A Cottage Garden Open Day

A Cottage Garden Open Day

A cottage garden conjures up romantic images of hollyhocks, with roses climbing over quaint thatched roofs and memories of William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. It’s time for a visit!

Garden Visiting

Among the things made by man, nothing is prettier than an English cottage garden, and they often teach lessons that great gardeners should learn.’

William Robinson – ‘The English Flower Garden’ 1883

In a normal year in the dreamy days of high summer a fine afternoon will bring out the garden-visiting public drawn to National Garden Scheme gardens all over the country. Happily a number of gardens are opening again, but you will have to book in advance to visit. Among the wide selection of both large and small there will be a number of cottage gardens.

Gertrude Jeykll's beautiful garden at Munstead Wood
Gertrude Jekyll’s ‘Summer Garden” at Munstead Wood.  http://www.gardenvisit.com. William Robinson’s revolutionary writing in the 1870’s was the start of the modern style of naturalistic planting that we all know today. Gertrude Jekyll was inspired by Robinson’s ideas and collaborated with him for 50 years. Her own beautiful home and garden at Munstead Wood’ in Surrey, and the many Jekyll designed gardens throughout the country, now inspire many gardeners today.

  As you approach the NGS garden a welcome smile meets you at the gate. Inside, you are met with an exuberant fullness, a heady mix of the scent of roses, honeysuckle and jasmine wafts in the air. There are plants in profusion, including many seed-grown annuals and biennials with self -seeders made welcome.

Nature often knows best —

In garden arrangement, as in all other kinds of decorative work, one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do, but also to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone.

Gertrute Jeykll
Traditional cottege garden
A colourful traditional cottage garden on Tresco in the Scilly Isles

The Cottage Garden

Wandering the narrow paths you are immersed in the garden and you feel part of it. As you brush past sweetly-scented roses, petals fall on you and pollen dusts your arms. Bees buzz in your face, feathery grasses sway gracefully in the breeze and the dreamy, relaxed atmosphere renews your wearied spirits. Life slows you down here. Plants and gardens have such a quieting influence. Plants won’t be rushed, neither will gardens, they take their time, often as slow starters.

The great 18th-century landscape gardens were made at a time when..(their).. landscapes reminded …. of a pastoral, dreamy past. If the mood now is instant and disposable, then in our gardens we should be planting slow, steady, sustaining things. In the garden at least, we can dream a future.

Anna Pavord in ‘Landskipping’
East Lambrook Manor gardens
The Cottage garden of Margery Fish at East Lambrook Manor. She was another doyenne of cottage gardening. Her book ‘We made a Garden’ is an old classic. Like Gertrude Jeykll, Margery knew when to leave the self- seeders alone. After her husband died ( he wanted a tidy garden) she deliberately put the hoe away!

The NGS garden visitors stroll the paths exploring secret corners for treasures, some with cameras at the ready, others sit and breath the atmosphere. Everyone is relaxed, there are no frowns, but contentment on all faces. Where better to be on a sunny day in summer than to be in someone else’s peaceful cottage garden.  

There is a quiet buzz of  friendly conversation, gardeners are always a friendly bunch pleased to swap ideas and chat with the owner. Numerous cups of tea and cakes are served and the small table of take-home plants is doing a brisk trade.  What a gloriously English activity, unashamedly old-fashioned and all the better for it. 

Cottage garden at Rosemore
Potager and Cottage garden at RHS Rosemoor. – Photo by Ian Capper – Geograph

Closing time

The visiting public only see these NGS gardens in their afternoon dress, and then only for this special one week of the year, with everything geared and pampered to look its best. 

As the last visitor leaves, the mood of the garden changes as it relaxes back into its private secret self. It is the owner who will sees it in its true form at its enchanting best, in the peace of the early evening with the shadows lengthening, the colours deepening and the scents becoming more alluring. Time for the owner to relax as the day ends, with that sense of satisfaction at having shared this private garden with others.

Shady corner in garden
Above – Large leaved Catalpa (grown from seed) and Cornus alternifolia.

Next Time – A different style of garden at Denmans, in West Sussex’ (see the Header photo).

Visit the NGS website to find a garden near you.

Happy garden visiting! 

6 thoughts on “A Cottage Garden Open Day

  1. What a lovely post! Calm and soothing, just like a visit to a beautiful garden. I have got Margery Fish’s ‘Cottage Garden Flowers’. A rather wistful book, as she believed the cottage garden was disappearing and wanted to record what was left for posterity. Of course, because of her work and that of many others the cottage garden has survived, but unfortunately, not all the flowers that Mrs Fish loved so much.

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    1. Gardens are always a delight, our own or other people’s. Creating one from scratch, like Margery Fish, is a most satisfying, creative adventure. I hope yours is giving pleasure despite the dry weather. We have had no real rain here for weeks.

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      1. Sorry to read you haven’t had much rain. We have had a couple of rainy days recently and it rained over-night on Saturday/Sunday. It’s keeping things green but we could always do with more! Moorhens got into our vegetable garden and completely destroyed all our French Beans! They ripped all the leaves off and left them scattered on the ground but ate all the beans and any new shoots and flowers they could find. Very disheartening.

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    1. Yes, gardens are such peaceful places. Sharing them with others adds to the pleasure. The old Persian word ‘paradise’ seems so appropriate – the royal walled garden, private, yet shared with special friends.

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