An English Cottage Garden in June


Despite the efforts of the R.H.S. Chelsea Flower Show organizers to encourage innovation and modern garden designs, the public still seem to vote for traditional gardens. This year Chris Beardshaw again won the popular vote for Best-in-Show with his cottage-style planting.  I’m totally in agreement with the public here.

According to the Cottage Garden Society the traditional cottage garden was marked by three recurring themes: informality. diversity. and profusion.

I like to think my own garden ticks at least some of these boxes too. Self seeders are welcome here, plants usually grow best where they, not the gardener, think.

A  free-flowing, informal style provides a dense ‘Persian carpet’ medley of grace and charm. I do enjoy the delightful palette of every colour, “Christopher Lloyd style”, with plants jostling cheek by jowl’ for space.  Flowers in orange, scarlet, yellow, blue, pink and white, giving a happy jumble of plants, create a summer dream of long-lasting beauty till the frosts.

Majestic Stipa gigantea beginning to form an airy background to the display.

Low Cost Gardening 

Cottage gardening  was, and still is, low cost gardening. Plants are obtained cheaply from seed,  cuttings and divisions from other gardening friends. Real cottage gardeners produce their own plants wherever possible.

Several societies operate free seed exchange schemes: The Cottage Garden Society, the Hardy Plants Society and others. There is no need to break the bank in order to make a beautiful garden.

Another website that I like with great suggestions for colour combinations is Sarah Raven’s. I support the way she champions home-grown English cut flowers. What a shame so many florists still rely mainly on (often unscented) imported flowers from Europe, when there is such a wealth of scented flowers grown here.

Early Snapdragons in flower
Autumn-sown Antirrhinums grown from my own 2016 seed.

The Potager

In the past the cottage gardener would have grown fruit and veg with flowers as an extra.There would have been self-sufficiency in a whole range of salads, herbs, veg and fruit, plus some livestock. A cottage garden would have been an abundance of good things, a cornucopia of pleasures.

‘…you see… in almost every part of England that most interesting of all objects, that which is such an honour to England, and that which distinguishes it from almost all the rest of the world, those neatly kept and productive little gardens round the labourers’ houses, which are seldom unornamented with more or less of flowers.’

 Words of William Cobbett writing in his ‘Rural Rides’.  Quoted in ‘Gertrude  Jekyll’  by Betty Massingham

———————-  Click on the above images to enlarge.

Biennials and Annuals – the neglected garden flowers

These are the essentials for the post-bulb season in the cottage garden, before the first herbaceous perennials get going. Now is the time to sow these for 2018. Gardeners always need to be looking ahead. They’re a sadly neglected range of plants in modern gardens.

Overwintered annuals are beginning to shine now including my autumn-sown Antirrhinums. Later-flowering spring sown annuals are beginning look full of promise in the tubs and borders.


Sweet Peas are another favourite. They’re good for bunches to give away, as everyone likes the exquisite scent they provide. Finally of course, there will be the first roses, the cottage garden essentials.  

Click to enlarge these images:

“After all, what is a garden for? It is for ‘delight’, for ‘sweet solace’, for ‘the purest of all human pleasures, the greatest refreshment for the spirits of men’. It is to promote ‘jucundite of minde’, it is to ‘call home over-wearied spirits’. So say the oldest writers, and we cannot amend their words, which will stand as long as there are gardens on earth and people to love them.”

          Words of Gertrude Jekyll  (herself a lover of cottage style gardening) quoted in her ‘A Gardener’s Testament’.

In Praise of Cottage Gardens

For those who want a tidy garden this is not the style for you. But I love it. A relaxed, laid- back regime of gardening is ideal for us here in this small garden, and with our limited energy levels. Dead-heading will be necessary to prolong the display, but apart from that, little else. Walking through such borders is a delight from June onwards with flowers of all sorts all around. But watch out for the bees, they are everywhere.  Every day a look around reveals unexpected surprises  and an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour.  There are a whole group of late flowering annuals waiting in the wings – this year’s spring sown (April) ones will be flowering their socks off in the tubs and borders, come August and September.

More of that for a later post. Meanwhile, enjoy your own and other people’s gardens this summer.

— Richard


6 thoughts on “An English Cottage Garden in June

  1. A delightful post, Richard! Your garden is wonderful – I especially love the second photo with the glads and nigella mixed in with the stipa – what a beautiful look. I see many of my favorite flowers featured here – your Antirrhinums look robust! They are a flower from my childhood that I always include in my gardens – we call them snapdragons here. Thank you for sharing your garden..

    I saw a bit of Sarah Raven’s cutting garden at Chelsea on YouTube; her “The Bold and Brilliant Garden” book influenced how I use color in the garden. I was impressed with Chris Beardshaw’s garden not only because it was a beautiful flower garden but also because of the way he connected it to music and commissioned a new piece for the garden.
    It was a great reflection of the connections betweens music and nature, and I loved the piece itself.


  2. Thanks for such a encouraging comment. I see we are ‘singing’ from the same music ‘score’ !
    Sarah Raven has a delightfully relaxed style – no wonder so many of us are inspired by it. I specially love the way she brings annuals into the ‘front of stage’, where they deserve to be.
    Chris Beardshaw, likewise, delights us all with his displays. The idea of bringing music into the garden is wonderful. Music and gardens belong together.
    Best of wishes for your own composing and gardening.
    — Richard


    1. Thanks Andrea. It always adds to the owner’s delight when a garden is shared with others. I wish I could also share some of the heavenly scent of the Sweet Peas. There is such a huge choice of colourful plants available these days- many of them easily grown from a packet of seeds, and a little patience. The early Sweet Peas in the photos are autumn-sown in ‘root-trainers’ and then planted into large buckets on our semi-shaded patio. They seem to love it there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a big fan of English Cottage gardens, however I also like neat and tidy gardens. Most of my 17 hastens are neat and tidy, however, one had characteristics of an English Cottage garden. I like to see the dirt and mulch below the plants- it kinda frames the plant I guess. But, you probably have more butterflies with your gardens. Happy gardening..🙋🐦


    1. I also enjoy, and have used, other styles of gardening, but the cottage style best suits our present small dry front garden. Sadly, though the many bees love our flowers, butterflies are too few these days here. I can remember many more of them in the past adorning the flowers with their beauty. Enjoy your own garden too.

      Liked by 1 person

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