The Cottage garden displays a glorious riot of colours, textures, various heights and fragrances. It's beautifully romantic and overflowing with old-fashioned flowers and yet practical with its vegetables and fruits.
I grew up in a tiny Lincolnshire village surrounded by beautiful English counrtyside, most of my memories are of cottage gardens. The enchanting fragrance of lilacs is one that will always stay with me. We had two lilac trees, a purple one in the back garden and a white one in the front. Our garden was brimming with old-fashioned cottage blooms, which mum tended too, whist dad was always busy in his vegetable patch. We had chucks too, little bantams, they laid us plenty of fresh chucky eggs. We had a wonderful neighbour too, he was a bee keeper and would always send round a jar or two of honey for us to enjoy. Long hot summer days in the garden and wonderful English Country Garden Salads , freshly pulled from dads veggie plot for our tea. The good life. : )
Today, my home is a small town house, with a postage stamp plot, in the county of Nottinghamshire - Robin Hood Country. My little garden is my joy and it has taken on a cottagey garden style. My own little haven, right outside my back door.
The cottage garden style can be suitable for any garden; it can be tailored to complement your house, whether old or modern. A cottage garden doesn't demand a huge amount of time. No formal pruning is needed so it is fairly low maintenance, with plants just left to self-sow and tumble over pathways and edges.
A cottage garden uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. The cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. These homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries. A cottage gardener would have had a very small plot of land and every inch of ground available had to produce fruit, vegetables and herbs to ensure family survival. Design didn't come into it - the garden just 'Happened'. Growing edible crops was the objective of cottage gardening and the flowers, with their colours, pollen and fragrance, were used as a lure - their beauty was of secondary importance.
To create a cottage garden style, the best way is to think of your planting as a system of layers. Use trees and shrubs for structure, and hedges to create frameworks, either around the garden as a whole or to define individual borders.
In the English countryside fences, walls and hedges were and still are needed to keep out roaming animals they also have the added benefit of providing privacy too. The fast-growing Elderberry, in addition to creating a hedge, provided berries for food and wine. The wood had many uses too, including toys, pegs, skewers, and fishing poles.
Hedging plants to choose from include evergreens such as holly and yew for all round greenery. Beech retains its dead leaves during winter and looks quite attractive with its coppery tones. Berberis is widely used in garden landscapes because of the attractive foliage and fragrant flowers. The dense thicket of stems growing from ground level make a substantial border shrub as well as an effective hedge, reinforced by its thorniness, which makes it useful for security. Privet is another but much more difficult to deal with needing at least three yearly trims. This is the type of hedge that surrounded our country property, which dad would always cut by hand with hedging shears. He said he prefered the finsh that hand cutting gave, rather then the hedge being 'hacked' to pieces with one of a noisey machine efforts. Dad was old-fashioned in his ways. : )
Every cottage garden is unique to its gardener, but all have a few things in common. Cottage gardens, though usually small, are jam-packed with a mixture of planting materials such as Perennials, annuals, herbs, shrubs, vines and bulbs, also edibles tucked in among or alongside the flowers.
As you choose plants for the garden, include some that have scented foliage or flowers, as fragrance is a traditional part of a cottage garden. Its also important to choose flowers that bloom at different times of the year for a continious display. Be sure to include Evergreens for year round colour too, these form the basic 'bones' of your cottage garden. Perennials weave the thread of reliability and beauty in the cottage garden, they are the framework, while annuals, biennials, bulbs and other temporary plants, are the fillers in your English cottage garden design.
Climbing plants found in the traditional cottage garden included Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) commonly called woodbine, its treasured for its strong perfume. I grow this up my wooden lattices in my garden, and indeed the fragrance is glorious! Another traditional climber is Clematis Vitalba, otherwise known as 'Oldmans beard' or 'Travellers joy' which is a wild growing type that has hundreds of blooms followed by fluffy white seedheads. Plant it at the base of an established hedge and let it scramble through it. Expect the flowers to be visited by bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Birds such as Goldfinch and Greenfinch feed on the seedheads but many more birds may use it to nest in and take the fluffy seedheads for nesting material.
Many vegetables have ornamental appeal as well as food value. The rhubarb plant has bold ornamental texture and size. Rhubarb makes a showy planting in the perennial border. Rhubarb leaves, while pretty, are poisonous. The stalks are edible. Grow some quintessentially English Rhubarb and you can keep youself in crumbles for years!
When choosing ornamental climbers to fill a space quickly don't overlook vegetables. Runner beans were originally grown not for food but for their showy scarlet red flowers. The pods are edible, just make sure you cook the beans first, you shouldn't eat them raw. Harvested regularly, the plants will continue to flower for most of the growing season. The 1855 variety 'Painted Lady' is still available. Squash, gourds, pumpkins and cucumbers have lush foliage and showy blossoms, as well as interestingly shaped fruit. Many edible squash grow too large and heavy to climb successfully, but with proper support some of the smaller types can be grown to great effect as climbers. Try the bright orange'Jack-be-little', the yellow patty pan squash 'Sunburst' and the curious, bell-ended courgette 'Tromboncino'.
