The origins of the classic English cottage garden date as far back as the first century A.D. when the Romans invaded Britain. Extant historical evidence indicates that the primitive English rockery had symmetrical gravel walkways, hedges, and a kitchen plot grown to herbs and vegetables.
The essential design elements of the English cottage garden probably began to take firm shape in the Middle Ages. The feuds and famines of that period pressed even the humblest plots of land into service for growing food.
From Humble Beginnings to a Proud Tradition
For the English peasantry, every patch of earth counted. They began growing herbs, vegetables, fruit trees – and flowers to attract pollinators. The work was hard but the result was charming.
While the English cottage garden has evolved over the centuries, you can add a little “English” to your own garden by replicating a few of its defining characteristics.
To recreate the look of an English garden, plant flowers at the edge of garden beds and allow them to tumble over onto paths.
Arbors and Trellises
Install arbors and trellises so you can drape vines and climbers – particularly roses – against walls, beside gates, and above doorways.
Benches and Seating Areas
Arrange benches, chairs, and maybe a small table in your garden to encourage visitors to sit and enjoy your handiwork. Consider installing seats in a hidden corner – or a knoll with a view of the flower beds.
Practical Plant Choices
When designing your English cottage garden, think herbs and vegetables, perennials and annuals, roses, shrubs, and grass. If you live in a different climate, you can plant native varieties for a similar effect, says Michelle Slatalla for Gardenista.
When planting flowers, choose those varieties that bees and other pollinators can’t resist. You need pollinators to produce a harvest.
A Little of Everything is a Lot
One of the main characteristics of the English garden is diversity. Beds and plots are often a dense jumble of vegetables, shrubs, trees, flowers, and herbs. Again, the reasons for this are practical. If you have small patches of many kinds of plants, you will limit losses to pests and diseases.
Go for unevenly shaped garden beds and allow paths to define shapes and spaces in the garden. A winding walkway is better than a straight one because it will encourage passersby to enjoy more of your garden.
Carrying on a tradition, but with a twist
The satisfactions of gardening are many and enduring. Through the art of gardening, each age and culture has nurtured its own relationship to the landscape it inhabits.
That’s not to say that the rich history and traditions of the English cottage garden are somehow a constraint. In fact, they’re a license to invent. Add your own personality to your design.
Regardless of which parts of the English cottage garden you choose to reproduce at home, you can be proud of carrying on a centuries-old tradition in your own backyard.