers of insects!

Collecting Rain

I now believe that rain barrels are very important to have, they conserve water, and make an easy source to fill your watering can. So, those two things, the Mantis tiller and the rain barrel are equipment I think someone on a country place would greatly benefit from.

Country In Transition

We have seen lots of urban encroachment over the years, suffered from county engineers ‘big ideas’, and lost our dog (old age). Of all those, our place has been most lacking from not having our dog. A dog does many unseen guardian acts that fend off deer, raccoons, rabbits, etc. besides being a nice addition to a person’s life.

I miss my old dog. A country place benefits from having a good farm dog resident.

I am more of a slow gardener now, and I believe this country place, and country living, is what has made me so. It has tamed my ambitions, while I have allowed it more of its wildness. A good exchange in all, since my human arrogance needed a bit of taming.

I needed to learn to act in harmony with nature and not believe I could harness it and bend it to my will. A country place teaches one to husband and not domineer.

Things grow. We help good things grow better, and that is satisfying an occupation as any you might attempt to attain.

I end this post with an evocative poem.

The Fruit Garden Path
The path runs straight between the flowering rows,
A moonlit path, hemmed in by beds of bloom,Where phlox and marigolds dispute for room
With tall, red dahlias and the briar rose.


‘T is reckless prodigality which throws
Into the night these wafts of rich perfume

Which sweep across the garden like a plume.

Over the trees a single bright star glows.

Dear garden of my childhood, here my years

Have run away like little grains of sand;

The moments of my life, its hopes and fears

Have all found utterance here, where now I stand;

My eyes ache with the weight of unshed tears,

You are my home, do you not understand?

~Amy Lowell

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.