Cottage garden is perfect for anyone

February 15, 2007

BY JANE STEPHENS - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER

EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

According to legend, cavewoman told caveman that he would have to walk upright, as she no longer had time to patch the knees of his favorite pelt. She was occupied with a new profession - cavewoman had discovered the "cottage garden."

A miracle had occurred. She had found tiny sprouts growing from discarded seeds. These tiny sprouts grew into the plants that she had never known she could grow. No longer would she have to search for hours and travel miles for the herbs and veggies that made her mammoth stew so good. Now she would tend to her garden right outside her front door.

From these humble beginnings, the cottage garden has remained a part of many cultures. During the 15th and 16th centuries, trade flourished, not only between towns and cities, but also between nations and continents. Strange and wonderful plants came from around the New World to the delight of gardeners everywhere. Spice and herbs and flowers that were unknown a decade before were now commonly grown in many small gardens.

These gardens, called "kitchen gardens" on the estates, were planted around the estate workers' cottages, and, as their plots were small, every bit of space was used. Although most of the space was given to food plants, as the main function of these gardens was to supplement the family table, they also grew flowers to enhance the family home.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MARTHA SAWYERS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER

This 3-year-old cottage garden, at the home of Victoria County Master Gardener,

 Martha Sawyers, was designed to include a meandering rock path through the

 numerous flowers and vegetables.

 

GETTING STARTED

To choose the layout of your cottage garden, use your garden hose to experiment with different sizes and shapes. For the most part, take a tip from Mother Nature and do not use straight lines.

After you have decided on the dimensions of your garden, put in your edging and any hardscape you have picked out for your design. I saw gardens that had lined the walkways with plants and rocks - big rocks, little rocks and stacked rocks. All were interspersed with benches, small fountains, and even elves peeking from under the leaves.

Several of the cottage gardens I visited also had vine-covered arbors and/or trellis archways that added to the homey cottage look.

Soil preparation, first plants

The next step is your soil preparation. As you are hoping for a carefree garden, remember to use plenty of mulch. The first plants will be what are referred to as the backbone of your garden. For this step, pick plants of a medium height and preferably an evergreen. Remember that your backbone also will be the backdrop for your blooming plants so leave the leggy and spiny ones for another place. Before deciding on backbone plants, visit other gardens and nurseries because many plants that were too large now come in miniature.

Selecting plants

We are fortunate to live in the beautiful Victoria area where our growing zone allows us so many choices and such a long blooming season. All of the cottage gardens I have visited had liriope, perennials, annuals, herbs, a few veggies and a multitude of color.

The liriope is the most versatile plant of them all. It is used as edging, as filler and to add fullness. When you first look at a cottage garden it will appear to have that beautiful carelessly thrown together look. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll see that's not so. All plants of like color are grouped in clumps large enough so that each color is well defined. All of the clumps are planted in odd numbers throughout the garden. There is not a definite pattern to any of these gardens, but careful thought is given to the plants for each section that created a flow throughout the garden.

For the perennials and annuals, it did seem that the plumbago and the various salvias tiptoed through the tulips and the daisies in many of the gardens. Various bedding plants added the spring and summer color. The herbs, such as rosemary, mint, sage and dill added aroma and texture.

Different colors and types of lettuce grew in several of the gardens I viewed, and one even had a small asparagus patch. The ferns I admired in one garden were actually carrots scattered around. Truly, the scope of your imagination is the only real perimeter needed for creating a cottage garden.

As your garden has been created with a variety of plants, it will also attract a variety of insects. A cottage garden lagniappe is that the good guys will control the bad ones. You will have very little need for insecticides. The humble little cottage garden may be as perfect a garden as you can create.

Please come see

For a sampling of plants to incorporate into your cottage garden, come see VEG! The Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG), that wonderful place that was planned and planted by Victoria County Master Gardeners, offers an array of finery from the plant world. You can wander our paths and see the size and shape that your plants will be when they are full-grown. You can see color and texture. You can see plants you might not have ever seen before. You can see landscaping and hardscapes. You can see arbors and trellises. You can see the lovely fountain that is the centerpiece of our garden and if you look carefully you will see a fountain so small that you probably walked right by it earlier. If you visit during the winter, you will see how your plants are able to weather the cold.

Come visit in the spring, summer and autumn and see a festival of color. Come for ideas or just to peek into the secret garden or to show a ripe tomato to your children or grandchildren. Sit on one of our benches and watch the butterflies. Or just sit and listen to the quiet. When you do, I am sure you will agree with cavewoman - that gardening is preferable to patching the knees of pelts.