The English cottage garden began as a worker’s garden. These were country folks who served on grand estates or farmed small plots in the countryside. In this incredible climate, the workers planted everything they thought beautiful, oblivious of horticultural fashion of the day. Annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that produced the most glorious color were the most favored.
This is not an expensive garden at all because cottagers knew about the propagation of plants, both sexual by seed and asexual via cutting. This was how cottage gardeners could rehabilitate castoffs and overages from estates or gardens to fill their garden without buying a thing. So how could they create such exquisite, world-renowned beauty without a designer? Simple: A love of flowers drives everything.
The key to success is to grow the most rewarding species that bloom large and plentiful.
The problem at the garden center is that big rangy plants aren’t suited to massed bedding. The originals have been bred into compact dwarf forms that grow very uniform for these special carpet plantings. Plants grown from open pollinated heirloom seed will likely attain their early look and size.
Even if you’ve never grown a flower garden, look for old fashioned favorites in seed or seedling at the garden center. These plants are the original forms of today’s annuals that have lost their former stature, or were changed in other ways due to breeding. They are the open pollinated species adopted from England to colonize American gardens.
Above all, they are easily grown when sown right into garden soil, started indoors in pots or purchased at the garden center. Like grandmother, you’ll be able to save seed of your own to grow them again next year. Often these seeds yield genetic surprises because they display natural variations, unlike hybrids, which are uniform. Let them self-sow when their time is up and they may colonize, offering many volunteers to pick through each spring to come.
If you’re a worker who needs a way to blow off the world at the end of the week, consider spending about $20 on some seeds and start growing. Remember, there are no ugly flower gardens, so plant your heart out. Who knows, perhaps it will become the root of something very old made new again as we return to lots of flowers everywhere.
Clip & Save: Favorite Cottage Garden Annuals
It can take many seasons for perennials in a proper English cottage garden to mature. Here is a list of the biggest and best seed-grown annuals for a great cottage garden look this year without having to wait. This list identifies the basic annual and its primary flower color. If it varies, that means there are a wide range of hues available, as with zinnias. The last category tells you its form, which will help you visualize how their shapes will look together within your flower beds or borders. Arrange shape and height so all the plants receive equal amounts of full sun, particularly on a south-facing exposure.
Calendula Pot marigold. Orange, yellow. Bush
Coreopsis Tickseed. Yellow. Bush
Centaurea cornflower. Blue, lavender. Upright
Cosmos. Pink, white. Open/rangy
Hollyhock. Many. Columnar
Larkspur. Blue, purple, white. Columnar
Scabiosa pincushion flower. Many. Upright
Snapdragon. Many. Columnar
Sunflower. Sunset hues. Large/rangy
Sweet pea. Many. Vine
Zinnia. Many. Upright bush