English Garden Design Discouraged Mixed Beds

The English garden design discouraged mixed beds at one time.

Today we often talk about the impact of mass planting which is using many plants of one variety.

The annual conference for the Association for Garden Communicators happened to be in Atlanta this year.

Part of the meeting included visiting local gardens.

In a garden tour there I saw the use of a single variety of plant to create a carpet bed look around a fountain. [below] The clusters of color made of one plant provided a pleasing sight.

Carpet bedding in Atlanta

Carpet bedding in an Atlanta garden

For decades English gardeners looked down on planting more than a single plant of one variety for a bed or border. A mixed variety was then the style.

David Stuart says in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The old method of planting garden flowers was in a mixture, and flowers had been planted that way certainly since the seventeenth century. It was once believed that to have two flowers of the same sort next to one another was a grave error of taste, and it seems likely that such planting ideas had an even more ancient past.”

To include more than one plant of the same variety was not in style.

Stuart continues, “The idea of grouping flowers, so that only one sort was to be seen in each bed, was as much a major departure from the conventions of history as was the passion for informal landscape gardens of the previous century [the eighteenth].”

The head gardener at Chatsworth Joseph Paxton, Stuart writes, in 1838  recommended no mixed beds with perennials but rather carpet bedding with annuals which became the major garden fashion in the Victorian period.

The mixed bed however did survive.  Stuart says, “The mixed mode of bedding survived in rather specialized areas of gardening until the end of the nineteenth century.”

Carpet bedding became the popular style during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Thus, fashion in gardening is most important to heed.

The poor lonely plant doesn’t know the difference, but we do.

Today we plant in a mass or we plant in a mixed border. Both styles have their appeal.

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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 gardeninggreen.net 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?

 

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