Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cottage Gardens - Richness of Plant Diversity

"In a small cottage garden where space is at a premium, everything must earn its keep, which is why cottage gardens have always grown plants that not only look good, but are also good to eat."

Jackie Bennett, "Cottage Gardener"

I was thinking how true the above statement is and how long cottage gardens have been living by this philosophy. The cottage garden has been around for as long as there have been rural working families, but there was little written about cottage gardening prior to 1750. It appears that "cottager" may have referred to a worker, be they a farm worker, gardener, dairyman or country craftsman, on a large estate in England.

The medieval cottage garden consisted of a yard that was home to animals as well as being separated into sections used for growing vegetables and corn, the crops being rotated annually. Not only providing some recreational activity, the humble cottage garden plot had to pay its way as a sustainable economy.

The cottage garden was a mixture of vegetables, fruits, shrubs, flowers, bulbs, herbs and soft fruits. Over the years the cottagers started to collect specimens of fruits shrubs from hedgerows in the countryside and transplant them near their homes to facilitate the harvest. The style was not planned but evolved over time, with vegetables not separated from flower beds but rather planted among the blooms. The nectar-rich flowers attracted bees, which produced honey, the only sweetener prior to the discovery of sugar cane. Aromatic herbs were grown for culinary and medicinal properties, the fruits and vegetables provided necessary sustenance for both man and beast.

My own "cottage" garden reflects Jackie's comments above, for living in the town of Bracebridge my small garden plot must satisfy all my gardening desires - for water, flowers, vegetables, fruits, herbs, shrubs and a biodiversity of wildlife. I love knowing that I am growing my own food while being surrounded by floral beauty. With a little careful planning you can have the cottage garden of your dreams.

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