Today’s cottage gardens are a pretty, jumble of bulbs, annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs that form a hotchpotch of colour and scent, with roses hugging archways, plants trailing over walls and tumbling onto pathways – relying on grace and charm rather than structure and formality. Mine’s a bit more organised chaos.
In medieval times, cottage gardens put the emphasis on growing vegetables, fruit and herbs. The choice of plants was limited to tried and trusted varieties, which were hardy and always gave good results. Flowers filled gaps in the planting and had to earn their keep. They were used to lure to bees and other insects, which pollinated the crops. Herbs were used for medicinal purposes and scented violets spread on cottage floors to deter vermin. There was often a beehive and livestock providing nourishment for cottage dwellers.
During the late 1800s, cottage gardens became an addition to formal estate gardens with boxwood hedges, greenhouse annuals and roses enclosed in ‘garden rooms’. By the late 19th century, focus returned to the informal romantic planting style of the traditional English garden, with authors and horticulturists such as William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll popularising the cottage designs we know today.
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