Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cottage Garden ~~ Best Cottage Plants and Design

Cottage gardening began in England in the early 1800's.  Villagers collected native plants in the wild or sowed seeds and cuttings from neighboring yards.  Upstarts were planted around the front pathway, along fences or hedges, packed in a dense and chaotic beauty.

Flowers became the currency of kindness for those unable to purchase gifts.  If that currency came with roots, the gift became a legacy.

Mid-century folks didn't have time to tend gardens, which often included edible herbs and flowers.  Gardens were expected to be self sufficient. Plants weren't thinned and grew in thick masses, acting as a support, flopping against one another.

Inspiration can occur without warning, in odd places.  (This one in the ladies' room of a nearby greenhouse.)

Design may start with a single idea, object or inspiration.  A friend planned her living room renovation around a small blue porcelain egg, toting it in her handbag to paint stores, furniture showrooms and carpet sellers.

At the local greenhouse, "opening day" typically occurs on a chilly, drizzly April morning, when gardening without a pickax and layer of fleece is difficult to imagine.  The only warm spot in the garden center at that time of year is the water closet.

On the wall of the ladies' lounge hung an inexpensive print of a weathered bench centered in a garden reminiscent of England.  The print wasn't of unusually high quality, which, given its location was to be expected, but there was something about the peaceful scene, and that worn bench, which urged me to reconsider an overgrown and distant portion of the yard.  I snapped a fuzzy picture of the poster.

While I adore British cottage gardens, (and Englishmen) for that matter, I'd never considered planting one of my own.   Must be their "unruly" nature.  (The garden, not the husband.)

Yet, I couldn't shake the nagging inspiration.  Once faced with those spilling blooms in that grainy poster, I was besotted--and obsessed.

I already had the bench.

There's always an abundance of healthy plants in the wrong places--lilacs now overshadowed by extended shade and leafy hydrangea shrubs no longer inclined to bloom. Toss in clumps of lilies, iris, and hosta along with the rest of the usual suspects. 

With proper planning, a root ball precutting would've been ideal, but advance notice is rare in the garden. Thus, we cleared the space--no easy task.  Using an iron pitchfork to loosen the ground, most roots were coaxed out by hand. 

Next, the outline was defined.  The garden hose was too stiff in the cold to offer much assistance.  Historically, cottage gardens follow the outline of a wall, hedge or path.  The chaotic nature of these gardens require a frame.  Ours was a concave boulder wall. 

Loosen the soil and rake smooth.

Cut a botanical edge to limit intrusion by grass and weeds.

The real fun begins with the choice and placement of heirloom flowers.

These classics do best with morning sunlight:
Add structure with shrubbery:
Plant specimen largest to the back, mounding in the front.

Fill in each inch!

To give perennials the opportunity to fill in, for immediate impact intersperse with vintage annuals:

There are no rules.  Add a focal point or two--yet don't overdo.  Outline with a woodchip or crushed gravel path.

Then, take a well-deserved seat. 


Related articles:

How to Create a Natural Edge (for free!)

The Gardens of Downton Abbey -- Plant Your Own English Garden

Vintage Gardens ~~ Spider Plants and Fancy Pants