The cottage garden usually brings to mind the cottages of England with the thatched roofs surrounded by gorgeous blooms in all shapes and sizes. We think of a free flowing style that isn’t shy where color is concerned. It is a country garden with a somewhat haphazard style.
The cottage gardens began from a simple need to grow useful vegetables, fruits and herbs on a small plot of land. Often this was the only space available for gardening. This land was just outside the door of the quaint English home. This image in our minds is the epitome of a country cottage garden.
The late 1800s saw the love for cottage gardens growing in America. As there became more towns and cities, people brought their love of the cottage garden with them to the towns. In the early days of cottage gardens, this small space for gardening was a necessity no matter the country.
A place to purchase any fresh produce may have been miles away or nonexistent. Out of this need grew a well-loved cottage garden design. Edibles were grown as a necessity. Herbs were grown in a cottage garden mainly for medicinal purposes and sometimes for culinary reasons. Beautiful flowers and ornamentals were added almost as an after thought.
Beside the need to have edible, useful and beautiful things in the cottage garden, the general attitude was to plant in abundance and close together. This simple method of planting helped to deter weed growth. Flowers were also allowed to reseed and plants could sprawl wherever they wished. Nature gets to have fun in a cottage garden.
One of the wonderful aspects of an original cottage garden is really its absence of design. A cottage garden from earlier centuries was overflowing to fulfill needs more than for aesthetics. Even so, it’s hard to dispute the beauty of a cottage garden. The cottage garden style is a jumbled mix of unplanned and almost unrestrained beauty filled with color, fragrance and a touch of romance.
Many gardeners want to recreate that informal feel of the cottage garden that remains popular today. Avoid planting in straight lines or defined patterns as these would feel too formal. The planting areas should be curvy and free flowing, as well as any pathways. Plants should be allowed to cascade and mingle together. The key to a beautiful cottage garden is variety and layering of plant material. This free-flow style of garden needs tall spires, mounding drifts, low creeping ground covers and climbers.
A cottage garden also needs plenty of old- fashioned flowers. These flowers should include the kinds that our grandmothers or great grandmothers grew in their gardens. A cottage garden can have every color all mixed together and it only adds to the charm. Some examples of flowers to grow are bachelors’ buttons, columbines, cosmos, cone flowers, cottage pinks (Dianthus), daisies, delphiniums, foxgloves, hollyhocks, snapdragons and zinnias.
Climbing roses, clematis, honeysuckle vines and nasturtiums are good examples of flowers that can climb arbors or trellises in a cottage garden. Other wonderful examples of flowers that have old-fashioned and have romantic appeal are lavender, lilac, hydrangea, peonies, phlox, roses, and stock. These also have the added benefit of fragrance.
There are really no rules when it comes to flowers in a cottage garden. Perhaps the only rule for flowers should be anything goes. If there is a flower you love, it will work in this free style country garden. If you are going to grow herbs or vegetables anyway, there is no reason they can’t be placed among the flowers just as they were centuries ago.
There is always a place for some old pieces with character in the cottage garden. If you like putting accessories in the garden, vintage pieces can be romantic. They can also be very inexpensive and easily found at flea markets or garage sales. Distressed items will look right at home in a cottage garden. A distressed metal watering can, a weathered wheel barrow and moss covered concrete statues or pots would add that cottage charm.
Cottage gardens often have structures in them such as arbors, fences and trellises. Weathered wood or even iron are good material choices. The same concept is true for paths or sitting areas. Stone pavers, old bricks or wood chips would be better choices than new concrete.
If your garden is going to include a place to sit, informal and earthy will be better than shiny and contemporary. Wicker, wood and metal that don’t scream modern are more appropriate in a cottage garden. A rustic garden bench would be ideal place to take in the surrounding beauty.
The furniture settings can even be mismatched for more added charm, the more informal the better. Remember, everything about a cottage garden is eclectic. The most important thing to remember to do with the cottage garden is to have fun with it. It should be filled with the flowers you enjoy and the things that make you smile.