| First a little cottage garden
history. Cottage gardens got their start
in England. The cottage garden of medieval
England was a poor man's garden, where beauty
was incidental to the plot's real purpose:
to feed the cottager's family, while providing
medicine, fabric dye, and scent to hide
musty odors. The small yard was enclosed
to contain animals. In the back yard a beehive
sat under an apple or pear tree, next to
the family privy. Chickens and a pig fattening
in its sty shared table scraps, while contributing
manure to the garden.
No space was wasted along the cottage
walls climbing roses and berry vines rambled.
Herbs and flowers spilled over the straight
path leading to the front door. Here a
bench allowed the cottager to rest amid
the fragrant rose blossoms.
The vegetables that made up cottagers'
staple diet--carrots, onions, leeks, parsnips--might
be grown in neat rows, and cooking herbs,
as in today's gardens, were clustered
by the kitchen door. Otherwise flowers,
fruits and herbs were a jumble of shapes
and colors, most likely plunked into any
available spot as the cottager obtained
cuttings from neighbors or from the nearby
Many of our favorite flowers found their
way into the kettle: marigold leaves in
stew, peony seeds as a condiment, primrose
and Sweet William in wine and flavored
drinks. Lavender freshened linens and
was scattered on the floor with wormwood,
to repel fleas.
Over the centuries, plants from exotic
locales have been welcomed into the cottage
garden. One of the most beloved flowers,
the hollyhock, may have been carried from
the Middle East by returning Crusaders.
Far-flung trading in the seventeenth century
brought tulips from Turkey and a host
of hardy flowers from North America, like
fall-blooming Rudbeckia and Helenium.
Many cottage garden favorites like dame's
rocket made the reverse journey to the
New World, where colonial settlers eased
feelings of homesickness by mixing old
and new plants in their own gardens.
Our romanticized view of the cottage
garden actually dates to Victorian times,
when artists and poets idealized humble
country life in reaction to the harsh
realities of the Industrial Revolution.
is a Cottage Garden?
What do you envision when you hear the
term cottage garden? If you're like most
American gardeners, you probably conjure
up images of thatched-roof stone cottages,
hedgerows and quaint English village life.
If you live in a suburban split-level
bounded by chain-link fence, this fantasy
may seem too remote to attempt.
It can be liberating to consider what
really makes up a cottage garden. Actually,
cottage gardens are mostly small, personal,
individual, eccentric, spontaneous gardens
created by amateurs.
Resourceful gardeners look first to native
plants, which are hardy and appropriate
to the region's style. Does this mean
that a cottage garden in Georgia can contain
native azaleas (rhododendron canescens)
and a pine tree or two? Sure, with the
addition of foxgloves, liatris, gaillardias,
, butterfly weed, and a host of other
cottage garden beauties suitable for the
If you've been growing flowers and vegetables
among the fruit trees and vines, choosing
plants because they're interesting to
you, listen to this: You are already a
cottage gardener! Following basic guidelines
of seasonal bloom and size placement,
you can fill your garden with colorful
flowers and shrubs to please butterflies,
bees, birds, and people. And remember,
no garden is ever truly finished; experiment,
learn from mistakes, and have fun all
along the way.
the Cottage Garden
Basic garden design principles apply to
cottage gardens, but in a more condensed
space. Give your attention to some major
Start with the bones of the garden: the
trees and shrubs. If you have a sprawling
old apple tree or red bud, make it the
focal point of your cottage garden. Ring
it with spring-flowering bulbs and place
a comfortable bench under it.
To disguise an expanse of chain link,
put in a boxwood hedge, flowering vines
like honeysuckle or clematis, or a background
planting of butterfly bush, Reeves spirea,
Viburnum, holly - all perfect cottage
garden choices. Indica azaleas and camellias
work well, too, provided you use softer
shades of flower color. Avoid planting
your shrubs in staright lines. Stagger
everything in the garden as if they bblew
in with the wind and just landed.
Topiary is great for the cottage garden.
Plant your clipped pom-pom at near an
entryway. Run a climbing rose over an
arbor at the back door or at the steps
to a patio or deck.
