Gardening Magazine

Starting Afresh with a Cottage Garden

By Ronniejt28 @hurtledto60

I am tired of the way my garden looks and 2013 is the year that I intend to do some major re-vamping. It will take some courage though. After cultivating my garden for 12 years from something that was overgrown with ivy, both up the walls and across what eventually became the lawn, I now intend to start again. I am going to have a traditional cottage garden.

Starting Afresh with a Cottage Garden

The courage required on my part will be removing most or as many of the plants from the beds so the soil can be prepared and fed with compost. I will re-distribute some of the plants in a better position. All this moving about is a job to be done early Spring, but that is when the daffodils and tulips will be growing so I will have to pick the time right. If I leave it too late the plants will starting growing and object to being moved. Why, I ask myself, didn’t I do this in the Autumn – hindsight is a great thing.


Developing an old-fashioned cottage garden, with fruit and vegetables growing alongside flowers is the aim. As January is a month with little opportunity to garden now is an ideal time to start planning. My first job is to find out the origins of a traditional cottage garden. There is little point in developing this style of garden without investigating the history and reasons behind it.

The original cottage gardens were in farm labourers cottages with the sole purpose of providing food for the family and herbs to treat family illnesses. The families also had chickens, geese and other livestock. I am not intending to have animals, although chickens may be fun, but not yet. Flowers came second to fruit and vegetables and were grown to season food or as companion planting to ward off the bugs. Their cottages were small with little land, so there was no wasted space and everything was grown tightly packed. It was not unusual to find rows of lettuce among the flowers.

Cornflower - Double Black

Before I do anything, I will have to make copious notes and lists of what to plant and where according to the soil and position of my flowerbeds. I have to take into account the heavy clay in a west facing garden, which means the south facing bed becomes bone dry in the summer and the north facing bed is invariably wet and cold. Also the ivy is going to create problems (it always has done) and will need a working party to remove as much as possible. It is a dreadful job trying to eradicate and I am sure thrives on being cut back, as it grows twice as fast to make up for what has been removed. Coupled with all of that, there is a Victorian stone wall of about 5ft high that surrounds three sides of the garden.


The fun part will be looking through lists of the flowers that I want to grow, such as Aquilegia, lavender, phlox and pinks. I have plenty of Aquilegia but they are self-seeded and not coming true to seed anymore. The lavender is woody and old so getting rid of that is a necessary evil. The Peony will have to stay in situ because moving it will mean it will sulk for a few years and I don’t want that. I have Astrantias, Alliums, and Phlox that will have to be carefully put in pots until transported to their new home. As for vegetables, I already have packets and packets of seeds courtesy of Allotinabox, which I wrote about on the blog earlier this month, so there will be no shortage of vegetables to grow.

Pink Aquiligia

To give height to the garden I will add hollyhocks, such as the ones below growing in Upwaltham Barn garden. Wooden wigwams will be built for the beans and peas. Any suggestions for beans with lovely flowers will be welcome.

Walled Garden

The Walled Garden at Upwaltham Barn

Over the next few months, I will have plenty to blog about diarising the work I will be doing in the garden to change it into what I hope will be a traditional old-fashioned cottage garden. There is a plethora of information to help me, I have joined the The Cottage Garden Society and will be reading and noting down the interesting and valuable advice regarding cottage gardens on The Enduring Gardener blog.

The main thing is am I a cowardly lion and wimp out of some of the major alterations or a brave heart to forge ahead with a spade in one hand and my carefully thought out plan in the other? Only time will tell, wish me luck.

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