Early cottage gardens met the needs of their inhabitants – bursting with vegetables, herbs, fruit and livestock, flowers filled the gaps and were intended for medicinal or culinary use. Over time flowers have become predominant in cottage garden design, with climbing scented roses and honeysuckle, simple daisies, pinks and self sown annuals packed in the English cottage garden has come to be dominated by colour and scent at its peak in summer.
Originating in Medeival times cottage gardens have moved from survival towards the aesthetic. It wasn’t really until the mid 19th century with the emergence of leisure and the importing of specimens from round the globe that the” fashion” for cottage gardens was idealised and taken on by the middle classes and garden designers/landscapers alike.
Gardeners and designers from Gertrude Jekyll, William Morris and Vita Sackville-West to name a few were proponents of the development of an idealised natural country garden style – the English cottage garden – where the old fashioned became fashionable.
Essential elements of a cottage garden are that the overall look appears artless and yet as with any garden design there is a basic form of paths, borders and walls beneath the unstudied look of flowers, herbs and vegetables jostling for space; where seemingly every inch is used for planting and the plants themselves are as abundant in their rich variety as they are in colour.
Traditionally English cottage gardens are packed with violets, primroses and calendula, sweet williams, bobbing alliums, hollyhocks, carnations, sweet scented lavender, dancing verbena, marigolds, daisies, jostling with salvia, lilies, foxgloves, roses, honeysuckle, clematis clamber, arch and trail, fruit trees blossom and herbs of rosemary and thyme nestle in amongst self seeded annuals of lobelia.
There are no rules, no must haves and don’t dos, the cottage garden is for plantsmen and women to simply enjoy and tend their plot of land. The overall look is casual, yet the look belies the maintenance, planning and timings of a passionate and experienced gardener. A cottage garden smacks of abundance, exuberance and bursts with life; so that in the full summer blaze a cottage garden glows and hums with a glory of its own.
A Sussex Cottage Garden
No matter how much I enjoy seeing, being in or tending an English Cottage Garden, I rarely find peace or tranquility there – my mind never truly settles, like the bees it’s is in a constant flux and buzz, rarely settling on one plant for long – moving along and drinking them in. So by the time I head for home and to my own garden I’m invariably exhausted, thrilled and experiencing a sensory overload. The chaos and clamour for attention that the plants exude tires me out.
And as I reach home from a house and garden sitting weekend I breathe my sea air, hear the gulls and wander around my own walled garden. I drink in the night air, slowly relaxing, running over the ideas and inspirations I can bring home and finally settling on the back doorstep to revel in the tranquility of home.
But who am I kidding? My urban garden may be green and have ferny dells but it has it’s moments of teeming chaos with bright and breezy dahlias, where showy cannas pop, heleniums fizz, rudbekias glow, sweet peas clamber and echinacea sparkle. So no matter my influences and desires of modernist green orderly simplicity I have a 21st century cottage garden after all! where nothing is too serious or precious and everything is special.
The photos for today’s blog were taken last year in my friends Sussex cottage garden and as I plan what to sow and grow this year in the garden I wonder how a cottage garden makes you feel, on what emotional level does it touch you, if at all whether you live in the heart of a town or a teeny village?