Cottage style (also the Edwardian era and Arts and Crafts movement)
Origins: Most of us connect cottage gardens with the golden era of great gardening, between 1880 and 1910, when the grand dame of herbaceous borders, Gertrude Jekyll, and her numerous staff created romantic, blowsy landscapes filled with subtle combinations of perennials.
This garden style, which shares a similar time frame and characteristics with the Edwardian era and Arts and Crafts movement, was Jekyll’s and garden designer and writer William Robinson’s reaction to what they considered the abominations of gaudy and contrived Victorian gardens. They feared the traditions of the original cottage gardens, tended by peasants in the 16th and 17th centuries, would be lost under the deluge of Victorian frippery. These romanticized versions of “cottage gardening” were far less practical and prosaic than the originals—small patches of vegetables, herbs and a few flowers grown for medicinal purposes. By 1900 these rediscovered cottage gardens were very fashionable.
The growing dissatisfaction with the machine-made creations of the Industrial Revolution was also part of the impetus for a return to a less contrived, more natural look. The clutter of mass-produced ornaments that so impressed the Victorians were cast out in favour of simpler, handcrafted items made by artisans, hence the Arts and Crafts moniker for this time period.
Characteristics: Broad, generous porches with sturdy, square pillars and simple, clean roof-lines replaced Victorian turrets and gingerbread trim. Houses were clad with horizontal wood siding or brick. Local, natural materials were preferred, and porch columns artfully constructed from rough stones weren’t uncommon. In North America, square, two-storey, brick houses with tall, wood-framed, pyramid-shaped roofs hiding a small third storey were a popular version of the Arts and Crafts style, which lasted until the beginning of the First World War.
Design: Gardens from this era reflected nature, and great care was taken to balance the house and the landscape, not allowing either to domi-nate. Out went the novelty plants and unnatural creations of the Victorian era; their place was taken by perennial and shrub borders. Neatly trimmed hedges highlighted a profusion of colourful blooms.
Surface materials: A path of randomly cut flagstone (sometimes called crazy paving) or rough stone leading to the front entrance of a cottage garden is suitable. Pea gravel or shredded bark also work. For the simpler lines of later Arts and Crafts styles, square-cut stone or pavers are fitting choices.
Structures: Install pretty arbours and garden benches to match the shapes of columns and moulding on porches. A small summer house or gazebo set in a shady glade would be the perfect spot to contemplate nature.
Finishing touches: The cottage gardeners of the late 1800s were quite proud of their tender perennials, such as geraniums (Pelargonium spp. and cvs.) and fuchsias, displaying them in terra-cotta pots along windowsills or on plant stands during the summer and carefully overwintering them indoors.
Wooden window boxes and other containers made of reconstituted stone in simple, classic shapes look at home in a cottage or Arts and Crafts garden. An elegant bird bath set among flowering perennials with a Lutyens-style garden bench (a design popularized by Edwin Lutyens, a colleague of Jekyll) nearby would be ideal.
Plants: lots of flowers and herbs create a friendly, cozy look. Favourites include roses, clematis, border phlox (Phlox paniculata spp. and cvs.), lilies, lavender, pinks (Dianthus spp. and cvs.), pansies (Viola spp. and cvs.), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), delphiniums, lupine (Lupinus spp. and cvs.), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), hollyhocks (Alcea rosea cvs.) and foxgloves (Digitalis spp. and cvs.). The challenge of designing a cottage garden is to group perennials in pleasing combinations that look effortless but are, in fact, anything but. Those charmingly blowsy flower borders we go gaga over rely on careful planning for successive bloom as well as diligent dividing, staking, deadheading and pruning.