This is the wikipedia description of the English cottage garden style:
The cottage garden is a distinct style that uses informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, it depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back centuries, but their stylized reinvention occurred in 1870s England, as a reaction to the more structured, rigorously maintained estate gardens with their formal designs and mass plantings of greenhouse annuals.
No you don't. Nice if you do, but no you don't have to live in the thatched "chocolate box" house on the village green in John Nettles Midsomer. 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.
No you won't need a formal garden design.......... However, although some Landscape gardening writers tell us that the old cottage gardens had no formality, no design or planting plan (and at first sight Cottage gardeners seem to break all the usual rules with lots of colour and interest crammed haphazardly into small spaces), to recreate a traditional cottage garden and be as authentic as possible, some formal planning will be essential because cottage folk depended on the garden for almost everything they ate, sold and shared.
Yes.......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 through wet grass.
In most cases you won't 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.
Here are some Ideas that may help with the hard landscaping layout, structure and planting plan.
No it's not, however, we can be 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.
The difference is partly in the design and build, sourcing and choice of materials, reclaimed brick for pathways and retaining walls also the use of natural flagstones for the paved areas, 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). 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).
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."
Herbaceous borders form an important part of a cottage garden;
Yes you can. 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. Flowers and vegetables are also planted together as a way of controlling pests..........This is called companion planting and is a natural method of controlling garden pests.
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......
......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.
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. I do, and can help you do it too, grow old fashioned, grow a cottage garden, or at the very least a Herbaceous border.