Leafy vegetables provide colour as well as ornamentation, tuck in some frilly salad-bowl lettuces, curly parsley and red-stemmed 'Ruby' chard or 'Bright Lights', the most ornamental of swiss chards, perfect for the flower border for their colourful stems and leaves. While most folk grow beets for the edible root, the tops are also edible and can be quite ornamental, ‘Bull’s Blood’ is an old variety, dating back to before 1900 is renowned for its decorative, edible, reddish-purple foliage. Remember to include a few flowers such as French marigolds (tagetes) to repel pests that may attack your crops. Their strong scent is thought to mask the smell of surrounding crops so the pests cannot detect them. Planting Nasturtiums in your vegetable garden is an organic and easy way to keep the aphids off your other vegetables while adding a bright splash of colour to your garden. Nasturtiums are very versatile they'll creep through your beds and borders to fill any unsightly gaps, climb a trellis to brighten up walls and fences, and you can even put them in your salad! More on Edible flowers. Nasturtium 'Empress of India' is an old heirloom variety with leaves as lovely as the flowers. Stunning Scarlet red blooms surround the plant.
Chicory is an old country garden plant, it was once known as Shepherd's clock because it was possible to estimate the time of day due to the fact that its flowers close at noon. The pale blue flowers of Chicory attract many insects and butterflies. Chives look quite beautiful on their own or planted as short hedges to edge paths or vegetable beds, they will help to repel carrot flies among other damaging insects. Borage is extremely attractive to honeybees, but also attracts many other insects, including bumblebees and butterflies. It's also a good companion for strawberries and vine crops.
Wigwams, obelisks, and arches add interest and beauty to the garden. Old troughs and buckets have a second life as planters. Grow your herbs, salads and strawberries in them and position them close to the kitchen door. Grow a wigwam of runner beans in the border or over an arch that spans the path - this makes them nice and easy to pick.
Fruit in the traditional cottage garden included an apple and a pear tree - good for cider. : ) Plum, damson, mulberry or quince. Also gooseberries bushes and raspberry canes. I love goosegogs! I remember as a little girl I would pick them from the bushes in our garden, then sit and 'top and tail' them before they go into a delicious goosegog pie!
Cottage garden plants are chosen for their old-fashioned and informal appeal. Many modern day gardeners use heirloom or 'old-fashioned' plants and varieties. Here is just a few of many cottage garden favourites.
Roses ~ Roses and cottage gardens are a natural combination. Whether they be old-fashioned shrub Roses, ramblers or climbers, or a modern hybrid tea rose, your cottage garden must include roses. They are a classic ingredient and important source of fragrant flowers. They add romance to your cottage garden as well as covering unsightly walls. Climbing roses look great trained over a door or archway. Those with large and colourful rose hips will bring additional interest to the garden in Autumn after the flowers are gone.
Cornflowers ~ the brilliant blue of the cornflower is probably the most eye catching flower a cottage garden can have. Much loved by butterflies and bees.
Delphiniums ~ are one of the classic flowers of the cottage garden. Their tall upright spikes laden with intensely-coloured flowers are a feature of herbaceous borders, where they are best grown near the back to add height and drama.
Columbine ~ Aquilegia or granny's bonnets, are a early bloom that has that old fashioned charm. Nodding flowers with long spurs are held aloft attractive foliage on tall wiry stems. Reliable and easy to grow, these classic perennials are perfect for traditional borders. Aquilegia flowers make an adorable cut flower for indoor displays too.
Astrantia ~ this old-fashioned, cottage garden classic and member of the Apiaceae family, has acquired many colourful country names - Melancholy gentleman, Masterwort and Hattie’s pincushion. One of the stars of the herbaceous border! These lovely perennials bring an exotic grace to the border with their palm-shaped leaves and highly attractive blooms. The name Astrantia comes from the Greek word for star – when you look closely at the flower you can see why, as it looks like an explosion of little stars. They make excellent cut flowers.
Sweet pea ~ the scent from sweet peas are divine. Let them scramble up wigwams and obelisks. By the end of the 19th century some 300 cultivars of sweet pea were available, with breeders still producing new varieties all the time. There was a time when the breeders of sweet peas concentrated on size, colour and vigour at the expense of the scent, but many of the old varieties are now popular again. The flowers may be smaller but their scent is powerful! Grow the single varieties that are known to be highly scented or look out for 'Old-fashioned' and 'Heirloom' mixtures.
Lupins ~ are well loved cottage garden perennial. Stunning display of torch-shaped blooms that softly sway in the breeze. My favourites!
Peony ~ are some of the most romantic plants. They not only look great, but they bear a wonderful fragrance too. Peonies create a mass of glossy green foliage with huge flowers. Peonies grow in most soils but do not like to be too wet.
