The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

History of cottage gardens

Traditional cottage gardenThe cottage garden arose naturally over the last half millenium as British peasants planted gardens around their small houses.  These were hard-working laborers who didn't have the time or energy to spare for mere prettiness, so they planted large vegetable, herb, and fruit gardens, interspersed with a few flowers.  The cottage garden traditionally held a pig sty, a chicken coop, and bee hives as well to round out the cottager's fare.

Around the end of the eighteenth centuries, these poor peasants were joined by the first wave of back-to-the-landers.  Members of the gentry began to idealize the cottage life and to create their own cottage gardens.  This is when the cottage garden began to veer toward prettiness for its own sake, with scads of flowers often replacing the original mixture of edible plants and animals.

In either case, though, cottage gardens were beautiful.  While the vegetable patch was usually planted in bare, straight rows, the rest of the garden consisted of plants pushed together until no soil could be seen between the leaves.  This informal clumping is the signature feature of the cottage garden and can also be seen in the hodge-podge of closely packed plants in Robert Hart's forest garden.

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This post is part of our Cottage Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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