Even if you don't own or aren't buying a cottage-style home, that doesn't mean that you can't borrow its unique style. Romantic, cozy, quaint, and a feeling that takes your troubles away are just a few ways that many people describe cottage gardens. It's those descriptions that make cottage-style gardening popular even for new and tract homes.

"I think it's always easier to start with a blank slate rather than to start with someone else's mistake," says owner VJ Billings of Mountain Valley Growers in Squaw Valley, California.

So whether you might be beginning fresh with new landscape or re-doing your yard Billings suggests that you consider these things first.

"You need to decide where you want the cottage garden. It needs to have at least five to six hours of sun a day and if you're planting it with a lawn area then you need to make some nice, gentle curves [cottage style] so that it doesn't just look like a block," says Billings.

But, as with any garden, there is care involved and perhaps more time is needed than you might think for cottage gardening, at least at first. Billings says the gardens are not, despite the random appearance, carefree.

"It's almost more work than saying 'Okay, I just want hollyhocks here and every year I am going to plant them' which you can do, but that wasn't the tradition of cottage gardens. Tradition was to let the flowers seed themselves, come up, and then you fill in where things didn't come up that year," explains Billings.

Cottage gardens were originally part vegetable and part flower. "Peasants who created them couldn't get access to vegetables; so they would just grow their own and as markets became more abundant, they started to grow flowers instead of vegetables," says Billings.

When you're first getting started with a cottage garden, Billings says remember this. "The important thing about a cottage garden is that you plant an adequate number of the same thing because if you don't you're not going to be pleased with the effect."

And another green-thumb rule, plant in odd numbers to avoid making things look too symmetrical. When you have odd numbers of plants and flowers, they tend to be planted in triangles, giving the garden a more appealing look.

"When you get to a certain number it really doesn't matter if you have even or odd numbers. The important thing is to have enough of each [variety] to make a statement and if you don't have that then you're not going to have a cottage garden," says Billings.

She adds, "The thing everyone associates with cottage gardens is the incredible color and you don't get that if you just have one or two of each variety because not everything blooms at the same time."

Some popular varieties for cottage-style gardens are: hollyhocks, black-eyed susan, foxgloves, and even lavender.

We often think of cottage gardens as being older and more developed. Obviously, if you're just getting started, the well-developed cottage garden can seem like it is an eternity away. But Billings says the desired look is closer than you may think.

"You can go get 40 plants that are going to flower with profusion and in six months or definitely by the next year you would have a cottage garden."

You will sometimes need to thin your cottage garden. "Sometimes the rain will push all the seeds to one spot and then you get a river-like effect with your flowers and so you may need to transplant the various seedlings into various other spots in the garden or thin them out so that they don't choke each other out," cautions Billings.

But the true key to developing a carefree, random, naturally-rambling cottage garden is patience. "You have to be willing to let the garden do what it does and you always get a better garden that way," says Billings.

She offers this tip: "Be willing to be a little laid back and realize that you're going to have to work at it to get it the way you want it at first.

Really there is no rhyme or reason to it -- that's the beauty of it. People would just stick plants in the garden and if they didn't like where they were then the next year they would move them to a better spot," says Billings.

So a cottage-style garden is very much like a relationship -- it requires care.

Log in to comment