How, And Why, To Plant A Cottage Garden Anywhere On Earth


I have a proposition for you, one which I do not expect to be controversial. Here goes. Gardens are wonderful.

My High WASP cohort is with me on this one. We do love a garden. And our genre of choice is the English cottage. At home we are not prone to formal plantings of colored annuals, spelling out our monograms. Nor to singular shrubs, lonely, disciplined, labeled. Nor to wallpaper plants, i.e., 60 sad impatiens in a row, advancing before 23 well-behaved azaleas, flanking 7 uniform hydrangeas. While our vacation houses might get a little fanciful – topiaries, follies, the crunch of French gravel paths – at home we like to balance our personal formality with the comfort of a mixed border. Or two. Or six.

High WASPs plant cottage gardens even when the cottage is, well, a little grand.

If one still lives in the family manse, cottage-ification is by necessity limited to regions near and dear. Overseeing an entire acre, or two or forty, covered in artfully massed and scattered and staked perennials? Please, no. Unless you are the queen of something. For ordinary manses, rolling swaths of sustainable vistas are a good thing. But the walkway to the front and back doors, the borders around the paved stone patio, or the brick-decorated swimming pool will most likely cottage-up. And if family fortunes have declined, and one lives in a regular house, swaths and vistas are a thing of the past. One learns to appreciate the small.

You might well wonder, “What is a cottage garden?” You might well consider, “Do I want one?” I ask you in return, do you like:

  • Mixed and crowded plantings whose final architecture you can’t quite predict
  • The Fibonacci curves of nature
  • Dedicating space to growing plants to cut, either flowers, or food, or both
  • Walking amongst your plants, and the paths to walk upon
  • Honoring the geography where you live?

As you can see in the photos above, cottage gardens should be planted every which way, as though they might have chosen to grow in situ of their own accord. The effect you are looking for, which might in fact be the High WASP credo, is, “Oh this old thing?” Even though you or your landscape architect might in fact have spent at the very least a lot of time, if not money, planning and designing. And then spent a lot of time planting, watching plants fail, and replanting. Dignified chaos is a lot of work.

You should also remember that cottages sustain themselves. You will need to plant things to bring inside, flowers, or herbs, or vegetables, even when you don’t have an acre for a cornfield. I remember the cornfield, next to the barn, opposite the cottage, where we stayed on my father’s family place. And the deer that would walk out at night, as we held our breaths and waited. But I digress.

Do not worry. Strawberries in a pot count. Orange trees in pots count. Basil leaves on a windowsill count. You only need the chance to crush, or sniff, or bite something you have grown.

Your cottage garden should have paths, to wind through the greenery, to conceal and reveal. Even if the only path you have is the one leading from the sidewalk to your front door, or up the stairs to your apartment, let it meander just for a minute, if you can.

Most importantly, the cottage garden must adapt to the environment in which it finds itself. Plant a polite space, following the culture of your adoptive home. High WASPs wish for nothing more than the nirvana of appropriate. Above, the garden on the right is in fact in England. The garden on the left? Chicago. Planted affectionately, in a corner protected from winds.

Noe Valley, San Francisco. Where a cottage garden includes the plant known as Kangaroo Paws. Under a crayon-blue sky, cottages might have a kangaroo or two nearby. In the desert, a cottage garden might consist of succulents, cacti planted as though they’d just happened to arrange themselves in patterns along your walk, in amongst the swept dust and broken pottery embedded into adobe walls.

You didn’t think palm trees were part of a cottage garden? They are in Santa Barbara. While in the hills above Silicon Valley, Mediterranean natives do a heck of a job mirroring the foxgloves, hostas, and peonies of other climates. No need to imitate the cottages of other lands.

So get out the tools hiding in your garage. If you want to get fancy, put them in a basket. Tie a bow on the handle. Do not bewail the lack of a gardener. Gardeners work on the vast nether reaches. What is close to home we do ourselves.

Enjoy the digging, the weeding, the pruning. Nothing is so good for the soul as a good pruning session. Protect your cottage. Curiously, weeds ignore demographics, weedkiller is poison for everyone, and you don’t really have to get your hands dirty. One could say the earth is our cottage, if one wanted to speak out.

