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Thursday
Jul302015

Adapting the English Cottage Garden 

The English Cottage Garden has become one of the most beloved garden styles, provoking images and visualizations of the idyllic garden.  The mystique and romance of the English Cottage Garden captivates every gardener’s imagination.  Interestingly, the earliest history of cottage gardens teach us that they were for the most part, strictly utilitarian, planted mostly with fruit trees, vegetables and herbs with a pen for chickens.  It wasn’t until the 18th century, when beautiful cottages were built for the ‘well to do,’ that the small working gardens developed into the beautiful flower gardens we admire today. This well placed bird house adds charm to an otherwise simple flower border.

It is a quandary, how we can love and want our gardens to emulate the cottage garden, but we abhor the idea of informal, messy looking flower beds, the very essence of the cottage garden.  Having had the pleasure of visiting Sissinghurst Castle in England, one of the great examples of romantic gardens, and Monet’s garden in Giverny, France,  I remember thinking that I would be tarred and feathered by my clients had I designed these gardens.  However, the overall effect was complete and total awe.  They have a wonderful random and haphazard quality about them that appeals to today’s most avid gardener. 

So how do we meld the nostalgia of the English garden with our busy lifestyles and need for minimal maintenance?   Let us begin with garden accessories. Maybe we can add a comfortable, well-placed bench where one can relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden, or an arbor covered with roses or clematis inviting one to enter.  A picket or antique wrought iron gate at the end of the front walk, or groupings of terra cotta pots filled with a riot of colorful annuals and situated in sunny spaces around the yard can mirror the charm of the English Cottage Garden. Jasmine, gardenias, rosemary, and other fragrant annuals or culinary herbs assimilated into the pots offer the visitor the lingering fragrance so important if one wants to achieve the true essence of the cottage garden. 

Meandering moss, stepping stone or gravel paths, cottage style bird accessories such as feeders, baths and houses are details that can also add charm to the cottage garden.   Raised beds planted with vegetables and herbs, a berry patch, dwarf fruit trees or a few pots of tomatoes are details so characteristic of these garden spaces that at least one should be included. A perennial border at Sissinghurst Castle in England.

To emulate the flower gardens of England, consider inter-planting your existing perennial gardens or annual borders with taller perennials and annuals.   Cleome, although it can’t possibly replace the allure of hollyhocks, is a great old fashioned annual that can represent the charm and informality of the cottage garden.  Other favorites include Salvia ‘Black and Blue,’ Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ and Nicotiana.  Although perennials such as Filipendula ‘Venusta’ and Campanula persicifolia would certainly be more appropriate to the character of the garden, they cannot compete with the long blooming season annuals offer. Although located in Giverny, for me this bench in Monet's garden is a classic representation of English Cottage charm.

Whether you add a bench or plant the terra cotta pots you have hidden in the garage with a potpourri of color, or you add all of the above, you will be lured into the charm and nostalgia of yesteryear and simpler times.

If you would like advice or guidance creating your cottage garden, please call or e mail me to schedule a consultation.

Written by Maria Morrison – Ferrero

Photos by Maria Morrison – Ferrero