Cottage garden design is a populist concept. It requires no vast tracts of land, no armies of gardeners and none of the expenditures associated with the prim landscapes of baronial holdings. True cottage gardens have no formal design. It is a style that evolved from of working people’s hunger for beauty and their need to supplement meager diets with homegrown vegetables. Since land ownership was limited to the elites, workers were limited to the exiguous space immediately next to their homes. There they planted edible crops intermingled with flowering plants culled from the woods. This kind of intensive gardening helps minimise labor since it suppress weeds that might compete with flowers and vegetables for water and nutrients.
There those who consider British artist and landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll the quintessential cottage gardener and it is true that in her writing she referred to cottage gardens as one of her source of inspiration, but so were the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement–design unity, joy in labour, regionalism and individualism.
I don’t know about design unity since these very words contradict everything I have learnt about cottage gardens. As for joy in labour, I have little to say, what with the gnats on full battle mode, heat and humidity making a mockery of last week’s cool interlude. For all that, the gardens of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle evidence plenty of and individualism. While they evolved from the British model, the vigor of native flora alone would preclude duplication of, say, a garden in Yorkshire. In my little garden, Virginia creeper, mayapple, wild ginger and solomon’s seal are a rampant challenge to most imports. Even so, I have been able to grow flowers traditionally planted in cottage gardens–roses, columbines, dianthus, daisies, hollyhocks. Mid-May, they come into their own as shown in the photos above.