A Lovely Cottage Garden ... Sort Of

| 7/29/2009 3:46:04 PM

Tags: cottage garden, landscaping, flowers,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpg“Profusion best describes the cottage garden – a place where flowers of assorted sizes, shapes, and colors spill over walls and paths, where herbs, vegetables, and berry bushes crowd among roses and fruit trees. The bloom is perpetual, as new blossoms draw attention away from any fading flowers. Planting is haphazard and cultivation is minimal, since the fullness of the beds makes it difficult for all but the most determined weeds to find a foothold. Seedlings are pampered in the beginning to assure a healthy start, and then allowed to grow freely. Plants thrive on this benign neglect.” – Marina Schinz from Visions of Paradise: Themes and Variations on the Garden

Haphazard? Minimal cultivation? Benign neglect! Ah-ha! See, there is a method to my madness; a style to the semi-controlled chaos in my yard. “You’ve got a lovely cottage garden,” sidewalk passers-by have said to me as I sit on my favorite perch on the front porch; sometimes they stop to look at the flowers in the garden along the sidewalk; other times Keith will offer them a “tour.” He’s so funny. “Let me give you a tour of the grounds,” he says. Or to me, “The grounds look nice today, Dear.” Giving the impression we actually have “grounds” to tour, instead of a ¾ acre lot in town.

A visiting friend recently exclaimed after such a tour, “You’ve brought the country right here to the middle of town.” The term “cottage garden” presents romantic images of farmhouses along a country road fronted by an old stone wall; an unpretentious village house with the open gate of a white picket fence inviting visitors up the path leading to the door; a painted lady of the Victorian era with an arch of climbing roses framing the front porch, or a centuries old stone cottage in England, barely visible through the vines covering it, and the gardens surrounding it.

Is our house a Victorian or a farmhouse? It may have started out as one, but ended up as the other. It’s changed and been added on to so many times in its one-hundred-plus years of existence, who can really tell? A house with acreage in the country, a lot in suburbia, or a brownstone in the city: the style of the house and its location is unimportant. It’s not the type of dwelling, but the abundance and variety of plantings, generous doses of color and texture that blend with simplicity which define a cottage garden.

If I have a cottage garden it was created purely by accident; some of the elements are there, but it’s not a style I set out to adopt. And whether or not it’s “lovely” is most surely debatable. Come take a walk with me, and you can decide. We’ll tour some of  “the grounds” as I tell you a little bit about one of the world’s oldest forms of gardening, and the history of how it came to be. Welcome to the cottage garden.

Front walk

brenda kipp_1
9/16/2009 9:40:48 AM

What a lovely garden, Cindy! I would love to have a cottage garden, but the yard needs a lot more work before I can even get to that point. It's nice to have folks like you to look to for inspiration!

cindy murphy
8/20/2009 6:36:37 PM

Thanks for the link, KC. I read articles on the Herb Companion's website from time to time, but the savory article must have slid past me. I loved the plant lore in the article, (it's one of my hobbies); I found it extremely interesting. I really know nothing about winter savory except that it'll grow in poor, sandy soil - it just looks like it can tolerant the abuse - and that's why it's in my garden. But the recipes!!! It's always a bonus when I can multi-purpose my plants! I can't wait to try savory and green beans; I've got plenty of both in the garden now. Good luck on your spring cottage gardening project!

kc compton_2
8/19/2009 11:28:35 AM

Cindy-- Loved your story and will use it next spring when I start my own cottage garden project. As for what to do with the savory, here's an article from The Herb Companion, which is one of GRIT's sister publications. It's all about savory and has some suggestions at the end that made me very hungry. http://www.herbcompanion.com/Cooking/Savoring-Savories.aspx Thanks for the blog! K.C. Compton (Editor in chief)

cindy murphy
8/5/2009 4:56:29 AM

You're right, Dave, creeping phlox is a spreader - but tall garden phlox is not. It can be kinda confusing choosing plants if you don't know their forms or habits, especially if you're going for a certain look in the garden. Spreaders can be ground-covers, (such as creeping phlox), bushes with horizontal branches like junipers, and perennials that either self-sow by seed (coneflowers) or spread by roots underground; some plants do both - black-eyed Susans are a good example. Ditch lilies (what we tend to call the common orange daylily) are spreaders; most other daylily varieties tend to stay in a nice, neat clump. Climbers are climbers, and ramblers ramble every-which-way. The Seven Sisters rose (the darker colored rose in the photo) is a true "rambler", the lighter pink Fairy roses have a rambling habit. They could be pruned into a neater shape, but I like them falling all over the place. Plants with a mounding habit are rounded in shape, and stay put right where you plant them; the clump will get bigger, but it's still going to keep that same basic shape. Boxwood, most spirea, fall-blooming sedum, and hostas are a few examples. And mums. Stay away from the mums you see in the stores now, Dave, if you want color in fall. Buy them now only if you want color now. It's too early for mums; the ones out now won't last through fall. Whether you plant them in the ground or keep them in pots, don't divide them yet. Mums have brittle stems; they'll all break if you separate the plant. If you're going to keep them as perennials, divide them after they're done blooming, though I'd probably wait a year or two, and divide in spring.

