Having visited friends and family across the pond over the years, I’ve become absolutely obsessed with the idea of owning a cottage garden of my very own.
Cottage gardens can be found in abundance throughout the rolling countryside of the UK, and have become the quintessential rural image of the isles. From blooming flowers in a variety of colors to fruits and veggies nestled amongst a patchwork of greenery, this jumble of plants living harmoniously amongst one another is a pleasure to the eyes and fills the soul with joy.
What is a Cottage Garden?
A cottage garden is purposely designed to appear structureless, creating a care-free and romantic space where different types of greenery are closely interplanted both in-ground and in pots, where they’re allowed to grow every which way for a quaint and poetic feel — Simply put, a cottage garden is a perfectly imperfect garden plot that optimizes space by using up every square inch possible.
By growing edible plants such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs alongside an eclectic variety of flowers, this type of garden provides its owner with both beauty and practicality all in one shot. And, by practicing a few simple companion planting techniques, the garden takes on a laissez-faire environment in which plants work off of one another in a beneficial way to limit pests, and other common garden issues, making it a foolproof greenspace to manage.
When done right, not only are cottage gardens known for their low-maintenance needs but are a fantastic way to obtain a have it all garden — no matter how small a plot you’re working with.
There are a few theories around the emergence of cottage gardens, with some historians believing that they came about as early as the 14th century, during the time of the notorious black death when millions of people perished from the bubonic plague.
Because death was so widespread, previously owned land became more available and was divvied up for the development of small cottages — which granted some of the lower classes of the Feudal system a chance to gain a bit more control over their lives. As a result, many peasants began to utilize their newly acquired plots of land by growing a variety of medicinal plants and fresh produce on a small-scale for family consumption.
Interestingly, many of these early cottage gardens not only served as a space to grow food and medicinal sources, they often included personal apiaries for honey production as well. This is why certain flowers were incorporated into traditional cottage gardens since they provided nectar to the bee colonies.
Others believe that cottage gardens came out of the Elizabethan Era of the 17th century, for similar reasons, in which the lower classes wanted to have more access to their own source of fruits, veggies, medicinal herbs, and flowers, to better self-sustain their families.
The attraction to these pretty, yet practical gardens didn’t go unnoticed, and it wasn’t long before the upper and middle classes took on gardens of a similar style, but on much larger scales, as can be seen in many of the grand manor house gardens across the British Isles.
In the decades following the industrial revolution, many people felt void of their roots and felt that although food and many products were cheaper and easier to come by, they lacked in quality. And so, moving into the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people looked for an outlet to regain what was perceived to have been lost.
Out of this void emerged the arts and crafts movement, in which traditional methods such as handmade goods and fresh homegrown produce became all the rage. And, thanks to this anti-industrialist sentiment, as well as wide support from many well-known artists and designers of the time, the resurgence of cottage gardening became the must-have garden on a scale not seen before.
Along with this renewed love for cottage gardens came a yearning for picturesque landscapes and a flair for romanticism, which saw the incorporation of more flowers alongside traditional plants, and created the cottage garden image we’re familiar with today.
Even in the 21st century, this type of gardening continues to take hold of people’s imaginations. Perhaps, like the past, it’s because we find ourselves amid a technological revolution, and again are looking for avenues to connect back to the land in an authentic way.
How to Create One (A garden of no rules)
Creating a cottage garden is ridiculously simple, and, as you’ll discover, the only rule is that there are no rules(or, very few anyhow).
A true cottage garden is a space where plants of all sorts are crammed together and left almost entirely to their own devices — aside from regular watering, keeping the soil rich through fertilizing and mulching, and, when the time is right, harvesting. That means no planning, no trimming (or, very little and only when necessary), no color schemes, or purposeful designs — it’s literally a free for all, and if something doesn’t work out, there’s no sweat, since another plant will thrive in its place.
Of course, if the idea of gardening anarchy scares you, and you want to maintain some control, following the general rule of companion planting certainly doesn’t hurt, and fits quite nicely with the overall idea of cottage gardening as a whole.
As mentioned, the beauty of this type of gardening is that you can grow anything you like. However, if you want a bit of inspiration, here’s a list of commonly found plants in a traditional cottage garden:
Roses (usually wild varieties or heirlooms), Peonies, Marigolds, Hollyhocks, Foxglove, Daisies, Delphiniums, Geraniums, Larkspurs, and so forth.
The idea is to get a variety going — the more the better!
Clematis, Morning glories, Honeysuckle, Sweetpeas, Climbing Roses, Pole Beans, Sugar Snap Peas, Vine Tomatoes, and Cucumbers.
Train flowers and veggies up trellises and grow over arbors, or allow plants to spread across a fence or wall for a real Cottage garden feel.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Cabbage, Carrots, Leeks, Kale, Turnips, Squash, Lettuce, and Strawberries, as well as fruit trees such as plum or apple, are all great additions to your smorgasbord of a garden.
Pack ‘em in!
Mint, Lavender, Parsley, Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage — grow them all, you’ll find many uses for all of them.
Purposely hap-hazard and free-spirited in appearance, growing a cottage garden is not only an incredibly pleasurable space for the senses but is a great way to have access to a wide variety of fresh produce. And, the best part is that with little effort, you can have it all — since a “more the merrier” mentality towards plants is the ticket to success.