Cottage Garden History

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This article will inform you about the history of cottage gardens.
by Brett · All Zones · Theme Gardens · 0 Comments · August 30, 2010 · 8,876 views

Cottage GardenCottage gardens got their start in England. The cottage garden of medieval England was a poor man's garden, where beauty was incidental to the plot's real purpose: to feed the cottager's family, while providing medicine, fabric dye, and scent to hide musty odors. The small yard was enclosed to contain animals. In the back yard a beehive sat under an apple or pear tree, next to the family privy. Chickens and a pig fattening in its sty shared table scraps, while contributing manure to the garden.

No space was wasted along the cottage walls climbing roses and berry vines rambled. Herbs and flowers spilled over the straight path leading to the front door. Here a bench allowed the cottager to rest amid the fragrant rose blossoms.

The vegetables that made up cottagers' staple diet - carrots, onions, leeks, parsnips - might be grown in neat rows, and cooking herbs, as in today's gardens, were clustered by the kitchen door. Otherwise flowers, fruits and herbs were a jumble of shapes and colors, most likely plunked into any available spot as the cottager obtained cuttings from neighbors or from the nearby woods.

Many of our favorite flowers today, back then found their way into the kettle: marigold leaves in stew, peony seeds as a condiment, primrose and Sweet William in wine and flavored drinks. Lavender freshened linens and was scattered on the floor with wormwood, to repel fleas.

Over the centuries, plants from exotic locales have been welcomed into the cottage garden. One of the most beloved flowers, the hollyhock, may have been carried from the Middle East by returning Crusaders. Far-flung trading in the seventeenth century brought tulips from Turkey and a host of hardy flowers from North America, like fall-blooming Rudbeckia and Helenium. Many cottage garden favorites like dame's rocket made the reverse journey to the New World, where colonial settlers eased feelings of homesickness by mixing old and new plants in their own gardens.

Our romanticized view of the cottage garden actually dates to Victorian times, when artists and poets idealized humble country life in reaction to the harsh realities of the Industrial Revolution.


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