Top Ten Plants for a Cottage Garden

What is it about top ten lists? We go crazy for the list.

It is as if we will feel we have conquered the world if we but knew the names on that list.

Not all top ten lists of cottage garden plants are equal.

Here is one from 1981 and another from 2020.

What are the differences?

Cottage Garden, the Book

Anne Scott-James in her wonderful book The Cottage Garden, written in 1981, presents her choice of the top ten.

She is quite affirmative about this choice.

She says, “From the hundreds of flowers which qualify [as cottage plants] I have chosen ten as the embodiment of cottage gardening.”

Then she lists them.

Here they are: Lilium candidum, Gilliflowers, Honeysuckle, Mignonette, Primroses, Lavender, Roses, Hollyhock, Hawthorn, and Amaranthus.

Today’s List of Top Ten

Now move the calendar to the year 2020.

Just a few days ago blogger David Domoney wrote a blogpost with the title “My Top 10 Plants for the Modern Cottage Garden Style” .

He of course then proceeds to give his list, with some from the group presented by Scott-James forty years ago.

Here are the names on his list: Rose, Cornflowers, Helenium, Miscanthus, Hollyhock, Penstemon, Foxglove, Poppy, Sweet pea, and Red hot pokers.

Hollyhock [Courtesy of The English Garden]

Domoney says,  “The plants found in a cottage garden will be an invasion on the senses. Strongly fragrant and vibrantly coloured blooms will tangle together amongst lush green foliage, whilst bees can be regularly found bumbling busily amongst the vast array of nectar-rich plants.”

Both lists have similar qualities in the choice of plants.

The flowers are bold, colorful, form clumps, and make a statement in any garden of somewhat limited space.

Whether you chose the list of 1981 or 2020, similarities are there.

Today there is renewed interest in cottage gardens.

What are your favorite cottage garden plants?

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Leaving My Garden after 33 Years

The last couple of weeks have provided me with all sorts of feelings.

We are selling our New England house after thirty-three years.

The land around our house, three quarers of an acre, has been my garden and has taught me so much.

I know people think the location is great. After all, we are only a block or so from the beach.

But it is the garden that I will miss.

The house, built in 1948, sits on a hill of New Hampshire ledge.

From the Beginning

Over many summers I would attack a different area, and create a special garden.

No surprise that today I have a white garden, a yellow garden, and a blue garden. Also, perennial beds and borders add wonderful color as well.

The plants I met along the way are too many to list. Some of them still enjoy a spot in the garden.

I must say that I learned gardening by doing. I saw that plants need soil, water, and sun in varying degrees to grow and prosper.

My back yard with my shed to the right.

No surprise that I lost many plants. That is how I learned.

Here is one of my favorite memories from the garden. Every summer the wrought iron table in the backyard would support a pot of ever flowering petunias. [below]

Petunias bloosom on this wrotught iron table in the backyard.

My garden was home to many treees, some decades old.

No surprise that in the fall if I would have leaves everywhere, including on the steps to the front door. [below]

Lately we have been sorting and packing.

Not easy, especially when it comes to anything related to the garden like garden tools.

My next garden adventure will be to create an outside patio of color at our shady condo. Gardening in containers will become my outside focus.

I take consolation in the thought that I have learned so much about gardening over these many years, but I have learned much about life as well.

No surprise that I met so many wonderful gardeners. I can truly see why people love gardening.

Local Newspaper Story

For a local story about this farewell to the garden, please check out the Seacoast Media story “Longtime garden writer Tom Mickey bids his garden goodbye.”

We come, we give, we live, we work, we enjoy, and we move on to the next advernture.

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Oehme van Sweden Landscape at Service Credit Corporate Office

Service Credit Union built its new corporate office on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth, NH in 2012.

The building received the gold LEED award as a leader in energy and environmental design for the four-story structure.

It uses ninety-eight percent less energy than the usual non-environmentally sound building of the same square footage.

The Oehme van Sweden Landscape Architects from Washington, D.C. designed the landscape in their style called the “New American Garden.”

The landscape on fourteen acres is truly a beautiful, evironmentally-sound, and inviting outdoor green space.

The large yellow Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ lines the front of the sign with the corporate name. [below]

Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ at the corporate sign

Oehme van Sweden’s Philosphy

The company website of Oehme van Sweden explains its forty-year old philosophy of landscape design.

“Our firm transformed the field of landscape architecture with the New American Garden style of design, distinguished by a balance of horticultural complexity and architectural craftsmanship.