Marigolds ~ date back to before Victorian times. The plant is good used in companion planting for many vegetable crops. There are numerous marigold varieties available. Many of the commonly grown marigolds are varieties of African and French marigolds. Used mainly as an edging plant on herbaceous borders.
Lavender ~ beautiful ornamental herb, lavender bears fragrant foliage and flowers. The blooms typically appear in shades of violet and white. loved by bees! A few lavender plants amongst the roses not only make a wonderful companions, they can also help keep aphids at bay.
Hollyhock ~ among the tallest of perennials. As hollyhocks grow to a great height and are often exposed to the full force of the wind it is best to provide strong stakes as support. They bloom in a wide range of shades from nearly black to red, purple, yellow, and white.
Sunflowers ~ (Helianthus annuus) is a member of the Asteraceae plant family. Sunflowers are an annual plant and so easy to grow too. They give height as well as a splash of bright colour to the garden. They do need full sunlight and the Taller varieties need to be staked to prevent them from toppling over during gusty winds.
Foxgloves ~ or Fairy Thimbles as I call them, are perfect for a cottage garden. This reliable bell-shaped flower will add height and grace the borders beautifully.
Pinks ~ classic cottage favourites that have been known in gardens for some five centuries. They are also edible too. Pinks are a species of the genus Dianthus, which contains approximately 300 other species, among them Carnations and Sweet Williams. The word Dianthus comes from the Greek language and means ‘God’s flower’. Dianthus 'Mrs Sinkins' is the classic old-fashioned perennial pink. Dating from the 1870s.
Hydrangeas ~ wonderfully old-fashioned, they produce large clusters of pink, blue, or white flowers in early summer. The flowerheads of hydrangea are also a popular choice for dried flower arrangements.
Canterbury Bells ~ this dramatic, tall plant is an excellent backdrop for your shorter annuals and perennials. Flower colours include purple, violet, blue, lavender, pink and white. Spring to early summer bloomer. Also works very well as a cut flower too.
Verbena ~ are old-fashioned flowers. Verbena produce large, brilliant blooms in shades of deep violet, lavender, red, pink, cream and white. Verbena looks great in flower beds, window boxes, and containers.
Wallflowers ~ provides a wonderful show of early spring colour including gold, cream, pink, purple and rust. Perfect for beds and borders. The lovely fragrance is best enjoyed if planted near to the house or in containers.
Pansies ~ a firm favourite to provide colour to basket's containers and the front of borders. I often call them smiley faces. The pansy is a delicate looking flower often with a 'face' which seems to nod forward as if in deep thought. They are delightful flowers.
Phlox ~ is ideal for attracting wildlife and maintaining that cottage garden charm. Phlox are low maintanence and beautifully scented. Phlox is a Greek word meaning ‘flame’ and was most likely named thusly due to its bright and vivid colours.
Buddliea ~ attract bees and butterflies into your garden with this tough shrub. Buddliea is available in a brilliant mixture of vibrant colours.
Alliums ~ literally throw some bulbs into the mix, naturalising your bulbs is the best way to get that informal cottage garden feel. Alliums are beautiful architectural plants, perfect for added structure.
Features in the cottage garden should be choosen thoughtfully. Go for traditional, rustic styles for your cottage garden. Anything weathered, antique, reclaimed or recycled would be ideal.
To create the characteristics of an old-fashioned English country garden here are a few ideas..
Walls ~ English cottage gardens with stone walls look beautiful. This type of wall is very expensive but lasts the longest. Old stone walls are great for growing flowers into. Echo the style of your home if you can, by using stone, slate, or traditional brick.
Edging ~ Use wooden boards or old bricks set into the ground at an angle.
Fencing ~ use post-and-rail fencing, or wattle hurdles to create boundaries.
Paths ~ the cottage garden pathway is one of the most charming things about a cottage garden. You will need to decide if the path will lead straight to the front door or will it meander through the garden a little. You can make a cottage garden pathway out of gravel, brick, wood and stone. Gravel is good for winding pathways, you can just pour it into those difficult to reach spots. I quite like the crunchy sound it makes when you walk on it too.
Rustic ornaments ~ add timeless beauty to your cottage garden and include stone troughs, cast iron water pumps, wheelbarrows, old milk churns and old farming implements. Metal watering cans, old gardening tools, maybe an old cart wheel, weathervanes and sundials, benches, arches, fountains, and also obelisks.
Pots ~ terracotta pots are popular and work best with the cottage garden. They can be added to frame a door or entryway or just add a focal point. Hanging baskets are new to the cottage garden but work well with cottage flowers tumbling over. Old pipes used for drainage, chimney pots, recycled earthenware and old pails and watering cans, can also be used as flower pots for an authentic look to the cottage garden.
Attracting wildlife ~ bird baths, feeders, and fruit trees bring in the birds. Natural water features will also turn your cottage garden into a wildlife haven. A bee hive would also be welcome addition to the garden.
Shed / Outbuidings ~ the traditional English cottage garden plan would have had a simple shelter for storing the fire logs and outbuildings for livestock - chicken coop or pig sty.