An Old-Fashioned Cottage Garden

There’s nothing more appealing than the gardens of yesteryear, especially when it applies to an old-fashioned cottage garden. Once implemented solely for its usefulness, with edible plants highlighted, today’s cottage garden has remained much the same with exception to the fact that most cottage gardeners nowadays seem to use the garden more its cheerful, relaxing qualities than its usefulness in the kitchen. The cottage garden, today, provides a quiet sanctuary from the chaos associated with modern times. The only chaos here comes from the assortment of informal plantings. Rustic (or romantic) structures, such as arbors, are traditional mainstays within this garden as well as the occasional found object weaved in here and there.

You don’t necessarily have to live out in the country in order to create one of these old-time gardens. You can just as easily live in an urban environment. Cottage gardens are well suited to either one; however, it’s is more the home itself rather than space that will determine whether or not a cottage garden is right for you. Cottages of all types, log homes and those having a country-style will easily find themselves right at home in a cottage garden. The more modern dwellings, however, may not complement this type of garden.

A cottage garden should be located in a sunny area, usually along a walkway towards the front entrance and embellished with a rustic-looking gate or arbor of some kind. The path leading up to the front door is normally characterized by straight lines with an abundance of flowers spilling over each side. This can be edged with brick or a similar material, but plants will soften the straight edges, giving it a more casual feel. Regardless of where it leads you in the garden, paths are an important element in the cottage garden. Paths can help guide the eyes to charming accents and focal points, such as a bench or tree. Keep paving elements in the cottage garden simple, with bricks, stone slabs, or cobble paths more common. Whichever you choose, however, should always complement the surroundings and other elements or structures within the garden.

The cottage garden can be enhanced with a few simple ornaments like birdbaths, sundials, or stone statues; however, found pieces, used sparingly, can help pull the garden’s scheme together. Typical items might include a watering can or old garden tools, depending on the style of cottage garden. The addition of casual seating in the cottage garden will create a sense of purpose. It also provides the gardener, and others, with a quiet place for reading or simply enjoying the garden’s beauty. The key to any cottage garden’s appearance is the use of deep borders overflowing with a medley of colors and forms. Structure is also important and necessary to hold the cottage garden together. Strong framework in the form of arbors, pergolas, gates, gazebos, or picket fencing should be implemented in order to maintain the abundant flowers and foliage. These structural elements also help define space and should complement the surroundings as well.

Cottage gardens contain a diversity of plants, delighting all the senses and creating a natural, relaxed atmosphere. There are textural plants that are pleasing to touch, such as the soft, furry leaves of lamb’s ear. A variety of herbs, including parsley, and other edible plants will tickle the taste buds. Intriguing colors and interesting shapes throughout the cottage garden will hold the eyes’ attention, but nothing is more pleasant than the sweet aromas emanating from fragrant plants such as jasmine and roses. Grassy areas in the cottage garden are minimal with planting emphasis focused on herbaceous flowers and the like rather than trees and shrubs. However, small fruit trees, flowering shrubs and ornamental grasses are paramount for creating structure. Deciduous trees, such as crape myrtle or redbuds, add structural height and seasonal interest, providing lovely fall foliage. Shrubs, like lilacs, give the garden structural backbone as well in the cottage garden. Evergreen shrubs can provide year-round interest as well as an appealing backdrop for flowers. Annuals (pot marigold, sweet alyssum, impatiens, poppy, snapdragon, cosmos, nasturtium, etc.) offer loads of showy color. Try to include a variety of self-sowing annuals or biennials for a pleasant surprise as they return each year in new locations. Choose plants such as sweet William, forget-me-not, bachelor’s button, sweet pea, and Johnny-jump-up, for example. A wide variety of perennials in the cottage garden will provide long-lasting stability, returning each year as well. Include those that bloom throughout different seasons to ensure continual color and interest. Popular perennials found in the cottage garden include phlox, bleeding heart, hollyhock, foxglove, and columbine. Implementing herbs and vegetables not only bring additional old-time charm but will make the garden more useful. Don’t forget one of the staples of cottage garden design-flowering vines. Try honeysuckle, wisteria, morning glory, or clematis. Of course, no cottage garden is ever complete without climbing roses. Allow vines to adorn gates and fences or to simply climb over arches, arbors, or pergolas. Vines are often used to soften hardscape features while providing visual height, additional interest, and privacy.

Mixing various plant textures throughout the garden will help give it depth and enhance its overall unity. Bushy-type planting will also create some dimension. Groupings of one plant, or a few that are similar to one another, can be repeated throughout the cottage garden to create further visual impact. Repetition of one or more colors is a good way to tie everything together.

Beds in the cottage garden should be prepared with organic materials, such as compost, to improve soil quality and promote healthier and more vigorous plant growth. Once the cottage garden has established itself, it will generally require minimal maintenance. Weeds are not often a problem due to the overwhelming assortment of plant; yet, a light cover of mulch such as bark chip or shredded leaves will still be greatly welcomed and limit the growth of any weeds that do decide to make an appearance. Most of the chores in a cottage garden will be limited to the occasional watering or trimming of vines when necessary. There are some gardeners that prefer to deadhead spent blooms in the garden to encourage nonstop flowering. However, if plants have been carefully selected for seasonal interest, there should always be something in bloom; therefore, deadheading is not required. It is more a personal preference of the individual gardener. Allowing seedheads to form will not only create unique interest during the off-season but will serve another purpose as well. These can be collected and the seeds scattered throughout the cottage garden. With the arrival of spring, your cottage garden will take on new life with the emergence of plants popping up in some interesting locations. Alternatively, these can be left alone to allow nature to take care of this for you.

There’s nothing more gratifying than a welcome retreat from today’s hectic world. An old-fashioned cottage garden can be just what the doctor ordered. With an abundant mix of beautiful flowers and foliage spilling out from their confines, a cottage garden is simply organized chaos at its best.

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