I’ve always loved the appeal of a cottage garden. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve tried to fit in as much garden as I had time and space for. It’s always been a tough choice between cutting flowers and greenery for inside or enjoying it outside. There was never enough abundance to do both.
When we first moved to our current home, several years ago, there was a lot of open yard space. A vast difference of opinions soon became apparent. Patrick, a golfer, saw large expanses of lawn and rejoiced. Putting space, room for the boys and dog to run and play ball… I, a gardener, saw potential gardens in every conceivable corner and empty space.
We made a deal; the bulk of the yard would be lawn and I would plant in all the borders. Now, years later, Pat has noted that the borders have gotten much wider over time. Hmmm, how did that happen…
There is a place in the middle of the side yard that no matter how much compost and water we added, or digging up and reseeding we did, would always form a large brown area in the center of the lawn, as soon as the summer weather became hot and dry.
Although we’d put in several small herb, vegetable, perennial, lily and berry gardens, there still never seemed to be enough blooms to cut regularly to bring inside. I always said it would be wonderful to have a cutting garden, never seriously thinking we would as there really wasn’t any space left (in the borders) to plant enough flowers for that.
When we noticed the big brown spot was an inevitable annual event, I began to joke that it was just marking the place for the cutting garden, as least putting it there wouldn’t be affecting the lawn as the grass there always died by mid-summer anyway. I really was only joking…
Last summer, it was dryer and hotter, much earlier than usual, right from the beginning actually. The brown spot started in June, a month before we were used to seeing it. Pat, who takes the lawn condition very seriously and personally, was more discouraged than before. Striving to be sensitive, I was careful not to toss out my usual line about a cutting garden and offered instead to help add more compost or whatever might help.
I came home from work a few days later to find a huge circle of dirt in the center of the back yard. Not unheard of as Pat had dug up that portion of the yard several times before, in an effort to figure out what was ailing it and to amend the soil with more tilth and moisture retaining ingredients.
I looked at the wheelbarrow and the dirt piles and asked, ‘What’s this then?”
Imagine my shock when I he replied, “It’s your cutting garden. Do you like it?” Who could blame me for laughing at first, assuming the joke was on me. However, it really was a garden-in-process!
Whoo Hoo !
Things moved quickly from there on. Each day brought more progress. All the turf was cut out and removed. Loads of topsoil and manure were incorporated into the very porous native dusty soil. A pathway emerged in the center of the garden to make reaching everything easy. Next, a low edging encircled the space to keep the lawn at bay. Soon it looked like an actual garden space!
I began stopping at nurseries on the way home and moving perennials and fragrant herbs from other locations in the yard. I wanted something blooming from early spring until hard frost. Before last summer was over, Pat had added a smaller garden space beyond, in another ‘problem area’, using my adage of two negatives equals a positive…
The basic garden principal at work here is the same as in other gardens I’ve worked on. Plant things closely enough to discourage as many weeds as possible and mulch it well. That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it!
Last autumn, we added an arch and 2 climbing roses and put in a lot of spring flowering bulbs. Thanks to those bulbs, as soon as the snow began to recede from the center of the yard, we had greenery and then lots of glorious spring color, where previously we’d only had ‘temporary lawn’. The over-all effect is of an informal, cottage-style garden, leading the eye beyond the yard to a cool mysterious place through the hedge beyond.
This year the two gardens are connected by a pathway with an arch at the furthest end. We are filling in the odd spaces and enjoying the addition of more bees, butterflies and hummingbirds than ever to the yard. Pat has added a stone, Irish sacred well that doubles as a birdbath. The lavender and thyme lining the walkway adds a heady aroma to the already fragrant blooms. It’s a small space but contains dozens of flowers. Annuals round out a few of the spaces where perennials are still expanding. Tulips, iris, coreopsis, miniature hydrangea, Echinacea, daisies, black-eyed Susan’s, ground cover roses, lupine, foxglove, carnations, lilies, caladiums, snapdragons, phlox, sedum, yarrow, cleome, poppies, asters, larkspur, bergamot, delphinium and others seem to dance and sing together and round out the space. Each plant adds it’s own distinctive colors and scent at the right point in the season.
The first thing I do most days when I arrive home from work, is to walk into the back yard to see what has bloomed in the new garden since the day before. I have never been disappointed. Even Pat, who really never ‘got it’ about why I craved garden time, has admitted to really enjoying spending time reading beside the new garden. The complaint ironically, is, that it is so distracting with all the natural activity and beauty that not that much reading gets done!
All in all, the cutting garden has been an enormous labor of love. It has renewed my optimism about dreams. Some really still do come true! And, bonus….. there are enough flowers to bring inside now!