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A cottage garden

Orem family has turned their yard into a work of art

Whimsical cottage gardens. Shades of the green, verdant hills of England with a picturesque home surrounded by colorful roses and dazzling perennials. Stroll among them and imagine you are in a garden paradise.

Such a garden creation is a real undertaking in the desert state of Utah. It takes special talents and abilities and an undaunted love of gardening to create and to grow such a masterpiece here.

Enter Karen Robison. Her determination knows no bounds. Problem No. 1 is selecting a site. The river bottoms near the Provo River shaded by hills on the south help reduce the sun and the wind.

Problem No. 2 is an English cottage. Marry a builder named Gene, who will then create an extraordinary Victorian-style home that will look right at home in your garden.

Have a father who is a superb carpenter and who will build some extraordinary accessories. While these options might not be open to everyone, it worked for Karen.

Problem No. 3 is designing, planting and maintaining an English garden. No problem for Robison. She descends from a long line of gardeners, including her mother and grandmother. She is active in garden clubs, USU Master Gardeners and many other garden activities. She studies and has participated in workshops on English gardens. Plus, she loves to garden.

The last part of her résumé is what has really made her garden so interesting. English gardens do not just happen. They are carefully created and grown by determined gardeners.

Unlike the formal, symmetrical gardens of continental Europe, the English gardens have wonderfully relaxing flowing lines.

"We built the home with a Victorian look, and the gardens evolved as a natural style to fit the home," says Robison. "It has all evolved with more and more beds."

English cottage gardens are popular because they have a "natural" feeling. Although they are free flowing, they need planing to create their basic structure and provide continuous blooms throughout the season.

Robison loves her garden rooms complete with the garden accessories or the garden "whimsy" as it is sometimes called. These features take many forms, including an entry or a gate, an arbor or a trellis that has vining clematis or roses climbing on it.

One of her favorite "whimsical" accessories is her aviary. It sits in an area that used to be a small patch of grass. "I saw an antique aviary and fell in love with it. I took my dad to see it, and he built me one. We set it on a brick foundation, and it is a delightful addition to have the birds right out in the garden," she said.

Cottage gardens look best when they have many kinds of flowers grouped together. The famous English borders are awash in perennials of all kinds. They are planted so they are not symmetrical in width or height. However, they are balanced and unified within the bed with the shape of the blooms, leaf size and texture.

Robison confesses that because of her favorite flower she is known as the "delphinium queen." She has a real love for these flowers and grows them by the dozens along with many others. Among her favorite combinations are the roses that she uses as a backdrop for the digitalis or foxglove.

"I use the shady areas for foxglove, lupines, hollyhocks and penstemons. These are all great perennials. I am trying to get my gardens so I have continuous color from perennials all season long. Most of these flowers will come back in August and September if you cut them back. "

Although a true upper crust English gardener would never depend on something so common as annual flowers to add color during the season, Robison confesses she uses many annuals to give her constant color during the heat of the summer.

She is also a self-admitted snob when it comes to color. "I like purples, pinks, blues and lavenders. I use some yellows and a few whites. I never use strong colors like red or orange flowers in my gardens."

This use of color is consistent with good designs for cottage gardens. Select three or four main colors to create continuity within the garden. Using perennial blooms of opposing colors makes stunning contrasts, which are made possible by using many shades (dark varieties) and tints (lighter varieties) of the main colors.

Robison has also created her own "English Secret Garden." The garden is in her words "a wild, tumbled mess" but is in reality a lovely little hideaway off the pathway at the side of her home.

It is surrounded by climbing roses, clematis vines and other flowers that cover a series of arbors. Inside their enclosure is a delightful garden fountain that makes it a peaceful stop on a blistering summer day.

Determination, perseverance and a love of plants are all a part of creating this wonderful garden. An English garden is all about surprise, and Robison's garden is a delightful surprise to visit.


Greenhouse Show is every Saturday

Join Larry Sagers and co-host Don Shafer for the KSL Greenhouse Show on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The topic this week: the pests that plague sweet corn.