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Glossary: Cottage Garden

Updated: Mar 6



English Limestone Cottage with Garden in full bloom Cotswold Cottage, Chedworth, Gloucestershire, England
Image by F.D. Richards

Garden Theme


Cottage Garden: A primarily informal, rustic garden with roots starting with the 16th century Elizabethan period (Lloyd, Bird). "Living at subsistence level, the peasant cottager of medieval times had little interest in flowers and preferred meat, when he could get it, to vegetables. Medicinal herbs were important but not for their appearance and it seems to me that their is not much point today in growing herbs that are neither beautiful or useful" (p. 9). Eventually, particularly during the Victorian period and, more succinctly, the Arts & Crafts Movement, flowers would make their way into cottage gardens (Taylor, p. 124). This later period would romanticize the former peasant garden as an opportunity to display flower collections in compositions focused on color, height, and texture while maintaining a seemingly carefree and haphazard appearance. Modern interpretations have evolved the concept toward meadows, prairies, and "rewilding" concepts, but traditionally guided cottage gardens are still in demand for their seasonal color and textural displays. We may want to revisit the historic idea of integrating herbs, fruits, and vegetables, not unlike what garden designer and author Rosalind Creasy has so accomplished in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cultural Influences:

Counter response to the Industrial Revolution and the systematic expediency of mass production and manufacturing.

Design Principal:

Asymmetrical balance, allowing vegetation to overgrow pathways, walls, and even trees for a "refined unkemptness" (my term). Lloyd and Bird point out that the practical side of these gardens, from planting herbs and vegetables to defining a path to the front door, was often formal in design, suggesting efficiency. Otherwise, plant compositions lean toward organic forms.

Materials:

Plants: Reliance upon primarily herbaceous species encouraged to multiply by reseeding or division, such as perennials, annuals, and bulbs. Shrubs and trees are also used but are specified for their informal structures. Lloyd and Bird articulate preferred species by bloom seasons or fruit and veggie production. This marks another observation: cottage gardens and perennial borders of the Victorian era tend toward a short season of color display, whereas today's preferences are for year-round seasonal interests.

Site Furnishings and Features: Made of natural materials, preferably by hand, such as wooden gates, benches, arbors, stone pathways, and walls.

Amenities: Kitchen garden, cutting garden, places to sit, meditate, reflect. Lawns were not a priority except for their potential as pathways.

California Bias: Our native perennials, annuals, bulbs, and informally structured woody shrubs lend themselves to this design theme, but care must address drought, summer dormancy, and client expectations.

 

References

Lloyd, C., Bird, R. (1999). The Cottage Garden. New York: DK Publishing, Inc.

Taylor, P. (Ed.). (2006). The Oxford Companion to the Garden. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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