Thursday, March 5, 2015

Designing Gardens - Cottage Garden

Every spring I start planning my gardens, both real and imaginary.  It helps get me through those last deary weeks of winter and this year they are indeed a bit dreary.   With the temps barely escaping Zero degrees it is hard to think Spring will every come this year.

I thought I would start the design series this year with a cottage garden.  These are not fancy, some see them as almost wild, but they do have a plan.  I will give several plans over a couple of days so check back for several cottage garden ideas.

SW Indiana Master Gardeners cottage garden
Cottage Gardens are a mixture of shrubs, perennials, herbs, flowering annuals and ground covers.  Along with the mixture of plants is the quaint garden ornaments of gates, fountains, bird baths, sundials or sculpture.  A cottage garden is an oasis of plants and the animals and insects they attract.

Here are a couple of shots of a sample cottage garden taken at the Home and Garden Show in Chicago back in 2012.

The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants.

English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylized versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.

The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than their modern descendants with an emphasis on vegetables and herbs, along with some fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers were used to fill any spaces in between. Over time, flowers became more dominant.

The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gate. Flowers common to early cottage gardens included hollyhocks, pansies and delphinium, all three essentially 19th-century flowers. Others were the old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year with rich scents, simple flowers like daisies, and flowering herbs. As time passed they became more elaborate with a  well-tended topiary of traditional form, perhaps a cone-shape in tiers, or an abstract animal shape.  The gardener would also add a sun-dial, crazy paving on paths with thyme in-between the stones, and a rustic seat, generally missing in the earlier cottage gardens.
Thyme between stones in the Rotary Garden In Wisconsin
Modern-day cottage gardens include countless regional and personal variations of the more traditional English cottage garden, and embrace plant materials, such as ornamental grasses or native plants, that were never seen in the rural gardens of cottagers. Informal climbing plants, whether traditional or modern hybrids, are also a common cottage garden plant. Self-sowing annuals and freely spreading perennials continue to find a place in the modern cottage garden, just as they did in the traditional cottager's garden.


A cottage garden says, Come in. Wander. Stay awhile. It's freewheeling, not formal; generous, not stingy. Its abundance may be what you notice first: Vines clamber up porch posts, roses twine across arbors, flowers overflow their beds in the company of herbs and other edibles.

In the next week we will post a couple cottage garden plans.

The bonus for reading to the end of the blog is this link to Landreth Seeds.  One of the oldest seed companies in the U.S. they were instrumental in introducing many varieties of plants to American growers.  Most notably Nasturtiums.

Nasturtiums had become essential to the English Cottage Garden and therefore to the American garden. Both the trailing and the low growing varieties were known, but it was the trailing variety that was the most popular. In the late 1890’s, the Landreths introduced a product designed to appeal to their female customers. They called the product ‘Landreths’ Bon-Bon Boxes’. The ‘Bon-Bon’ boxes were decorated with stunning lithographic illustrations and filled with either 25 packets of Sweet Peas, 25 packets of assorted flower seeds or 14 packets of named variety Nasturtiums.  You can still get a nice variety of Nasturtiums from Landreth Seeds

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