The cottage garden is a distinct style that uses informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, it depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back centuries, but their stylized reinvention occurred in 1870s England, as a reaction to the more structured, rigorously maintained estate gardens with their formal designs and mass plantings of greenhouse annuals.
The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than today's, with emphasis on vegetables and herbs, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers, used to fill spaces, gradually became more dominant. The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gateway. Flowers common to early cottage gardens included traditional florists' flowers such as primroses and violets, along with flowers with household use such as Calendula and various herbs. Others were the richly scented old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year, and simple flowers like daisies. In time, cottage-garden sections were added to some large estate gardens as well.
Modern cottage gardens include countless regional and personal variations and embrace plant materials, such as ornamental grasses or native plants not seen in the rural gardens of cottagers. Traditional roses, with their full fragrance and lush foliage, continue to be a cottage-garden mainstay — along with modern disease-resistant varieties that retain traditional attributes. Informal climbing plants, whether traditional or modern hybrids, are also common, as are the self-sowing annuals and freely spreading perennials favored in traditional cottagers' gardens.
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