Charming Cottage Garden Designs

Cottage gardens utilized paths, arbors, and fences use traditional or antique-looking materials. Wooden fences and gates, paths covered with locally made bricks or stone, and arbors using natural materials all give a more casual, and less formal look and feel to a cottage garden. Pots, ornamental decor, and furniture also use natural-looking materials with traditional finishes. Painted casual furniture was very desirable.

English in origin, it depends upon grace and charm, rather than 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. I prefer the flowing unstructured look and ease of perennials. And the ease of care.

The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than today's, with emphasis on vegetables and herbs, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers, used to fill spaces, gradually became more dominant. The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gateway. Flowers common to early cottage gardens included traditional florists' flowers such as primroses and violets, along with flowers with household use such as calendula and various herbs. Others were the richly scented old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year, and simple flowers like daisies. In time, cottage garden sections were added to some large estate gardens as well.

The cottage garden in France is a development of the early 20th century. Monet's garden at Giverny is a prominent example, a sprawling garden full of varied plantings, rich colors, and water gardens. In modern times, the term 'cottage garden' is used to describe any number of informal garden styles, using design and plants very different from their traditional English cottage garden origins. 
I prefer tradition.

Until the late 19th century, cottage gardens mainly grew vegetables for household consumption. Typically, half the garden would be used for cultivating potatoes, and half for a mix of other vegetables plus some culinary and medicinal herbs. 

Plants Commonly Found in a Traditional Cottage Garden


Cottage gardens are always associated with roses: shrub roses, climbing roses, and old garden roses with lush foliage, in contrast to the gangly modern hybrid tea roses. Old cottage garden roses include cultivated forms of Rosa gallica, which form dense mounded shrubs 3–4 ft high and wide, with pale pink to purple flowers—with single form to full double form blooms. They are also very fragrant, and include the ancient Apothecary's rose, whose magenta flowers were preserved solely for their fragrance. Another old fragrant cottage garden rose is the Damask rose, which is still grown in Europe for use in perfumes. Cultivated forms of this grow 4 to 6 ft or higher, with gently arching canes that help give an informal look to a garden. Even taller generally are the Alba roses, which bloom well even in partial shade.

The Provence rose is the full and fat "cabbage rose". I have a real weakness for the cabbage rose patterns on vintage china and linens. These very fragrant shrub roses grow 5 ft tall and wide, with a floppy habit that is aided by training on an arch or pillar. The centifolia roses have produced many descendants that are also cottage garden favorites, including varieties of moss rose. 

Unlike most modern hybrids, the older roses bloom on the previous year's wood, so they aren't pruned back severely each year. Also, as they don't bloom continuously, they can share their branches with later-flowering climbers such as Clematis and honeysuckle vines, which use the rose branches for support. A rose in the cottage garden is not segregated with other roses, with bare earth or mulch underneath, but is casually blended in with other flowers, vines, and groundcover.

With the introduction of China roses, many hybrids were introduced that had the repeat-blooming nature of the China roses, but maintained the informal old rose shape and flower. These included the Bourbon rose and the Noisette rose.

Many of the old roses had cultivars that grew very long canes, which could be tied to trellises or against walls. These older varieties are called "ramblers", rather than "climbers". Climbing plants in the traditional cottage garden included European honeysuckle and Traveller's Joy. 





Hedging plants

In the traditional cottage garden, hedges served as fences on the perimeter to keep out marauding livestock and for privacy, along with other practical uses. Hawthorn leaves made a tasty snack or tea, while the flowers were used for making wine. The fast-growing Elderberry, in addition to creating a hedge, provided berries for food and wine, with the flowers being fried in batter or made into lotions and ointments. The wood had many uses, including toys, pegs, skewers, and fishing poles. Holly was another hedge plant, useful because it quickly spread and self-seeded. Privet was also a convenient and fast-growing hedge. Over time, more ornamental and less utilitarian plants became popular cottage garden hedges.

Flowers and herbs


In the traditional cottage garden, herbs were considered to be any plant with household uses. Herbs were used for medicine, toiletries, and cleaning products. Scented herbs would be spread on the floor along with rushes to cover odors. Some herbs were used for dyeing fabrics. Traditional cottage garden herbs included sage, thyme, southernwood, wormwood, catmint, feverfew, lungwort, soapwort, hyssop, sweet woodruff, and lavender.


Fruit in the traditional cottage garden would have included an apple and a pear, gooseberries and raspberries.

*Information gathered from Wikipedia and other sources.

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