Just the mention of a cottage garden conjures up romantic images of billowing blooms, spires of color and climbing vines. The only constraint comes in the form of a simple fence, yet the blooms spill over with divine simplicity reminiscent of English garden paintings.
If we ask a gardener what grows in a cottage garden, roses are always mentioned. Hollyhocks, foxgloves, delphiniums come to mind. Herbs such as rosemary, lavender and basil might be included along with a few vegetables. Annuals such as sweetpeas or kiss-me-over-garden-gate are old-fashioned favorites. Spring blooming bulbs of hyacinth and tulips may bring on the first signs of color. Plants are tucked into little places or massed in generous proportions.
In our modern world, many gardeners long to grow a cottage garden. We can't all live in England--nor can we all live in cottages. However, we adjust and modify our garden plans to find suitable plants to give us that cottage garden feeling. When the garden finally exhudes that ambiance, we want to stay in it forever.
Our gardening friend, Libby, inspires us with her Pacific Northwest cottage garden in Zone 8b, Victoria BC. Libby uses an abundance of color, mixing the flower forms and textures. During the peak bloom time of mid-June through August, Libby's garden explodes into color, blurred together to create one flowing river of a garden, rather than a collection of individually grounded plants.
Libby grows an English cottage garden full of delphiniums, hollyhocks, foxgloves, poppies, and peonies. A meandering path edged with brick winds through her garden, connecting the potting shed and the tool shed. A wisteria blooms abundantly in spring, creating a focal point at the back of the garden. Roses climb over vertical structures, adding to the sense of romanticism.
Libby buys her sweetpea seeds and allows cottage garden favorites to self-seed:
- calendula, campanula, cornflower, columbine, clarkia elegans, cosmos
- dianthus, Forget-Me-Not, godetia, honesty, feverfew, foxglove
- Jupiter's Beard, larkspur, malva sylvestris, mignonette, mullein
- nasturtium, nemophila, pansy, rose campion
- salvia hominum, Shirley poppy,snapdragon, stock, wallflower
- Rose - cl. 'Cecile Brunner'
- hardy geraniums
- peachleaf bellflower - blue, white
- achillea - 'Moonshine'
- Oriental Poppy - 'Coral Reef'
- red valerian
- centaurea dealbata
- nepeta - 'Dropmore Blue'
Libby has been gardening in the same place for over 35 years. Her cottage garden began eight to ten years ago. It started out as a cutting garden and has evolved into a beautiful cottage garden. There's encouragement for those of us who want to grow our own cottage gardens.
According to Libby, we can quickly grow a cottage garden in three or four years. She says that she does spend a lot of time in her garden--weeding, staking, dividing plants--or, just looking.
When we love our gardens and delight in the results, is it really work? Is there anything else that we'd rather do than tend our gardens?
If we ask Libby to describe her cottage garden for us, she says, "My cottage garden is a sheer mass of color and fragrance and a joy to wander through. Trees, shrubs, annuals , perennials, bulbs, herbs, and old-fashioned favourites become a natural sanctuary for birds and wildlife."
Libby then adds the most important advice to remember, "A cottage garden can be whatever you want it to be - it's your garden after all."
Photos and inspiration by Libby. Story by Freda Cameron.