Our garden isn’t finished. In fact, it never will be. Like all living things, it will keep growing and changing, new parts will come, old parts will die. Good intentions will go wrong, some things will be a pleasant surprise. The cottage garden, for me, is like a continuous painting project— and one that I never get tired of.
I thought today I might share with you a little bit about how I make my garden— because really, gardening is something that I love and can’t help doing. And I’m always looking for the simplest and easiest way to get what I’m looking for— because I’d rather, literally, stop and smell the roses instead of spending hours pruning them.
Roses, you might say, are my weakness. They are the leading ladies of the cottage garden. Of course, what this means too, is there has to be a dependable supporting cast. When you’re starting your garden, don’t forget the plants that will provide the ‘filler’ and constant color of your garden. Perfect plants for this are holly, boxwood, hawthorn, and evergreen shrubs and trees. You’ll be glad to have them come January when they’re the only thing providing color and interest. And they’ll give your summer plants a nice lush backdrop from which to shine.
When it comes to roses, which have the reputation of being prima donnas— choose wisely. There are plants that are a pain to deal with, and plants that have been bred to be disease resistant and easy to grow. Those are the ones I go for! Look on the tag of the plant to see what attributes it has. Hardy, easy, disease resistant— these are all good words to look for! And if you want the easiest of the easiest to grow roses— go for Knock Out Roses. These roses are nearly indestructable, and they flower beautifully. Basically all you do is water them ever so often. They usually come in shades of pink, although sometimes you might see red or yellow.
Another important aspect of having a lovely cottage garden all growing season long is having plants that are coming into bloom as others fade. Perennials are plants that come back year after year, but have a shorter window of blooming time (usually about a month or two) Annuals are plants that are only alive for that year and will die in the frost. The upside of these plants, however, is that they’ll constantly be in bloom until the season is over. A nice mix of both will ensure you’ve always got blossoms.
Another important thing to keep in mind is what flowers grow when. If you plant flowers that bloom in spring, early summer, mid summer and autumn, you’ll have a constant flow of new flowers coming out.
And in case you’d like some suggestions these are some of my very favorite garden flowers:
– Blue Salvia: a perennial that is drought resistant, it has beautiful blue/purple spires of flowers that are loved by bees and butterflies. Will just get bigger and heartier as it comes back through the seasons.
– zenias: these flowers are fantastic as they barely need any care— even just a little bit of water. They like it hot and dry. Plant them somewhere very sunny and honestly, forget about them. Too much water will make them get weird and moldy.
-Hollyhocks: these are biennuals, so they take two years to flower. But they’re worth the wait! Plant the seeds, and the first year they’ll be a low mound of green leaves. The next year the mound will get bigger and the tall spires of blooms will show up. Another plant loved by bees and butterflies, and they are so classically ‘cottage’. Spread seeds every season, and you’ll have a continual supply of plants coming into bloom.
–Mums: These plants will provide a nice lush green backdrop for other plants to shine through the summer, and then will give you gorgeous blooms come fall. A hint though— they’ll start to bud around the height of summer— CUT THEM BACK. Dont let them bloom in the summer, or they’ll get leggy and weird come autumn when you want them to be beautiful. If you cut them down around July 4, by October they’ll be nice shaped and ready to burst into bloom, and show off those pumpkins and pansies.
– Cabbage, Kale and Lettuce: Nothing says “Beatrix Potter lives here!” like a row of cabbages, kale or lettuce. I like to plant veggie plants in with garden plants because not only are they pretty, they’re practical! Before you use them to make coleslaw, they might as well add some interest to the rose bed, right? They’re easy to grow, get huge, add interesting color and at the end of their growing season, you can eat them! What’s not to love? They also like the cold so you can plant them early in the spring, or they will last well into late fall after other things have died from cold nights.
And in closing, as I’ve probably rambled quite enough— remember:
Gardening is ongoing and above all, an experiment. There are great growing seasons, and bad ones. Dont take failure personally. We’ve had summers so hot that not even tomatoes would grow. Or springs so wet that all my zenia seeds rotted and didn’t bloom. You learn from what works and what doesn’t. And the more you learn, the better you’ll be as a gardener. And when you come upon a happy accident of a beautiful bed that is doing well, you’ll enjoy it all the more!