June 22, 2021
“The best cottage gardens look like they planted themselves”.
January 2021 our cottage garden was still in the dream phase. Researching, studying and looking at pictures on the internet filled up most of our time. We had envisioned the look, but a great deal of work lay ahead before this distinctive style could be implemented into our existing Statuary bed. Our goal was to find the perfect blend of colorful edibles transitioning from season to season, much like a butterfly gently flutters among flowers blooming in the garden. We hoped the rhythm of a good design would guide us along the way.
The English invented the cottage garden, probably in the 1400’s when even the humblest plots of land were pressed into service to produce food for families. Every inch of earth counted—with herbs, fruit trees, and flowers (which attracted bees to pollinate crops) jammed close together. Aside from being practical, the effect was charming. And so, we chose two descriptive words to guide us in our adventure…we wanted our garden to be graceful and charming.
While studying Gertrude Jekyll’s philosophy (1843-1932), we learned that she popularized the informal borders associated with country houses in England and picket fences in the U.S. Instead of the fussy formal planting of the Victorian era, she advocated a more natural look with plants arranged by color, height and flowering season.
After a series of discussions with our team of volunteers, ideas were tossed out for consideration as we started the process of ordering seeds for a Spring presentation. Our time spent learning about the cottage garden style was especially beneficial as flowers were specifically chosen for the role they would play. Variety would create interest while selecting plants with the proper form and texture promised a more pleasing landscape design.
Guidelines used to establish a Texas version of our edible modern cottage garden were:
*Expand Boundaries – plant flowers at the edge of garden beds, allowing them to spill over onto paths.
*Consider Climate – select flowers, herbs and vegetables that are known to thrive locally.
*Embellish Gracefully – provide ways to produce focal points and places of interest. Plant shrubs among flowers to add height and structure.
*Lure Pollinators – use “bee and butterfly” friendly plants.
*Edit Sensibly – remove annuals at the proper time and groom perennials to maintain beauty.
*Evaluate and Experiment – cottage gardens evolve, seasonally. Remove plants that failed to flourish. Add new plant material, as needed, for variety.
Edible plants selected for our cottage garden include, but are not limited to, the following:
Spillers-to expand boundaries: having used scented pelargoniums in previous years, we were familiar with their growth habits and characteristics. For this project the varieties we chose were ‘Old Fashioned Rose’ and ‘Mrs. Tabor’s Red’. Tucked in between the pelargoniums we planted nasturtiums ‘Alaskan Mix’ to satisfy our 2021 variegated theme and to promote the spiller effect. The herbaceous evergreen perennial ‘Pink Chintz’ creeping thyme with its ground-hugging habit of growth brings a delicate texture to the perimeter of the garden.
Thrivers-previously used plant material proven to flourish in our Zone 8 climate: herbs in this category are the familiar basil varieties ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Red Rosie’. Onion chives were planted around the perimeter over two years ago and continue to thrive. Summer Phlox ‘Party Girl’ is a new addition with vintage appeal. ‘Iron Cross’ Oxalis is a frost tender perennial in bloom from June to November.
Embellishers-bring interest to the garden: two varieties of marigolds (tangerine and lemon gem) will bring delicate pops of yellow and orange to the design. ‘Pinks’ (Dianthus) that grew prolifically in many of our grandmother’s gardens provide little dots of color amongst the herbs and flowers. Wax leaf begonias and purple impatiens give long lasting seasonal color to the garden. For a striking touch of blue, Bachelor’s Buttons (Cornflower) add both drama and height. One carefully chosen coral drift rose bush was planted to grace each wedge. Three upright lavender scented pelargoniums softly embrace the centrally located garden statue.
Pollinators-bee and butterfly friendly plants: blue borage has been growing in our edible landscape for the past two years. Adding it to the cottage garden was an easy decision. Bees love those adorable star-shaped blue blossoms as much as we do. Echinacea is a reliable perennial that adds color and height. Radish flowers are not only tasty but attract beneficial insects to the garden. Some will be harvested, others will be allowed to bolt. Yellow yarrow is a pollinator friendly plant that is known to attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects. We added one yarrow plant to each wedge.
In conclusion: Six months later, the circular bed once referred to as our Statuary Garden has been reclaimed and given a new identity. Yes, the adorable bronze statue of a little boy and girl remained in its original location, a constant reminder that the entire edible landscape was once a much-loved children’s playground. The same four pie-shaped wedges now feel more relaxed with their harmonious gathering of edible flowers, herbs and a few vegetables. We are overjoyed with the seasonal arrangement of jewel tones displaying their glowy color palette. Varying shades of green gracefully weave their way through a tapestry of color bringing a sense of harmony to each bed. Our new ‘Cottage Garden’ stands proudly as the focal point of the edible landscape. As with the cottage gardens of old, we are hopeful that ours will evolve slowly over time, changing with the seasons yet always impressing with its charm. Please enjoy your visit to our garden whenever possible.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008