Cottage gardens are making a comeback. The first decade of this millennium saw the widespread use of strappy leaf plants, hedging and little in the way of colour.
This rather limited garden style is in stark contrast to a new wave of cottage garden plants making their way onto the market; plants with colour, texture and interest. In reality, many of the so-called new plants are nothing new at all. They are simply improved forms of tough garden plants familiar to many older gardeners; geranium, salvia, thyme, agapanthus, shasta daisy and roses to name but a few. A cottage garden has an easy and colourful style using a combination of both beautiful and useful plants. Plants that are long-lived or self-seeding or seasonal.
The other decisive trend in gardening today is the move to grow your own fruit and vegetables. Cottage gardens have always been very productive gardens and accommodate the increasing desire of many gardeners to grow at least some of their own produce. Pocket plantings of vegetables and herbs can become part of the tapestry of a cottage garden. An old side fence can become a trellis for berries or climbing passionfruit vines. Fruit trees can provide height in a cottage garden. Where space is even more limited espaliered trees can provide structure, interest and of course a bountiful harvest. Cottage gardens are by their very nature bio-diverse. A full range of insects including bees are naturally attracted to cottage gardens. The variety of both insects and food sources usually means that a stable ecosystem becomes established. Natural predators such as wasps and birds prevent any one kind of insect becoming a nuisance. The food source ensures bees are attracted year round and so are able to pollinate flowers.
Beautiful cottage gardens are common in many cooler parts of the world. Perhaps most famous of all is the lovely cottage garden surrounding Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford upon Avon in England. Even small stone cottages often have a garden that is both useful and beautiful. Closer to home, the cottage garden style can work really well. The Spring Garden Competition in the Toowoomba region has always had some of the strongest competition in the cottage garden section. Entries from Chinchilla, Dalby, Pittsworth, Westbrook and Toowoomba all have their own charm. The gardeners show that even with vastly different temperature fluctuations there is a good palette of plants to create a cottage garden anywhere. The colour and form of a cottage garden works really well from a design point of view against the informal backdrop of gums and wattles in a bush setting.
If a cottage garden appeals to you then the good news is that it really is very straight forward. Start by creating garden beds and improving the soil. Most cottage gardens do make use of fast growing perennials and some annuals in the form of vegetables and herbs so the better the soil the faster the growth rates. Add manure and composts liberally. Choose plants that have complementary colours and appeal to you. There really are no rules. Try to resist the urge to plant everything in one weekend. Regular visits to your garden retailer over the course of 12 or 18 months will ensure that you have some flowers and produce all year round. A cottage garden does need to be lived in. Regular pruning and replanting in your cottage garden will repay your efforts with plenty of colour and produce.
Words and images by Brian Sams