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The Myth of the English Cottage Garden

There is a fascination in America with the English cottage garden.

As I was reading about the history of English cottage gardens, I discovered  the garden might be more a myth than a reality.

E. Hobsbawn and T. Ranger in their  book The Invention of Tradition claim that the cottage garden style is a late-nineteenth century “invented tradition”, rooted in a nostalgic imagining of a rural past.  They put the blame on English garden writers William Robinson and Gertrud Jekyll.  Both wrote about small-scale romantic gardens, which they associated with the honest and down to earth virtues of the traditional English cottage.

There was a political need to create the myth of the cottage garden in order to combat the growing urbanism, and the loss of a rural identity in England.

The poor, rural gardener, however, housed in the thatched cottage and surrounded by an informal planting style , was more concerned with battling against poverty and had little time to engage in ornamental planting at a time when gardening was mainly for food or medicinal needs.

Art historian Anne Helmreich in her book The English Garden and National Identity also discusses the English garden at the end of thee nineteenth century and agrees.  She writes, “The cottage garden was conceptualized within the frame of an idealized vision of rural life by middle and upper class homeowners.”

But the myth lives in.  Books and articles about the cottage garden continue to appear.  An amazing garden blog called Grounded Design featured a recent post on the cottage garden.

The English cottage garden is deeply embedded in the American psyche. We just like it.

What do you think?


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Perhaps you could give me a page reference for “The Invention of Tradition”. I can’t fins a reference in it to cottage gardens.

    1. Andrew, my reference is to the book The English Garden and National Identity by Anne Helmreich. In it she writes, “The flowery cottage garden functioned as an ‘invented tradition,’ to borrow Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase.” (page 73 in her book0

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