Cottage Gardening began in the Middle Ages when most people lived in very small houses – cottages – with small plots of land around them. Unless you were a land owning aristocrat of some kind, there wasn’t room for separate flower beds, herb beds, vegetables and fruit trees. Instead people grew a colorful patchwork of plants in front of their house. These cheerful gardens can still be seen in many English villages.
People did not have much money and there were no garden stores, so seeds, cuttings and transplants were passed along to friends and family. Plants that were hardy, self-sowing and easy to grow were the most popular.
We can still grow cottage gardens today. They are colorful, informal and low maintenance. Combining plant purposes in one area (veggies, flowers, herbs, fruits) is also a principal of permaculture.
Putting plants together that compliment each other makes sense. The combination many people are familiar with is the “3 Sisters”: corn, beans and squash. This is a plant guild first grown by Native Americans. The corn provides a trellis for the beans, which fix necessary nitrogen in the soil, the squash shades out the weeds and keeps the moisture in. The gardener gets to eat produce all season from one bed – green beans early, corn in midsummer, dry beans and squash in late summer.
Keys to the cottage garden
- Use companion planting
- Focus on perennial and self-seeding varieties
- Place the most frequently-accessed plants close to the house (like basil for your spaghetti sauce and strawberries for your cereal)
- Vary the heights of the plants – from tall shrubs like lilac to walkable path plants like roman chamomile
- Consider the times that they flower and fruit
- Add a few rustic ornaments (a fence, bench, birdbath, birdhouses) and a meandering path
Any of our flower mixes would make a nice cottage garden, especially the Hummingbird, Butterfly, Songbird mix
The hardest part about a cottage garden is trying to weed in the spring and recognizing the various seedlings. This site has some pictures of common “weed” seedlings. This government site has 40,000 photos of plants at various stages
Cottage gardens can provide ample flowers for cutting. Pick off the spent ones to encourage more. Leave a few at the end of the season to ripen into seedheads for the self sowing varieties.
“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” -Janet Kilburn PhillipsMuch of this info was gathered from Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening