Grow an English cottage garden, the old gardener will show you how.

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Questions about cottage gardens

  • Is a cottage garden high maintenance?    
  • What's the difference between a cottage garden and an ordinary one?        
  • Do I have to live in a cottage to have a cottage garden ?    
  • Can I plant vegetables and flowers together? 
  • Do traditional cottage garden plants need a lot of maintenance?
  • Do I need a formal cottage garden design?
cottage gardening
cottage gardening

Planning the layout of an English cottage garden.

To keep this article as short as I can I have included links to my other pages (not to annoying adverts) giving a bit more detail 


Tips to plan, plant and grow an English cottage garden

  

 Do I have to live in a cottage to have a cottage garden? 

You don't need the thatched chocolate box house on the the village green in John Nettles Midsummer murders.   A cottage landscape blends beautifully with most smaller houses, bungalows and sheltered housing schemes, you just need a bit of imagination, creativity and the right plants in the right places.

 

Will I need a cottage garden design? 

At first sight Cottage gardeners seem to break all the usual rules of landscape gardening with lots of colour and interest crammed into small spaces. 

Some Landscape gardening writers and garden designers will tell you the old cottage gardens had no formality, no design or planting plan. However some formality was essential because cottage folk depended on the garden for almost everything they ate, sold and shared. 

Times have changed and most of us are not dependent on our cottage garden produce these days, but to fully enjoy our garden we still need to plan in the paved seating areas, pathways along the borders and through the kitchen garden and vegetable patch. It's mostly common sense, it's easier and safer, especially as we get older to walk from the herb garden to the pond using a solid pathway rather than walking over wet grass.  

In most cases you wont need a formal and expensive garden design. A good cottage garden landscape gardener will run through your ideas and budget with you and suggest the best materials for and positioning off the hard landscaping to make the most of the space available. 

However, behind the apparent random profusion of size and colour, herbaceous plants, bedding plants, fruit and vegetables, the best and most enjoyed cottage gardens do have a carefully thought out hard landscaping structure and planting plan.

 

A few Ideas for the hard landscaping, structure and planting plan.

The front garden should be welcoming, maybe framing the house with small flowering trees on each side, and grow a rambling rose or honeysuckle around the front door.

The Boundaries.

Plant a hedge, build dry stonewalls or fit picket fence around the garden boundaries with a path leading from the gate to the front door.

The garden path could be built using reclaimed brick with chamomile growing between the cracks.

The back garden, separate areas of the cottage garden can be divided with paths and trellis, using  runner beans as climbers and planted with fruit vegetables and don't forget the herb garden sited near to the kitchen door. Be careful planting ivy, it quickly gets out of control. If you do have a problem with ivy, this may help. How to clear Ivy 

For narrow borders, climbers and tall plants are planted toward the back, with low-growing plants at the front. In the wide borders a mixture of heights works. Hollyhocks and other tall plants look good growing near walls and fences. 

Scented flowers should be grown around garden benches and windows for their fragrance.

Plant for the seasons, snowdrops and crocuses for the spring, anemone and daisy for the autumn. Brighten up dark winter days with the fiery-coloured rose-hips of old roses, and Christmas rose.

Fill gaps by sowing Snapdragons, Poppies and Cornflowers. Try not to include modern hybrids and double flowers they are not traditional cottage garden plants and offer wildlife nothing at all.  

 

Is a cottage garden high maintenance? 

A lot of us are put off  cottage gardening because of the misconception that it is high maintenance. If you don't mind the occasional bit of weeding, cutting scented flowers and pulling fresh carrots, a cottage garden need not be high maintenance, in fact if you follow the various tips on my website, like no dig gardening and companion planting it can be low maintenance. I have included links to basic gardening tips at the bottom of this page. 

Our traditional cottage garden plants won't need much care. Old-fashioned roses do not need pruning, just tidying up each year. Self-seeding perennials and herbaceous flowers just need thinning out or dividing in springtime. If clay soil is a problem my article may help Improving clay soil.

 

What's the difference between a cottage garden and an ordinary one?

It's partly in the design and build, choice and sourcing of materials, reclaimed brick for pathways and retaining walls and the use of natural flagstones for the paved areas used for placing tables and chairs for entertaining, somehow concrete slabs seem out of place in a cottage garden setting. 

Another difference is in the planting, we try to encourage using English herbaceous plants, trees and shrubs, trying not to include modern hybrids and double flowers they are not traditional cottage garden plants and offer wildlife nothing at all. 

 

Do I need a large garden?

The answer is no. A cottage garden blends happily and naturally with most smaller houses and bungalows. It's charm is its random groupings of colour and texture, not its size (for once size does not matter) .

 

This is the Wikipedia definition of the word cottage.

A cottage is, typically, a small house. It may carry the connotation of being an old or old-fashioned building. In modern usage, a cottage is usually a modest, often cosy dwelling, typically in a rural or semi-rural location.

The word comes from the architecture of England, where it originally referred to a house with ground floor living space and an upper floor of one or more bedrooms fitting under the eaves. In British English the term now denotes a small dwelling of traditional build, although it can also be applied to modern construction designed to resemble traditional houses ("mock cottages"). Cottages may be detached houses, or terraced, such as those built to house workers in mining villages. The tied accommodation provided to farm workers was usually a cottage, see cottage garden. Peasant farmers were once known as cotters.