“We infuse botanical expression in the form of color, texture, movement, and fragrance.

“Our designs embrace the seasonality of the American meadow and magnify ecological systems, sustainable processes, and aesthetic values.

“The New American Garden boldly reveals the ephemeral through mystery, intrigue, and discovery.”

In August of 2010 Eric Groft, vice president of Oehme van Sweden, presented the landscape design to the team at Service Credit in New Hampshire.

Groft wanted to familiarize the Service Credit staff with the work of Oehme van Sweden and the philosophy behind the New American Style.

That style includes mass plantings of native plants, ornamental grasses, and perennials with abundant pathways and water features.

In 2012 the company hired the local Portsmouth firm Piscataqua Landscaping to install the plants, lawn, pathways, and water sites.

Today the same local firm maintains the property.

In keeping with the Oehme van Sweden aesthetic there were hundreds of plants.

Plants

The number included ten thousand grasses, twenty-seven thousand perennials, and sixty-five thousand bulbs. One hundred trees and a hundred shrubs rounded out the list.

Paths and walkways wind throughout the property. [below]

Mass planting of ornamental grasses and perennials makes a bold statement.

Today employees have areas in the landscape for an outdoor lunch break. Neighbors can freely walk the property as well.

A visitor notices immediately the large swaths of ornamental grasses that make up so much of the design.

Three wells on the property supply the water for the plants.

Rain gardens, with two feet of water in spring, help with collecting rain water as well.

Scott Arsenault, Director of Grounds at Piscataqua Landscaping, says it takes his team eleven to twelve hours to cut the grass.

Black-top walkways wind through the property.

The landscape seems much bigger when you are inside and start to walk the grounds.

Mulch helps to keep down the weeding. [below]

Ornamental grasses along with large areas of lawn fill the landscape.

Over the years many books have been written about the Oheme van Sweden approach to landscape. The titles include Gardening with Nature and the newest The Artful Garden: Creative Inspiration for Landscape Design.

Service Credit Union’s Corporate Office gives employees as well the city of Portsmouth a chance to see the Oheme van Sweden landscape style called the New American Garden.

That style has developed into an important chapter in landscape design history.

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New Book Traces History of American Garden

We can learn a great deal about gardening by looking at garden history.

A new book Iowa Gardens of the Past by Beth Cody takes the reader on a journey of gardening in Iowa since 1850.

In the process of looking at gardens over a century and a half the reader also learns about the changing American garden asesthetic. You see how the garden continues to be a work of art.

What was happening in Iowa was also happening around the country. The book describes the evolution of the American garden.

Landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, (1815-1852) proposed a lawn with few trees as the basis of the landscape. A flower garden could be included behind the house as well.

His designed look you might call the Romantic English park aesthetic.

Cody writes, “Only the wealthy could afford a house and landscape in the style Downing proposed.”

During the high Victorian era of the 1880s and 1890s the market for annuals, perennials,and bulbs grew with the demand of home gardeners. New bright and showy species of new plants came from Asia, Africa, and South America.

Then home owners had more leisure time to plan, grow, and maintain gardens in an ornamental style. They did so with flowers like roses and dahlias.

The images in the book are not only of mansions or large houses, but often, especially in postcards, you will see an ordinary house and garden.

The World Expositions held in 1876 in Philadelphia and 1893 in Chicago introduced American gardeners to Japanese gardens.

Americans fell in love with the Japanese style, so after 1900 even in Iowa you could find a Japanese-inspired landscape.

In the early twentieth century the next important aesthetic was the movement to include naturalistic plants in the garden.

Even during the Depression of the 1930s people gardened. Cody writes, “Despite the economic challenges of the decade, more Iowans than ever gardened enthusiastically.”

In 1930 Theodore E. Sexier, from Ames, Iowa, planted the rose called ‘New Dawn,” the first plant ever patented.

Today I grow ‘New Dawn’ in my garden and it is truly a beautiful flower.

In the 1940s during war time seventy percent of Iowa households grew Victory Gardens.

Cody writes, “During the 1950s, there was a noticeable trend of men becoming more interested in oramental gardening, not just growing vegebtables.”

Photos and Illustrations

Cody includes in the book wonderful illustrations and photos of gardens big and small. She has assembled a truly amazing collection of two hundred and fifty photos and illustrations, each filled with a bit of garden history. [belowthe back of the book]

The Back Cover of the book

After the 1950s the garden became an outside room where the family could gather to entertain.

The formal garden had disappeared and more informal flower beds and containers of plants for the deck or patio became popular.

