Title: The English cottage garden. How to create the look and so remind us of gentler and much more tranquil times.

By: Ian George

Cottage gardens don't look designed. Actually, they are typically exuberant, free-flowering, and occasionally even unrestrained. To have the informal look, keep away from planting in straight lines or defined designs. Let plants cascade over paths and interlace through each other. It adds to their charm. And grow self-seeding plants that appear in surprising places.
Cottage gardens appeal to the romantic in all of us. Their generous variety of plants growing together in a relatively small space speaks of bounty and life -- as well as making for a perfectly manageable garden project -- and the overall look reminds us of a less complicated, gentler time.
The cottage garden is one of the most popular styles of gardening and is popular throughout the world. In France this garden style is normally called the 'jardin de cure' (priests garden) or the 'grandmothers garden'. The idea is essentially similar and conjures up visions of rampant and informal planting where perennials, annuals and biennials merge together and often with vegetables and herbs too.
Scent is also important and the scent of old roses should mix with the scent of honeysuckles, lilies and old fashioned pinks. A traditional cottage garden wouldn't contain a lawn but would have paths and large borders filled up with a riot of planting. Modern versions of cottage gardens generally incorporate a lawn - important either for kids to play on or for adults for relaxing and entertaining.
Hard features needs to be kept plain and made of inexpensive materials as would have been the case with the original cottage gardens - the gardens of rural cottagers. Be sure the materials match those used in the building of your house. For example use brick paths to suit brick walls and stone paths if your house is built of stone.
The original cottage gardens generally would not have included garden furniture but in this day and age we want to enjoy and relax in our gardens and seating is important. Wooden benches and simple metal tables and chairs rather than exotic hardwood furniture is appropriate.
Cottage garden style could be formal with paths edged by box or lavender or with symmetrically formed beds, in fact this is usually the style where vegetables are a significant part of the cottage garden style. When gardens have this formality the cottage style is introduced in the profusion and informality of the planting within the hedges or beds.
Cottage gardens are a real delight but only really to be attempted when you have a love for gardening - they are quite labour intensive with lots of weeding to undertake and lots of trimming back in autumn and early spring. They also tend to seem very bare in the winter as they are so concentrated in perennial and annual plants instead of shrubs and trees.
What is a Cottage Garden?
Originally, the purpose of the cottage garden was to produce food.  It contained farm animals, herbs, fruits and vegetables.  Flowers were an optional extra and tended to be ones that had some practical value, for instance seasoning food or repelling bugs.  The cottager's small plot did not allow for any wasted space, so the garden was plentifully packed, but well tended.
The cottage garden later moved away from being an functional space and became an area to be enjoyed.  These days, food-crops and chicken-keeping are returning and environmental concerns are being incorporated by the conscientious cottage gardener. Even though there are no hard and fast rules about what ought to be grown, the hallmarks of this style are informality, abundance and diversity.  Which means plenty of colour, scent, bees, birds and butterflies, not to mention fruit, herbs, vegetables, frogs and hedgehogs.
Creating the design:
The classic English cottage garden is a colourful mass of informality characterised by old fashioned flowers at the height of their wonderful display in the months of summer. This style is suitable for any garden, large or small and can be tailored to complement your home whether it's new or old.
Plant in layers:
To produce the cottage style successfully you need to think of the planting as a system of layers. Utilize trees and shrubs for structure and hedges to create frames either around the garden as a whole or to define individual borders. Plant climbers to clamber through hedges and scramble over arbours, arches and walls. Make use of old fashioned flowers and herbaceous perennials to form the the majority of the planting.
Include vegetables and herbs:
These are important elements in any cottage garden, in and amongst your flowers. Fill spaces with annuals and bulbs for all year round colour.

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