Cottage garden

It seems like there is one in every neighborhood.

The one neighbor, down the street, with the wild looking garden.

While the rest of us have those well-planned landscapes with plants separated by variety and color, evenly spaced and planted in straight lines, there always seems to be a garden where it looks like there was no planning.

The owner seems to have found a plant and just took it home to stick it in the ground any place there was enough room. They may have a mixture of perennial and annual plants growing intermingled with herbs and vegetables.

Everything looks all jumbled up together.

This is one of my favorite garden schemes — it’s called a cottage garden. The variety and seemingly unplanned look are what sets it apart from the more formal gardens most of us keep.

There is actually a lot of planning involved with cottage gardens and a lot of coordination between the plants to make it work and to have a garden that blooms and prospers.

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.

These were originally kept by working class people who lacked space but needed to grow fresh herbs and vegetables. They planted flowers to help attract pollinators to their gardens, similar to what we call companion planting today. Since at that time, prior to 1850, there were no lawn mowers, these gardeners did not want a grass lawn and preferred to utilize their outdoor space for more practical purposes.

During the 1870s the cottage garden was reinvented to reflect the values of the Elizabethan gardeners. Where the early gardens that had been around for centuries had vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and even beehives, flowers began replacing edible plants and scented flowers began to dominate. Roses were, and still are, a mainstay in the cottage garden. They have been favored by the sweet smell they add to the outdoor space. The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gateway. Several climbing or vining plants have been used to add a little more depth to the gardens.

For those who want to install a cottage garden, the process is fairly simple and straightforward. There are some basic things about plants in general to keep in mind. Taking a little time to plan the layout will yield a garden that is diverse and looks to be haphazard but is really well-planned and gives thought as to what should go where.

Measure the place for the garden so you will know how much space you are dealing with. This will help to determine how many plants to use. It is easy to find out how much space each plant needs to grow and develop properly. Restricting growing space by using too many plants will reduce growth and the stress can be a threat to the health of the plants.

Know where the sunlight comes from. Tall plants should be located on the side of the garden that is away from the afternoon sun with progressively shorter plants being used toward the front of the garden. Most of the plants used in cottage gardens require full sun, so try to avoid shading the shorter ones with the taller ones. If shorter plants are desired in the shady areas, be sure to use shade-loving plants.

Finally, group plants according to the care they need. Those that need more water or fertilizer should be close to each other while those that do not need so much should be planted in another area. Keep in mind they we are talking about just a few square feet in most gardens.

The most difficult part is to plant the garden without straight and evenly spaced rows. This may be more difficult that it seems. I have found that in my cottage garden I plant a few perennial plants and mix in a few annuals. The next year I “drop in” a few more perennials and still use a few annuals to fill in the gaps. Eventually you will end up with the random arrangement of plants in the cottage garden scheme you want to achieve. If you plan it right, there will be color from April until October.

Enjoy your garden.

If you have questions or want to suggest a topic for this column, email

If you have questions or want to suggest a topic for this column, email

If you have questions or want to suggest a topic for this column, email

Load comments