The cottage garden is a very popular style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. The cottage garden is rich and lush with native flowers, and filled with charm and country ambiance. These gardens are in direct contrast to the very structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs. The cottage garden originated in Elizabethan England, supplying it’s residents with vegetables and herbs, along with some fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers were used to fill any spaces in between, but soon became a dominant factor. One theory is that these gardens arose out of the Black Death of the 1340s, when the death of so many laborers made land available for small cottages with personal gardens.
A traditional cottage garden had three defining nineteenth century flower essentials: hollyhocks, pansies and delphinium. You might also see some old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year with rich scents, simple flowers like daisies, and flowering herbs. The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed with a fence, hedge or a rose covered gateway.
Even the early cottage garden flowers typically had their practical use — violets were spread on the floor(for their pleasant scent and keeping out vermin); calendulas and primroses were both attractive and used in cooking. Others, such as sweet william and hollyhocks were grown entirely for their beauty.
Also often incorporated were a sun-dial, a shaped topiary, and some winding pathways. Borders can go right up to the house, lawns are replaced with tufts of grass or flowers, and beds can be as wide as needed. Instead of the discipline of large scale color schemes, there is the simplicity of harmonious color combinations between neighboring plants. The overall appearance can be of “a vegetable garden that has been taken over by flowers.” The method of planting closely packed plants was supposed to reduce the amount of weeding and watering required, but planted stone pathways or turf paths, and clipped hedges overgrown with wayward vines, are cottage garden features requiring well-timed maintenance.
The cottage garden design has an informal look, with a seemingly casual mixture of flowers, herbs, and vegetables often packed into a small area. The cottage gardens have a design that creates a template of grace and charm.