Traditional cottage gardens feature a
straight path leading to the front door
- or back door. Along this path, the jumble
of flowers and herbs progresses from low
creepers along the path's edge to medium-sized
plants in mid-range to tall shrubs and
flowers along the sides. Truly spectacular
flowers like ten-foot hollyhocks and Confederate
Rose hibiscus are planted against the
house or in recessed corners.
To achieve this progression from short
to tall, start with perennials that will
give structure and interest year-round.
You can't go wrong with herbs; they're
tough, attractive and only need occasional
trimming. Lavender is in keeping with
cottage garden style and looks great spilling
over the path. Spanish lavender ithe variety
we've found to be long-term hardy in zone
8. Woody shrubs like rosemary can occupy
the middle ground, next to blueberry bushes,
and perennial flowers like Malva Zebrina.
Foxglove, butterfly bush, lantanas and
Joe-Pye weed are good background plants
that are also attractive to butterflies.
Spiky plants like iris, red-hot poker
and mid-sized ornamental grasses such
as Maiden grass add interest and structure
to the garden. The plumes and seed heads
of grasses, herbs and flowers can look
Fill in with clumps of annuals like Spiderflower
(cleome), zinnia and marigold.
If you seed annuals directly in the ground,
give them enough space and light to germinate.
You may get some delightful surprises
from self-seeders of last year's garden.
An arbor entwined with a climbing rose
is a classic cottage garden image. Add
a bench, a rustic gate, stone or brick
path, birdbath and flower containers like
window boxes, clay pots, stone troughs
or tubs. Keep it simple, though.
It's important to start
with healthy, rich soil since your plants,
once established, won't be going anywhere.
Ammend soil in the garden with a good
compost ammendment such as Claycutter
or mushroom compost.
When you water do so by hand with a garden
hose, or lay out a soaker hose. Overhead
sprinkling is ineffective and fosters
disease, like mildew on rose leaves and
many other cottage garden plants.
Judicious choice of plants can give you
an almost year-round display without visible
gaps or unsightly dead foliage. Early
bloomers like loropetalums, Tulip Tree
(Japanese magnolia), Yellow Bells (forsythia)
and flowering quince, bring color in late
winter through early spring.
bulbs (crocus, daffodil, and hyacinths)
can be scattered in irregular splashes
throughout the garden.
perennials such as Shasta daisy, Rudbeckia
daisies (Black-eyed Susan), and Blazing
Star (liatris), Pincushion Flower
and Coneflowers are wonderful for summer
color. Extend the show into with fall
flowering perennials such as chrysanthemums,
asters, and Toad Lilies. Shade-loving
perennials such as the hardy ferns,
columbines, heucheras, and hosta lilies
are perfect for those shady spots in the
The reigning cottage garden plant has
to be the rose. Look for the hardier climbing
and shrub roses instead of hybrid tea
roses. A new series of rose gaining tremendously
in popularity is the Knock Out rose -
now available in three colors: cherry
red, pink, and a light blush pink. Also
available spring '06 are two new introductions:
'Carefree Yellow' and 'Home Run' (dark
red with a yellow stamen). Both are similar
in growth habit to Knockout (4' H x 4'W)
and 'Home Run' is equally as tolerant
to leaf spot and more tolerant to powdery
Here's a list of a few plants that are
excellent for planting in your cottage
Centaurea cyanus (cornflower)
Hyssopus officianalis (hyssop)
Lantana - blooms May to frost.
Scabiosa (pincushion flower) - blooms
April to frost.
Allium (ornamental onion)
Antirrhinum majus (snapdragon)
Asclepias (butterfly weed)
Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush)
Chrysanthemum x superbum (Shasta daisy)
Foeniculum (bronze fennel)
Gaillardia x grandiflora (blanketflower)
Liatris (Blazing Star)
Lonicera (red honeysuckle)
Monarda spp. (bee balm)
Salvias / Sages
Santolina spp. (lavender cotton)
Anemone (Japanese anemone)
Chrysanthemum (Fall garden mums)
Echinea purpurea (purple coneflower)
Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan)
Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Keep in mind that this is a short list
of mainly perennials.