As it evolved, the American garden aesthetic became sometimes formal and sometimes natural with on occasion a combination of the two styles.

And Beth Cody found it all in Iowa gardens.

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Garden as Tapestry

Are you a plant collector? Or is your garden based on a strict landscape design that you cannot disturb by adding plants, willy, nilly?

However you garden, you need to select the plants.

The plants can come from anywhere.

When you assemble them, you are making your garden a tapestry.

Stephen Harris wrote in his book Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden 1500-1900, “Any garden is a tapestry of botanical histories. Some plants are native, some have been introduced, and others evolved in the garden.”

When I think of a tapestry, I think of a mix of things, not just one item.

This garden [below] in a photo I took on the Almalfi coast is an example of nineteenth century carpet bedding with designs in colorful flowers and leaves. It aslo reminds me of a tapestry, or mixture of various plants.

Flowerbeds on the Amalfi coast

In 1973 noted horticulturist Donald Wyman from Boston’s Arnold Arboretum wrote a wonderful article in Arnoldia called “The History of Ornamental Horticulture in America.”

He said, “It is of interest to note that in gardens and landscape plantings of a general nature in the northern United States, half of the plants used are of oriental origin, a quarter are native to Europe and only a quarter are native to America.”

He was also making the point that our gardens are a collection of plants both exotic and native.

You might call it a tapestry.

What kind of tapestry is your garden?

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No Garden without Nasturtiums

I recently ordered five packets of nasturtium seeds.

The varieties are both the climbing or spreading variety and the clumping kind of flowers.

Every garden needs to have nasturtiurms.

The main reason is they are so easy to grow. No potting inside weeks before the ground warms up. This seed you can plant right in the ground or in an outdoor container.

The Garden Museum in London sent me this beautiful illustration of ‘Empress of India’ nasturtiums by British artist Hannah McVicar.

‘Express of India’ Nasturtium by artist Hannah McVicar

Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening says this about the humble Nasturtium: “The common garden nasturtium comprises the genus Tropaeolum, the only one of the family Tropaeolaceae…They are native of the cooler parts of South America.”

James Vick, the nineteenth century Rochester, New York seed company owner, included Nasturtiums in his catalog, magazine, and his book as well.

He wrote, “Flowers of all the different shades of yellow, orange, and red….They are very desirable.”

In his seed catalog of 1873 Vick said, “This flower has of late been much improved, the blossoms being larger and more showy.”

How can we loose? Nasturtiums show superb qualities for the gardener: easy to grow, with splendid flower color, and ever so dependable.

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Archives Open A Window on American Gardening

I just finished reading a wonderful new book on the history of the American garden.

The book, Everything for the Garden, is not thick but is filled with many engrossing photos and illustrations.

The book is based on the collection of garden books, catalogues, and related ephemera in Historic New England’s Library and Archives.  The time frame is the nineteenth into the early twentieth century.

Five excellent essays by prominent garden historians, writers, archivists, and designers make up the volume.

Garden historian Judith Tankard writes about our long dependence on the written word, especially garden books.

She says, “Even though today’s information is readily available on the Internet, the old-fashioned pleasures of thumbing through catalogues and how-to-publications still exist.” There is something that still attracts us to the printed word in the form of a garden book or garden magazine. We want to hold it in our hands.

Late nineteenth century catalogues from seed companies included vegetables depicted as humans in an effort to sell their seeds.  That whimsical artwork is still fun to see.

Garden Statues

Any history of the garden must of course include statuary.  Here archivist Richard Nylander reminds the reader how different the gardener’s choice of such statuary can be, depending on the decade. He highlights three such garden ornaments.

The first garden accessory he mentions is the sculpture Bird Girl (1936) which also appeared on the cover of the 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

 I found his second statue, that of St. Francis, one that I had never thought of but certainly one that I have seen in many gardens. Francis, after all, is now the patron saint of ecology with his love of animals and nature.

 Finally, he reminds the reader of the ever-popular, ever-repulsive, Pink Flamingo craze from the 1950s. What fun.

Garden Fashion

 The idea that the garden is subject to fashion and style appears over and over in the book as the writers discuss the time and place of a particular form of the American garden. For example, the Colonial Revival movement in the early twentieth century stimulated interest in old-fashioned flowers and gardens. It was an interpretation of what people thought the Colonial garden might have looked like.

Alan Emmet includes many images of period gardens like Hunnewell’s in Wellesley, Mass. and Celia Thaxter’s off the coast of New Hampshire.  He admits the difficulty in preserving a garden. Emmet writes, “A garden is probably the most fragile, the most perishable form of art.”

