The Cottage Garden is one of the oldest gardening styles, evolved from each gardener’s personal needs and likes. A traditional Cottage Garden would have obviously been by a cottage and might even have had a few chickens or other farm animals running through it. Perhaps there would have been an outhouse hidden behind some hollyhocks, so that polite company would know where to look without asking. It was a garden created primarily for use. Many of the plants would have been started from those of the landlord’s garden or “pass along” plants from friends and relatives. Since space was limited, small trees, shrubs, roses, annuals and perennials, herbs, and even vegetables were all grown together, making the most of available room. The various colors and textures of plants placed in a seemingly haphazard manner created wonderful year round interest.
In our Cottage Garden, a winding path provides an opportunity to disappear into the serenity of the garden. To add to the feel of a Cottage Garden, is a white picket fence covered in perennial Sweet Peas Lathyrus latifolius and other traditional plants such as Hollyhocks Alcea rugosa and Joe Pye Weed Eupatorium purpureum. There are also newer varieties of traditional Cottage Garden plants such as the Double Knock Out Rose, which blooms prolifically through most of three seasons.
A time of particular beauty is in the early spring, when our Cottage Garden becomes a field of Virginia Bluebells Mertenisa virginica, accented with tulips and daffodils (photo right). As the spring foliage dies away for the summer, it is replaced with a diverse variety of perennials.
During the summer months, the garden comes to life in colorful blooms. Many butterflies, including painted ladies and monarchs, can be seen feeding on the butterfly bush Buddleia davidii and other flowers that are attractive to them. If you are paying attention, you may see a rabbit, squirrel or chipmunk running for cover. If you linger long enough, you will likely hear the family of wrens defending their territory, which includes a house and trellis built by a volunteer of the garden. Later in the summer, as the late blooming Sedums are in their glory, honey bees come to collect pollen.
As the weather begins to cool and leaves take on their fall color, the brilliant red of the burning bushes Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ becomes a stunning backdrop to the garden. The yellowing foliage of Eastern Blue Star Amsonia tabernaemontana provides a beautiful contrast. Ornamental grasses such as maiden grass Miscanthus sinensis ‘Bitsy Ben’ begin to show their appeal as their feathery plumage reaches full stride.
Along with ornamental grasses and numerous other plants, a Peegee Hydrangea Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ bearing dried blooms, provides wonderful winter interest. Yukon Belle Pyracantha Pyracantha angustifolia ‘Monon,’ recently planted, is an attractive semi-evergreen shrub that not only produces flowers and attractive orange berries, but also provides a protected nesting area for birds. During the winter months, the cardinals that frequent the garden become even more visible as they fly about looking for food or rest in the bare shrubs. Their color is a welcome sign of life in the sleeping garden.
Throughout all the seasons, the Cottage Garden constantly evolves. Just as the style has provided inspiration through the centuries, it continues to do so now. Hopefully by strolling through our Cottage Garden, you too will be inspired to create your own.