 

Even the smallest garden can be transformed into a sea of colour and scent, (most cottage gardens were small anyway) and you won't need the thatched, chocolate box house, on the edge of the village green in John Nettles Midsummer Murders, (Dodgy place to live anyway).

 

Herbaceous borders are an informal mix of old fashioned  Foxgloves,  Lupins, Delphiniums, Hollyhocks, Pinks, Lavenders and many more.  It  looks and smells good so to get full benefit it is best planned to border the patio or pathway, it attracts birds and butterflies and is low maintenance as most plants are perennials or self seeding.

 

Wherever possible choose plants that offer nectar and pollen like the old cottage plants because they attract bees and butterflies. Modern hybrids and double flowers are not traditional cottage garden plants and offer wildlife nothing at all. 

 

With a bit of planning of the layout of your cottage garden, even the smallest border or garden can be transformed into a sea of colour and scent.

 

Can I plant vegetables and flowers together? 

The cottagers often planted vegetables and flowers together making more efficient use of their small gardens. Flowering herbs like thyme and rosemary, and unusual salad plants like curly endive and red lettuce, add scent and texture to flower borders.

 

We can help with the layout plans, provide planting plans and landscape your cottage garden for you using sustainable materials and wildlife friendly plants.

We can source almost any type of cottage garden paving from flagstones through to reclaimed bricks and cobbles. 

 

Design and build quotes for Cottage landscaping are free in North Somerset, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Bristol, Weston super mare, Bradley Stoke, Bath, Yeovil, Taunton, Wells, Highbridge, Burnham on sea, Portishead, Clevedon, Nailsea, Yatton, Wells, Yeovil and Bridgwater area.

 

I am a traditional landscape gardener working mainly in Somerset. I design and build  gardens and  ponds that look good and provide habitat for wildlife using  cottage garden flowers, wild flowers and herbs .  Modern hybrid flowers  [most bedding]  do not produce nectar or scent  to attract and  support butterflies and honeybees in your garden.  

 

Remember walking on a chamomile lawn, the scent of wild watermint on a summer evening, birds and butterflies in your garden frogs and newts in your pond. Do it, grow old fashioned, grow a cottage garden, or at the very least a Herbaceous border.

An old cottage gardeners tales

Once upon a time along time ago.....

 Cottage gardeners grew herbs in their kitchen garden to treat common ailments,  fresh organic fruit and veg for the kitchen and crops to feed the chickens that provided the cottagers family with fresh eggs.  Cottage garden and wild flowers  seeded themselves everywhere, decoration and air fresheners for the cottage......

Picture of The old cottage gardener
The old cottage gardener

 

......Pathways were laid between the planting areas, widening now and then for wooden or Bristol or Welsh Pennant stone seats and benches  placed to rest and take in the colour, feel the textures and smell the scented flowers (natures antidepressants) in the air, relieving the day to day stresses of life.  Terra-cotta pots, old metal pails and watering cans  were sometimes left to rust away around the garden. Today we buy them ready aged!

 

Some Landscape gardening writers and designers will tell you cottage landscaping had no formality, no design or planting plan. 

The ones I played in, explored and eventually gardened did.  Paved areas to sit, pathways through the kitchen garden, fruit and vegetable plots leading on to the chicken run, duck pond and the pig sty.

 

Even the compost heap and the ash hill were carefully sited between two very productive plum trees.  Some formality was essential because cottage folk depended on the garden for almost everything they ate, sold and shared. A Somerset landscape gardener even older than I am, once said to me "They weren't second omes in them days, were em me old butt"  

 

Today's cottage landscaping need some structure too, pathways between the flowerbeds, herbs growing close to the kitchen door or in pots and tubs, close at hand for cooking and medicine. Some herbs will be planted in the vegetable patch as  companion planting to combat pests, with paved seating areas to sit, relax and enjoy the garden from.

It will be full of colour, textures and scent. Herbaceous plants are planted wherever there is a space and left to self seed to shut out weeds.   Hollyhocks and other tall plants look good growing near walls and fences - but also  plant them anywhere in your borders not just at the back of the border. Fill gaps by sowing Snapdragons, Poppies and Cornflowers trying not to include modern hybrids and double flowers they are not traditional cottage plants and offer wildlife nothing at all.

 

In late Autumn leave the seed spikes for the birds to eat the seeds and for the plants to self-seed. The taller spikes still add lovely autumn browns and orange colours to your borders, they also sparkle on a frosty morning and will eventually be taken down into the soil by worms, providing food for next seasons.   Filling every little gap and leaving nature to do the rest will mean very little maintenance and weeding.

 

What I suppose I am saying is this.  Don't be afraid to pre-plan your cottage landscaping. It will look better for it. Have a planting plan that fills every gap with flowers, have a kitchen garden planting plan full of herbs, fruit and vegetables. Have pathways leading to paved sitting areas. Good planning and structure won't look formal.  It will be a landscape you, your guests, your family and our wildlife will feel comfortable in. Just like the real cottagers did,  Once upon a time along time ago

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