25 May 2011

Let's hear it for mystery, surprise, and a little light-hearted gaiety

With their mystical charm and romantic aura, English cottage gardens exhibit a style that is the direct result of having been born of a Romantic movement in literature and art -- a movement against Classicism and its appreciation for order, discipline and moderation.

Romanticism not only focused on the emotional, but also placed the peasantry on a pedestal. And it was originally the peasantry that had planted and maintained English cottage gardens long before it became trendy with more affluent groups. The true English cottage garden of the peasantry was practical, as well as aesthetically pleasing. Thus herbs were common components, used both for medicinal and culinary purposes; and fruit trees, too, were often included.

One of the most famous English cottage gardens was designed by none other than the French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840-1926). No discipline exerted a stronger influence on garden design than did landscape painting. It was a case of "life imitating art," if you will. Monet is a particularly interesting case, being not only an artist who painted landscapes but also someone who was active in garden design. With Monet, the influence went both ways.

English cottage gardens, with their wild abundance of rose bushes, perennial flowers, vine-covered arbors, and plants tumbling over walkways, are widely emulated in America. It is an informal style meant to evoke a mood of light-hearted gaiety, letting the eye feast on a diverse jumble of flowering plants, distributed in a seemingly haphazard manner, evoking thoughts of a "natural landscape." The plants themselves are just as important as their use in the overall composition, and the wildness of the arrangement is meant to suggest a closer communing with nature.

Cottage gardens don’t have to take hours to look after. By choosing the right type of features one can plan a garden that almost takes care of itself. Cottage gardens are all about plants. Hard landscaping, such as paths, seating areas and containers, is just there to help you enjoy them. Hard surfaces contrast well with plants so use them to break up large areas of planting. Several different climbers can share the same support, whether it is a tree, pergola or arbour. It’s a good space-saving technique that creates colourful features for months on end. Containers are the convenient way to add lots of extra colour around your back door, close to seats and benches, and on the patio. Old bits and bobs like chimney pots, earthenware land drainage pipes and bottomless metal buckets can be recycled to make authentic, aged features that all add to the character  and charm of a cottage garden.

Cottage gardens break all the usual rules of garden design, adding elements of mystery, journey and surprise.

— English Garden Design (David Beaulieu)


  1. April 15, 2014

    No comments?!?

    Such a precious and informative post!

    My husband has nurtured his cottage garden, in the front of our house. :-)


    1. When I bought my cottage, Tessa, the first thing I did was remove every blade of grass in the front and back and plant perennial gardens. They surround the house now and I couldn't be happier.