Archetypal Cottage
Grand Cottage
Corn
Path
Chicago
Noe Valley
Mom’s House, LPC
Dad’s House, LPC
Garden Necessities, LPC

42 Comments

  • 06/24/10
    8:13 am

    Reply

    Sarah said...

    Lisa! What a wonderful post– this is perfect timing! I just started making my very first garden yesterday after walking by (for three years) an unkempt flowerbed in my yard– barren in patches and overgrown in others. I have weeded, and the planting and mulching will take place this weekend. I'm very excited about making my little corner of the world prettier. Thanks for the encouragement. :)

  • 06/24/10
    8:17 am

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    Deja Pseu said...

    While our new plantings aren't quite as haphazard as a cottage garden would demand, I'm hoping that some randomness will ensue. Meanwhile, my herb garden is doing it's wonderful and irregular part.

  • 06/24/10
    8:18 am

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    Deja Pseu said...

    Lovely pictures too. Sigh.

  • 06/24/10
    8:21 am

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    VA Gal said...

    I love the garden pictures! I like my gardens a bit on the wild side and am thrilled to finally have a jumble of flowers winding up to my door now. It took a lot of work to make it look so effortless. :-)

  • 06/24/10
    8:49 am

    Reply

    metscan said...

    Lovely pictures and a great post! With shame I admit, that I have very little, if none interest in gardening. Maybe later.. I do wish to keep places neat though, and favor wildflowers more than exotic ones. Agreed, the house and the surrounding nature must live in harmony!

  • 06/24/10
    8:49 am

    Reply

    That's Not My Age said...

    The balcony is my cottage. I live in London so I like to arrange my random collection of terracotta pots and plants in an English country stylee!

  • 06/24/10
    9:06 am

    Reply

    J.W. said...

    Sluggo Plus rocks! Great post; thank you.

  • 06/24/10
    9:38 am

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    Worthington said...

    Agreed, agreed, agreed. Love English cottages. Their gardens are my favorite. Future in-laws have almost lost their original ones entirely, but grandmother-in-law at the bottom of the hill is holding strong in her carriage house. I may get involved with the fixer-upper just to return the gardens to their former glory!!

  • 06/24/10
    9:57 am

    Reply

    Belle on Heels said...

    ooooh i adore a good cottage garden! there is a darling one that i pass every morning on my walk with the puppy and i always slow down a little to admire it.

  • 06/24/10
    10:28 am

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    Marcela said...

    Oh I so want one!!!! But I live in an appartment…any ideas on how to plan a little garden in a balcony?

  • 06/24/10
    10:38 am

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    Belle de Ville said...

    What a fabulous post, you've inspired me to pay a little more attention to my plants.

    While I'm more of a fan of formal gardens and a muted color palate, I do believe that everyone should have a cutting garden where they can grow flower, herbs, vegetable and preferably all three. And, if you have the land an orchard as well, perhaps not with apples and walnuts, but at least here in Southern California, citrus trees.

  • 06/24/10
    10:42 am

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    Ms. Givens said...

    I have the perfect front lawn for a cottage garden. It's perfect, but I am no good at gardening.

  • 06/24/10
    10:50 am

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    agirl said...

    How absolutely wonderful to find that my garden is that preferred by High Wasps. I might have to rethink my self-definition. :)

  • 06/24/10
    11:31 am

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    Dani @ Weddings Fresh said...

    Sold! I'll do it. I have no past experience in gardening but it would seem the Cottage Garden is perfect for my skill set. It is finally sunny and warm here in Portland, so I have the itch to something outside!

  • 06/24/10
    11:51 am

    Reply

    Tania Kindersley said...

    Have been following your lovely blog for a while, but was too shy to comment. Then, today, I saw your delightful post on gardens. I kept squinting at the second picture, it looked so familiar to me. Then I suddenly realised: it was my old college. I actually walked in that garden, and now I find it, years later, on your blog. For some reason, this gives me keen pleasure.

    Also: I tend to refer to my own garden as a mess and a muddle. Now I realise I have been doing English cottage all along (even though I live in Scotland). I am vastly reassured. Thank you so much.

  • 06/24/10
    1:09 pm

    Reply

    Beth Dunn said...

