Roses Became Essential in Cottage Gardens

Yesterday I noticed in my garden a single ‘Knock Out’ rose bud that had survived several recent cold nights here in New England. What a nice surprise to see the red bud.

Since I have so much shade on my property, growing roses is not an easy job. I have three or four shrub roses scattered around the garden. 

The rose has long been an essential part of the English cottage garden.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening for American Gardens writes, “Roses, I discovered in England, are among the most important features of a well-designed cottage garden.”

In southern Maine, in the town of Alfred, during the summer I visited a rose garden called Old Sheep Meadows Nursery. The color and size of the roses, growing in this Nursery over fifty years, were amazing. Most were shrub roses and climbers.

The photo below shows roses climbing a trellis at the Nursery. [below]

Rose garden in Alfred, Maine

Old Sheep Meadows Nursery in Alfred, Maine

In the Victorian period roses served as a symbol of everything magical about flowers. You may recall that was the time of the ‘language of flowers.’ Flowers, especially roses, spoke about a person’s emotions and thoughts, hidden deep inside, but now open for all to see, simply with the petals, color, and scent of the flower.

Nicolette Scourse in her book The Victorians and their Flowers writes, “In the Romantic era early in the nineteenth century, roses climbed artificial ruins and classical columns, while high Victorian taste preferred strongly scented, full-faced flowers straddling gothic trellises and arbors.”

The late eighteenth century English landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818) restored the importance of flowers in the landscape. He wrote about and illustrated a rosary or rose garden.

No matter how small the garden, roses, even in a cottage garden, had to be included.

Roses became essential in cottage gardens.



Cottage Gardens Can Be Found across America

In the late nineteenth century English garden writer William Robinson and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll helped to popularise less formal gardens in their many books and magazine articles.  They sought to encourage the cottage garden style among their many readers.

Thus it was no surprise that by the start of the twentieth century there was a surge of interest in the cottage garden. Both Robinson and Jekyll admired the ability of the cottage gardener to grow so many plants so well in a limited space. They thought that idea would help other gardeners.

Today we have cottage gardens across America.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening for American Gardens writes, “Over English Cottage Gardens bookthe years I have discovered dozens of the most wonderful cottage gardens here in the United States, every sort from tiny dooryards on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to Midwestern backyards and San Francisco terraces.”

No matter how small your garden is, you can cultivate a cottage garden.

Hensel writes that the “romantic, slightly overgrown look is so characteristic of cottage gardens.” That’s what she saw across the country.

What is so appealing about the cottage garden is that it can be a garden of any size, even a small back patio area in a city setting.

The cottage garden idea gives a certain inspiration for gardeners with limited space.  It also tells those of us who have an acre or more that we can still garden by using the space well with the careful selection of the number of plants, chosen for their size, color and texture. That might mean perennial beds and borders, and even areas of ornamental grasses.

Here is an example of a border of perennials on a rather small property called Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in Londonderry, NH which I visited this summer. [below] The size and color of these perenials fit in so well.

Bed of Perennials in Backyard Garden in New Hampshire

Border of Perennials in a New Hampshire Backyard Garden 

Cottage Gardens Can Be Found across America.



Everybody Loves Cottage Gardens

What is it about cottage gardens that we love?

There is a certain sentimentality and at the same time an immediate connection with a cottage garden. Perhaps it’s because cottage gardens display a landscape that is both in a beautiful form and in a small space.

The excellent use of limited space may well be what we find so attractive in cottage gardens. The cottage garden represents an ideal way to deal with limited space for a homeowner.

English cottage gardens for centuries represented the gardening of laborers or cottagers who had little money and a limited outdoor space, but a love of gardening that inspired them.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening: For American Gardeners says it all when she writes, “The magic is not in having the biggest garden on the block but in making whatever space you do have as beautiful as it possibly can be.”

Then she lists the essential flowers in any cottage garden: delphiniums, roses, hollyhocks, old-fashioned pinks, and oriental poppies.

The blog called offers this image in a post about cottage gardens. [below] The image illustrates so well an English cottage garden that happens to be in England’s Worcestershire.

English cottage garden

English cottage garden in Worcestershire [thanks to the blog Gardening Green]

It is no surprise that to this day we love the English cottage garden.

Hensel dedicates her book “to all of the gardeners whose gardens and love of gardening made it possible.”

What do you think about the cottage garden?