Plant and Let Live
A lush cottage garden is planned around nature’s surprises
Roger Boike relaxes in his yard. Photo Gallery »
SIZE: 7,150 square feet
TYPE: Cottage garden
LOCATION: Michiana Shores
As pleasing as a manicured yard can be, there’s something delightful about an outdoor space with just the right dose of randomness to it. Landscape designer Roger L. Boike, owner of Lakeside, Michigan–based Groundworkes (groundworkes.com), opted for the latter when, ten years ago, he embarked on a plan for a cottage-style garden and backyard at his Michiana Shores, Indiana, home. The result is an inviting blend of distinct areas conceived for particular uses and areas of spontaneous growth, a mix this master gardener fully embraces. “One of my favorite things about a cottage garden is the volunteers—plants that appear naturally from wind and bird droppings,” he says. “I’ve got Siberian iris and juniper trees that I never planted.”
That’s not to say that Boike’s approach is all laissez faire. When faced with the challenge of a wide, shallow backyard behind a ranch house with a non-attached garage on one side (which created dead space between the house and the garage), he did what he tells his clients to do: “Think about what kind of ‘rooms’ you need to be able to do all the things you want.”
Hollyhocks and plume poppies. Flagstone from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, is used for paths and in the koi pond, above—“it’s natural to this climate so it doesn’t cleave or crumble.” Photo Gallery »
Boike needed a dining area, an area for the dogs to play, a meditation area (or perhaps just an excuse to have a koi pond), a place to lounge and read, and a space for a fire pit that, like the four-season porch, could be used year-round. The space between garage and house became a kind of laboratory—a lively, fenced-in courtyard garden where he let nature take its course amidst his carefully spaced perennials.
When he began the project, the rear of the property was exposed to a neighboring house, so he created a privacy wall with evergreens. Most of those trees were already at least ten feet tall when he planted them; now, nine years later, they tower over the property. Between this natural wall and the house he created “rooms” that make up a splendid view from the screened porch. “I can sit back there and see all the different parts of the yard around me,” Boike says.
One of the things he sees is the fire pit, which is delineated by flagstones with creeping thyme planted in the cracks between them. Just beyond the fire pit is a good old-fashioned hammock. Nearby, ground-hugging violets cover much of the space, “filling it with beautiful purple blooms in the spring,” Boike says.
Directly in front of the screened porch is the dogs’ grassy romping grounds, with a mulched dining area overlooking them. (He picked up the funky retro-style chairs at Susan Fredman’s At Home with Nature, in Union Pier.) Continuing the visual arc surrounding the back porch, the koi pond is situated to the right, behind the garage. It’s appointed with a lovely canna plant at its center, a little waterfall, a stone crocodile from Mexico, and a dozen colorful koi, which Boike loves to observe while perched on his built-in bench.
These days, he doesn’t have to work as hard on his garden as he used to. “A cottage-style garden is more maintenance at the start, but after the first couple of years everything is filled in,” he says. He’s not much for annuals, either. “You have to create space for them. And that means that you have to keep other things from taking over that space like they might naturally. I’d much rather see what the garden does itself.”
Photography: Andreas Larsson