    Love them all, wish I was better in the green thumb department!
    xoxo
    SC

  • 06/24/10
    1:26 pm

    Reply

    Faux Fuchsia said...

    I love to garden and have a true cottage garden-it's tiny, it has gravel paths and I grow things to eat. I also have no sun so I've had to use tropical shade tolerant plants, not traditional sun greedy perenials and annuals. I also garden in drought so succulents are my Friend.

    A cottage garden is so easy because it can be messy and a bit unkempt and still look fab.

    Everyone knows that gardening teaches you patience and makes you happy. This is why universally gardeners are always the nicest people you'll ever meet.

    It's also such a soothing thing to do in times of stress and grief.

    Your parent's gardens are LOVELY.

  • 06/24/10
    1:40 pm

    Reply

    Jan said...

    EVERYTHING around our house is haphazard…

    *sigh*

  • 06/24/10
    2:14 pm

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    Nellie said...

    Developing a cottage garden is my dream, even at this age. Currently, however, we are making use of a 30×60 foot vegetable garden and are enjoying yellow squash, zucchini, green beans, beets, tomatoes, and radishes, with corn soon to come. Blackberries have ripened, and blueberries are nearly ready. Our energies seem to be geared toward food.:)

  • 06/24/10
    3:00 pm

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    L said...

    Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this post.

  • 06/24/10
    3:02 pm

    Reply

    L said...

    P.S.
    Seek out the PBS documentary "Gardens of the World" it is hosted by Audrey Hepburn. It is wonderful & I am sure you would appreciate it.

  • 06/24/10
    4:10 pm

    Reply

    Vintage Simple said...

    "Dignified chaos is a lot of work." Indeed.

    I love cottages – and cottage gardens by extension. Wonderful post, from beautiful you. Thank you.

    xoox,
    -maria

  • 06/24/10
    4:15 pm

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Oh my gosh! What a fantastic post. You really did your homework. I'm afraid I like things a bit orderly but this has always been because of lack of acreage.
    Believe me….if i had the land i would be planting cottage gardens and wildflower meadows with wild abandonment!
    I was doing good by pruning my hydrangeas like mad this morning to beat the heat & managed to bring in many bouquets for all to enjoy.
    Great to visit with you. Lisa

  • 06/24/10
    4:15 pm

    Reply

    Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

    Great to have found your blog via BHB. I love the English cottage look. Mine has gone slightly Mediterranean which won't work with the weather for long. The pictures are beautiful. You have inspired me to do some planting xx

  • 06/24/10
    4:44 pm

    Reply

    Preppy 101 said...

    I would love a cottage garden! Come help me do it!!! xoxo

  • 06/24/10
    4:58 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Sarah – I love serendipity. I hope your garden turns out beautiful. I looked at your blog. Will follow your story:).

    Deja – I think randomness over time, having the luxury of time in one place, is the best of all.

    VA Gal – I know! So much work.

    Metscan – You have horses…

    That's Not My Age – Absolutely pots on a balcony are a cottage.

  • 06/24/10
    5:05 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    J.W. Sluggooooo! And diatomaceous earth!

    Worthington – Carriage houses. Cottage gardens. Former glories:). Yes.

    Belle – I bet the owner loves to see that.

    Marcela – Yes, I would have ideas. The first step is, how much sun? The next is, ooooh, let's look at planters on the internets. The third is, will you water? The fourth is, let's buy some plants and paint a picture with them. The fifth is, herbs? But that depends on sun…

    Belle – Oh, yes, orchards are to die for. My mother has an avocado orchard, up above:).

  • 06/24/10
    5:20 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Ms. Givens – How so? You have a good sense of design. Other than that, gardening is just about digging good holes and watering correctly…

    agirl – You, Obama, all the good people:).

    Dani – Yours will be gorgeous. Send pictures.

    Tania – How wonderful to hear from you. So glad you chimed in. Yes, that pictures is Oxford. So, so, so beautiful. My dad was there in the mid-50s…

    Beth – You have other fish to fry:).

