Great Companion Plants For a Cottage Garden: Astrantia

Astrantias at Arley Hall

First, What is a companion plant?

Plant society members often think of their ‘pet’ plants as the stars of any border: flowering perennials, shrubs, trees and climbing plants that are guaranteed to turn heads. Think of peonies, roses, hydrangeas, day lilies, dahlias, delphiniums, hollyhocks, or even topiary as in the picture of Arley Hall, above.

Companion plants are the ones with more of a supportive role. They are chosen to complement the feature plants, contrasting or harmonising with them, in colour, texture or form. I can’t imagine a traditional herbaceous border without companions to fill in the gaps and create a harmonious  tapestry. While companions add to the richness and diversity of the garden, they will not compete too aggressively for the limelight or for resources such as food, water or space. They create a healthier ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects.

Many of my favourite companion plants are long-flowering, allowing the garden to transition seamlessly from one season to another. You might have overlooked every one of the companion plants I’ll be highlighting in this short series of posts, but I believe they’re worth their moment in the spotlight.

Astrantia (masterwort)

Red astrantia

Astrantias are such useful, trouble-free companion plants that you’d be hard pressed to find a major English garden without them. Masses of small umbels are held airily on wiry stems like a profusion of stars, as their Latin name suggests. The intricate, lacey flowers are encircled by papery bracts of varying lengths.  Continue reading

Holehird Gardens: A Peek Inside A Walled Garden

Holehird: Inside the Walled Garden

There are so many excellent reasons to visit the English Lake District, but if you love plants, make Holehird Gardens part of the road taken – you won’t regret it. Holehird is home to The Lakeland Horticultural Society, and has an unusual commercial model. The members tend the gardens themselves, which means that visitors who don’t feel able to pay can be offered free parking and entry, though a donation to help with upkeep is much appreciated.

While there’s much more to Holehird than ‘just’ a walled garden, it’s this that draws me back. I can rarely resist the chance to see flowers tumbling together in a beautiful setting. Weathered brick walls provide shelter, make a backdrop for the plants and support several climbers, including roses and clematis.  Continue reading

Shrub Roses As Companion Plants

Roses at Wollerton Old Hall

To accentuate the beauty of a shrub rose, allow it to mingle with other plants, while indulging its desire to be the star of the show. Companion planting has a practical purpose as well as a creative one. Foliage of other plants can help to cover the bare soil and gnarled branches often found at the base of roses, and any mixed planting always attracts a broader range of beneficial insects, helping to keep the rose healthy. Continue reading