nebraska dave
8/5/2009 12:09:49 AM

Cindy, goodness sakes alive. I’m being filled with knowledge as I read advice from yours and others blogs. Thank you for your kind words about the patio. Just when I thought I was beginning to understand a little about plants the term mounding habit plants, spreaders, and ramblers come to light. Can you give examples of what would be considered a plant that has mounding habits? Spreaders would be, I expect, Phlox. There actually was some Phlox in the before picture of the poor man’s patio, but was completely hidden by weeds in the picture. It took about three years to hit its prime at which time it probably became overcrowded and would do fine one year and hardly anything the next. I really didn’t know how to keep it groomed to do well each year so it hit the compost pile when the patio was built. Ramblers? I’m not sure what that would be either. I’m familiar with climbers. Would that be a rambler? I see that Mums and other fall plants are beginning to hit the market here in the big box stores. If I bought some of those gallon sized pots of about twenty flowering Mums, what would be the best thing to do with them? Separate them in several other pots or leave them in the overcrowded pot they came in. I found some 3 gallon self watering pots for $5 so I bought 3 thinking forward to fall. My petunia, spike, Geranium planted pot seems to be running out of gas. The sun has begun its creep toward lowering into the south more which steals away what little sun I have on the patio. It just doesn’t seem to be enough sunshine to keep the petunias blooming or the other trailing plant with little white flowers. My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plants point of view ~ Fred Ale

cindy murphy
8/2/2009 8:45:15 AM

Dave! (I'm gonna try to get this all in without running over the allowed word limit again) You've done a beautiful job with your Poor Man's Patio. What a big difference between the "before" and "after" shots. Everything looks great! A bit of warning for you as you try to find the somewhere-in-between the wild and tamed look that works for you: overplanting has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are less weeding and less mulch is required; there's instant gratification in seeing a full bed; and it's an excellent form of erosion control if erosion is an issue. Disadvantages include poor air-circulation (some plants are prone to mildew which is magnified if they're crowded together; phlox, monarda, tea-roses, and lilacs are examples), as one plant grows, other plants may be swallowed, and you run the risk of eventually having that wild look you don't completely care for. Choosing plants with compact, mounding habits as opposed to spreaders and ramblers is one way to get a full look and still have the appearance of everything being under control. Give the coneflowers another try. I've never thought of them as being weak-stemmed or spindly. Quite the contrary, they're usually sturdy plants that can withstand nearly anything. I love to watch the goldfinches sit on the flower heads, picking the seed from them. I suspect your attempt at growing them started with small plants, top heavy from the large flowers. If you try again, whack them back when you plant them - yep, just chop their heads off right to the ground. They'll bush out again, and you'll end up with a thicker plant quicker. It takes a lot of energy for a plant to produce a flower, and that energy in a young plant is better spent producing roots and leaves. Good luck in your experimentations. Great quote from Janet Kilburn Phillips!

cindy murphy
8/2/2009 8:32:20 AM

HA, Michelle! Yep, gardener, cook, housekeeper, nanny, pet sitter - sometimes it definitely seems I'm the house servant. The house, of course, also has a butler entrance; Keith parks further up the driveway and uses the side door.

nebraska dave
8/1/2009 8:53:15 PM

Cindy, I really liked your yard flower garden tour. It really appears that you have quite a lot of plants the different areas of your yard. I always envisioned that I would like the cottage flower garden look, but as it turns out I kind of like somewhere in between the totally random wild cottage look and the rigid equally spaced methodically planted garden. I haven’t quite figured out where that is yet, but I’m working on it. One thing I’ve learned from following your blog is to crowd the plants together for a better looking display. It doesn’t really look good to see space between plants. One thing I’d like to ask is how do you keep your cone flowers that have spindly little stems from being blown over by the wind? I tried raising them one year and the first rain storm that came with wind all the stems were broken and plants really looked bad. My favorite color is purple so I really like the color and shape of the cone flowers but I just didn’t have a real good experience with them. The glads are starting to bloom on the patio and I have to guard the nine foot tomato plant from the neighbors. Just kidding. It’s really starting to prolifically produce clusters of marble size tomatoes that literally burst forth with flavor when popped into your mouth fresh off the vine. What started out as just stick a tomato into a pot and see what happens experiment has really turned out to be a wonderful surprise and taste experience. I just can’t believe I haven’t murdered any plants yet this year. Here’s a peek at the Poor Man’s Living Patio that I have talked about. http://davidbentz24.blogspot.com/2009/07/poor-mans-living-patio.html There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments. ~ Janet Kilburn Phillips

michelle house
8/1/2009 11:18:36 AM

I loved this,,, your cottage garden is beautiful, that is something, I really like. I did, laugh when you referred to the servant door. LOL. Michelle

cindy murphy
7/31/2009 10:02:36 PM

Hi, Lori. I bet your gardens are beautiful! I've never had any luck with delphiniums or foxglove - my soil is too sandy. I haven't tried lupine - they're a flower that definitely thrives on "benign neglect"; sometimes I think people give them too much tender-loving care and that may be the reason they fail. Oh, you should see one of the photos in "Visions of Paradise" - an stone house with a clothes line fill of colorful clothing blowing in the wind serves as a backdrop to an entire field of lupines just as colorful as the clothing. Gorgeous! I've got lots of rudbeckia and coneflowers in big patches scattered throughout the yard too. They, along with daylilies of all sorts, are some of my favorite flowers for all the reasons you mentioned.

7/31/2009 4:10:12 AM

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7/30/2009 10:03:02 AM

Cindy, I LOVE your gardens! I am all for the cottage look. Neat and tidy looks nice, but is NOT for me! Give me the sprawling, mixed-up colors any day! I always say that when it comes to flowers, there are no rules about mixing colors. Anything goes! Delphinium is one of my favorite flowers, along with foxglove and lupines. I have delphinium that does very well for me, and I've had pretty good luck with foxglove, but I can't get the lupines to do very well. I've tried them in different places, always with the same result. I like the tall spikey's! I also have LOTS of cone flower and rudbeckia. They are so pretty, easy to grow, and the butterflies love them! You've done a beautiful job with the "grounds"!

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