What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Cottage Garden?’ Lots of things probably spring to mind – roses rambling round a doorway, tall flowering spires – delphiniums, lupins, hollyhocks – masses of scented things, and above all, a sense of abundance. It’s one of the most popular styles of garden even in the midst of all our twenty -first century technology – possibly, in fact, because of all that twenty first century technology.
The cottage style harks back to a bygone era, the pictures on the jigsaw puzzles you made as a child, the illustrations in your bedtime story books, and maybe your grandmother’s garden. Even if you granny lived in an inner city terrace with just a back yard and some dustbins. It’s that sense of nostalgia that people want to tune into, that sense of comfort and plenty where everything in the garden’s lovely and the sun is always shining.
Traditional cottage gardens, although pretty, often belied the hardship to be found within the home itself – these were poor people’s gardens, where vegetables jostled for space alongside flowers and where nothing was bought, ever – you raised whatever you grew from seed, or from ‘slips’ or cuttings that friends and neighbours gave you. They would have been labour intensive, pretty as a picture in summer and pretty bare and gloomy in winter.
Today, the cottage style can be adapted for a modern lifestyle with a little ingenuity – the key to that unplanned, natural look is of course, very careful planning indeed. A backbone of shrub planting with evergreens is essential to keep things interesting all year round, and plants, although they can be pretty and colourful, need to stand up to uncertain weather without needing staking, daily attention or painstaking propagation. Some of the old ideas still work – you can squeeze in a wigwam of climbing beans, a few salad plants or herbs for cooking among your ornamental plants – but nowadays the garden has to fit in with busy, 24 / 7 lifestyles. Plants from friends or family still help link you with your loved ones – I’m lucky enough to have plants from my beloved granny’s garden living in my own. I suspect I inherited at least some of my green fingers from her, and every time I see her plants blooming, they help bring us closer together, in a way that twenty first century technology could never do.
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