  • 06/24/10
    6:46 pm

    Reply

    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    I have just come in from the garden…had a hellious day stacking hundreds of textbooks in the bookroom at school and after 3 hours out deadheading and weeding I feel content and relaxed.
    The cottage garden is what I have here at the bungalow…I cannot wrestle with nature…only be a steward and hope for the best!
    The gardens of your parents look so lush, colorful and well kept.
    I have a sneaky feeling that your garden is lovely too…don't be shy, show it off.

  • 06/24/10
    7:48 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    FF – I love your garden. I hope mine is teaching me patience, I could sorely use some. And if you come to California, let me know. My dad is quite good about letting us camp around his pool.

    Jan – OK. But you eat really well.

    Nellie – I'm particularly jealous of your berries.

    L. – Thanks. I will keep my eyes open.

    Vintage Simple – You're welcome:).xox back.

  • 06/24/10
    7:51 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Lisa – Your posts on gardens are just gorgeous! Thank you so much for the kind words.

    Christina – Yay, plantings!

    Preppy 101 – Be careful, I do have a suitcase you know:).

    Hostess – Yes, I will show mine. But it's diminiutive, so one post will suffice:). Thanks for asking.

  • 06/24/10
    7:57 pm

    Reply

    Maggie said...

    I'm definitely nailing the "Oh, this ole thing?" approach… but give me a couple of years to get my winding path down, would you?

  • 06/24/10
    8:09 pm

    Reply

    the gardeners cottage said...

    hi lpc,

    what a wonderful post for me to read. i adore gardening and am so very lucky to actually live in a true gardeners cottage built 120 years ago for a large estate. the bones of my garden were fantastic, put in place long ago. they had just fallen in disrepair until we came along. it is truly joyous returning it to life. your parents gardens are beautiful and i look forward to seeing yours.

    ~janet

  • 06/24/10
    8:16 pm

    Reply

    WendyB said...

    Sigh…wish I had some outdoor space. I do have two potted plants. Do those count for anything?

  • 06/25/10
    4:27 am

    Reply

    Shelley said...

    Gardening is one of those things I wish I enjoyed. I keep trying it now and then. Dirty fingernails and clumsy gloves are one obstacle. Squatting and kneeling are another. I can get down and up again OK, but I ache the next day like anything. Still, the beauty (and the food) are worth the effort, so I'll keep on. Bill always says those perfectly aligned floral arrangements are 'so working class'; we strive for elegant disarray…

  • 06/25/10
    4:50 am

    Reply

    Anonymous said...

    Atlas garden gloves.
    Period.
    My SummerInTheGarden success barometer is based on how many pairs of gloves I blast through per garden season……..Successful used to be 4 pair….that was before wearing Atlas.
    They last FOR-ever.
    2 pairs at most, per Summer, with the 2nd pair still in fine shape for the next season…….

  • 06/25/10
    6:39 am

    Reply

    Tabitha said...

    I've always loved cottage gardens, I hate the fashion here ( Scotland) for replacing lawn with pebbles and adding bamboo and other immigrant shrubs to gardens.

  • 06/25/10
    7:08 am

    Reply

    Patsy said...

    I don't like gardening at all, but I love gardens. I wish one would fall out of the sky and land in our yard. I also wish I had an avocado orchard and that I could spend the day lounging around your Dad's pool………

  • 06/25/10
    2:59 pm

    Reply

    Miss Cavendish said...

    My house is ancient Italianate, but it still has an English cottage garden. Am going to Google *Sluggo Plus* right now to see how it can help me!

  • 06/26/10
    8:38 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Maggie – You bet:).

    Janet – I love your cottage.

    WendyB – Yes, potted plants count, as long as you let them get a little tangly:).

    Shelley – Have you ever noticed all the old lady gardeners? I think all that bending is good for us.

    Anon – Huh. Didn't know. Thank you for the tip.

  • 06/26/10
    8:40 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Tabitha – I agree, I'd rather replace lawn with other plants.

    Patsy – Ha! I told my dad he might have to start up the High WASP bed and breakfast….

    Miss Cavendish – I love the sound of ancient Italianate – trying to parse the meanings now.

  • 06/29/10
    8:58 pm

    Reply

    Saskatchewan flowers said...

    Great post……..
    Flowers are perfect for any occasion. Different flowers have different meanings and they come in variety of colors. Thanks for sharing nice pictures with us…

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