Although cottage gardens are often associated with plantings around a rustic cottage, they are appropriate around any home. There is no reason to deny yourself the pleasure and beauty of a cottage garden simply because you do not live in a cottage. The casual appearance of a cottage garden with its riot of colours and textures make this among the most attractive and inviting of any garden designs.
Cottage garden design is not difficult as long as you remember that to capture the spirit of these gardens. You want to be sure to include flowers and plants that have a history of being used in a garden of this type. Also, leave all formality behind and don’t plan every minor detail, part of the charm of a cottage garden is a careless, more naturalistic feeling. Cottage gardens were first used by British peasants to grow their own food and medicine. They would grow their own herbs, fruits and vegetables, ensuring that their gardens were both aesthetically pleasing and practical. A few flowers were added between the vegetables, just because they looked nice, but most of the garden would wind up in the kitchen.
Today’s cottage garden is mostly flowers, but don’t hesitate to include some herbs, especially lavender and thyme. You will probably find that roses will be the backbone of your garden, and rambling and climbing roses will bring your garden right up the walls of your home. Some excellent rambling roses include Paul’s Himalayan Musk, Kiftsgate, Blush Rambler, and Princesse Marie. Trellisses can be used for some of the less adventuresome climbers to add some vertical interest away from the home. Don’t hesitate to add shrub roses, as well, especially fragrant, old rose varieties like Duchess d’Angouleme and Topaz Jewel. I have grown Topaz Jewel for years, and have found it to have one of the most entrancing fragrances possible.
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Both perennials and annuals have a place in the garden design, and such perennials as phlox, lilies, hollyhocks, and cowslip are very appropriate for your garden. You can bring your garden to life in the spring if you plant peonies, tulips, hyacinths, crocus, and lily-of-the-valley. Bear in mind that most perennials will spread over time, so be prepared to thin down the more aggressive spreaders every year or so. You can either replant them in another section of the garden or give them to a gardening friend.
Annuals definitely brighten and cheer up the summer garden, and the multitude of colours and forms will add variety to your cottage garden. Many people who make these gardens enjoy using heirloom annuals to lend more authenticity to the setting. It is nice to think that the flowers such as sweet peas, bachelors buttons, cleome, poppies, and larkspur were all planted lovingly by women centuries ago, and we are still using them in our gardens today. Alyssum is a lovely white annual with the fragrance of honey and will self-seed reliably. This flower will begin to bloom in early summer and continue right up to a hard frost.
The individual gardener will have to decide whether to keep their plantings in more orderly rows or use drifts of one kind of flower to draw the eye into the garden. Your rambling rose on the house wall will provide a great backdrop for a drift, especially if there are a few accent plants scattered through it.
Paths are as an important part of any cottage garden as are the flowers. Do not make your beds between the paths too wide as it will be difficult for you to reach if you need to weed or transplant. Paths will also allow you to more fully appreciate your garden, especially if you have the space to make it fairly large. Wood chips or gravel are favored material for use on the path, but bricks can also blend in quite nicely in the cottage garden.
Always keep in mind that there is no one ‘perfect formula’ for creating cottage garden. Creating the perfect garden is a very personal matter and reflects on the thoughts and dreams of the gardener.