The final essay by Virginia Lopez Begg presents an overview of the Garden Club movement in America.  She spells out the importance of the movement for women. The movement also changed our views of horticulture and landscape design.

The book ends with a listing on the inside of the back cover of some of the many properties, with their fabulous gardens, that Historic New England manages.  Now, as spring approaches, we need to visit these gardens and enjoy them once again in person.

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Formal vs Natural Garden Design

Formal vs natural garden design

There has long been a battle with various levels of passion between those who love formal garden design and those who don’t.

Some prefer the ‘natural’ design as the English proposed it in the early eighteenth century. It became the style of garden for decades and still persists.

Landscape designer and nurseryman from Pennsylvania and later California J. Wilkinson Elliott (1858-1939) ranted about the absurdity of the formal garden in his book Adventures of a Horticulturist (1935).

J. Wilkinson Elliott

Elliott said, “I do not like formal gardens. I consider them an abomination and a thorn in the flesh.”

He was pretty clear where he stood on the issue.

Then he gave his reasons.

He wrote, “The first rule to be observed in making a good garden is to make it as natural as possible, and that does not mean that design is not necessary.”

Even though the garden looks more natural, it still takes the art of design to realize it.

Eliott concluded, “The best-designed garden is one that looks as though it had not been designed.”

He wrote that in 1935.

Today we still make a distinction between natural and formal. Some gardens showcase a bit of each type of design.

Wonder what Elliott would think of that?

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In Search of a Blue Dahlia

In search of a blue dahlia –

I have often heard that there is no blue dahlia.

Last year I planted a blue dahlia I bought at the market Stop and Shop. The bright photo on the front of the box depicted a very blue colored dahlia. The name of the variety was ‘Blue Bell.’ I had to buy it.

On the website Gardenia.net I read a bit about this dahlia.

The site said, “Produces truly beautiful purple-blue flowers adorned with broad petals that fade to lavender-blue.

“The fully double flowers, up to 4-6 inches…are normally large and the plants easily top 40 inches tall, although there are even taller varieties.”

I thought what a find this was to come across a blue dahlia in a local supermarket.

It did not bloom last year, but I still packed it up to store for the winter.

It bloomed this year. As you can see, it is not really a pure blue look.

It looks more like a purple. [below]

Dahlia ‘Blue Bell’

Dahlia expert and writer Bill McClaren wrote the book Encyclopedia of Dahlias.

He says, “If a bloom in the red class has the least hint of blue in it, it is classified as purple.”

Other dahlias in my garden

I planted several dahlias this summer.

When I was walking around the garden last week, I realized that the front door was framed with dahlias.

There I saw on the right the tall red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and on the left in the back the yellow ‘Sunburst Nelson.’

This photo of the front steps highlights the colors of both yellow and red in these two dahlias. [below].

Dahlias frame this view on my front steps.

It was fun to experiment with a blue dahlia, but these two faithful varieties work just fine for me.

James Vick (1818-1882), seed company owner from Rochester, New York, loved dahlias. No surprise that he wrote in 1878, “The dahlia is ouir best autumn flower. We can depend upon it until frost, no matter how long delayed.”

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Victorian Flower Fashion

Victorian Flower Fashion

American gardeners  fell in love with annuals after 1850 during the Victorian period.

The use of perennials in the garden re-emerged by the end of the century. They became stylish through the encouragement of English garden authorities like William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll.

A T. W. Wood and Sons catalog cover [below] from the late 1880s shows a bed of annuals. The round bed sits in a well trimmed lawn.

Philadelphia seedsman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1872: “The evil which accompanied [flower beds, ribbon beds, and carpet beds] was nearly banishing from cultivation the beautiful and interesting tribe known as hardy herbaceous plants. From early spring til late in the fall some of them were in bloom.”

In 1882 Warren H. Manning, New England plantsman, wrote: “The use of tender plants and annuals for bedding purposes in summer decoration has been in vogue for about a quarter of a century, and they have almost entirely superseded hardy herbaceous plants for general cultivation.”

When the English garden style  emphasized perennials rather than annuals, we discovered the English had been enjoying many of America’s native perennial plants for decades.  By the end of the century native American perennials became  a part of our home landscape as well.

As we had for the whole century, America followed the style of English garden design.

The nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs provided the gardener with inspiration. They also pointed out the latest garden fashion.

Annuals were popular from 1850 until the late 1870s when perennials once again took center stage.

What do you think is the garden fashion today?

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