How did you start your Cottage Garden?

sweetbeanmamaMarch 31, 2013

I'm always curious to see how gardens get their early beginnings...I've had to leave my lovely cottage garden when we moved this past year. :( Combine moving and baby number three, and I haven't had much time to get a garden started here! Our new property has some great bones - sun AND shade for starters - and I've spent many happy hours daydreaming of a "someday" garden.

At this season of life my mantra has to be to "just enjoy the little bit of gardening time that you have!" :) Anyway, this summer I'm planning on starting the first stage of the new cottage garden. (yay!)

How did you begin yours? Did you envision a grand master plan and work toward it? Or just plunk and run? Did you create new beds to start with or work with what was already existing?

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If you just got baby number three, you have many years...these just have to be done in "little bites" of time.

What fun to plan a garden all over again.

I made all new beds, and combined butterfly attractants, roses and plants I really like. My garden changes as I go along.

The older I get, the more I enjoy my garden.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 9:54PM
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memo(Zone 4B Nebraska)

This should be a fun thread to read when more people jump in here. I have to re-start my new gardens for the second time at the same house. I've left three gardens over the years. Last year I had to move my plants to buckets and pots and then proceeded to pour a new cement patio over top of the two beds that I had. Nothing survived due to temps over 100F. for weeks straight last summer and then numerous prairie and canyon fires burned for weeks so the constant heat and smoke did in what I had. I even lost two giant trees in my yard to the smoke and heat. So, I have to begin again. I probably won't start until fall making new beds as I still have much work to be done on the outside of the house that I never got finished last year. I did get my house white washed (cement and lime wash) though and my garage is at least primed for paint but there is still a fence to install and several small projects to complete including a new greenhouse. My fingers are getting itchy to get in the dirt! I'll have to live virtually through all of you again this summer. Bring on the pics everyone!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 10:59AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

With any luck, you will be in your new home for many years. So, I would take your time and collect information before jumping into anything too overwhelming or costly. Ideally, you would simply observe your yard for the first year and take notes/journal about what plants you already have, such as spring bulbs or ephemerals that might get dug up accidentally, and how much sun various spots get as the seasons progress. Also pay attention to drainage issues and foot traffic patterns. Once you "know" what you have to work with, then you can make much more informed decisions about what you want. If you are really anxious, you can throw some annuals around to give some color to the yard, or plant in containers that can be moved and changed at will. Best of luck!


    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 2:11PM
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Lilyfinch z7 mid tn

This will be such an informative thread, I'm sure!
I started as a plonker and runner, when I had no idea what I was doing. I crammed plants in and killed a ton I never planted or that were planted in the wrong places. I had major drainage issues and I never knew how to address them so I had to learn how to plant accordingly.
After a season or two I learned and really dove into it. I knew I liked the cottage look and learned how to create it for myself. Mostly by scouring the net for pics and buying an obscene amount of books and magazines!

I too am starting over. We moved so now I am embarking on a. "rental garden". I'm not sure how I'll be resisting the urge to dig up a big bed. I can do what I please but I don't want to go too crazy. Yet I can't stop fantasizing about a pretty garden here!!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 4:53PM
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I started my present Cottage Garden back in 2004,..bringing many plants and shrubs from my other house,..however it has changed over the years as plants extended themselves,..moving plants around,..then new ideas always coming to mind, never ends,..i know i want a full garden i can see it in my mind,..but i have not got there yet,..but nearly.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 6:27PM
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peachymomo(Ca 8)

In all of my previous gardens I worked with the existing shapes and structures, but at my new (I still think of it that way, even though I've been here 4 years now) house the yard was pretty much a blank slate. Well, after my bf took a chainsaw to the overgrown junipers planted too close to the house and tore down the ugly old shed blocking the view of the oak trees, then it was a blank slate. I knew what I wanted but I had trouble figuring out how to translate that into a plan, fortunately my bf has a good friend who is a landscape architect and she drew up a plan for us. With that in hand I've been chipping away, one area at a time, slowly transforming the nondescript yard with gardens.

My latest project is the spiral garden, I am particularly proud of it because it is the one thing that I actually drew up myself. It's only half done so I don't want to post pictures yet, but I go out and admire and dream every day. It's in a spot with difficult sun conditions, so I'm doing an experiment to see what to plant. I got a couple of seed mixes ('made in the shade' and 'fairy meadow') that have various plants suited to sun or part shade, watching to see what thrives and what doesn't should give me a better idea of what to plant.

Anyways, I found that having a plan really helped but since it usually costs money to get a custom one you might want to try looking at the free ones available at gardening websites like Sunset or BHG. They may not fit your space exactly but can still be a good starting off point, and there are also lots of pretty pictures you can peruse for inspiration.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 11:19AM
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@organic_kitten: Exactly! I even wrote in my garden journal, "You have little kids. Do NOT bite off more than you have time to enjoy!"

@memo: I'm so sorry to hear about your devastating. Are you planning to create something entirely new or will you echo the gardens you had previously?

@docmom: Great advice - I'm thankful I have been able to do that this past year. Also thankful they had a veg plot already started so I had a little corner to at least get my hands dirty last summer! :)

@lilyfinch: I hear ya on having to use restraint! I'm trying to best to envision what I'd like to have someday in the future, but really breaking it up into tiny pieces along the way.

@glengarry: Does a garden ever really get done? :) How fortunate that you were able to bring many plants from your other location. I was able to save a couple, but most of them had to stay.

@peachymomo: A spiral garden, now that sounds lovely! I hope you will post pictures when you feel you can!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 2:37PM
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In my experience creating a garden is a good way to learn patience!

My first 'real' garden was the one I did in our new house when I was 3 months pregnant and nauseated, had a 16 month old, and was making a veggie garden in the back yard, so the flower garden in the front yard wasn't my top priority. Since I knew virtually nothing about planning a garden or garden styles it was just a bunch of plants I liked arranged as best I could. I was very pleased when my neighbors complimented me on it. Possibly they were only being kind and I can't remember exactly what it looked like and don't have pics.

Fast forward 42 years and I've had about 11 more gardens and have learned a lot. We moved every year or 3 for 20 years and gradually adopted cottage style and the last 6 have been variations of it. I've now been gardening in the same place for 19 years. We started here with raw forested land on this large acreage and did everything ourselves. Trees and stumps needed to be removed, huge rocks were moved by DH with his tractor for the rockery, and I have composted constantly to improve the soil.

Last year I started a complete renovation of the garden which will continue this year. I've always been a frugal gardener and still don't spend a lot on new plants. I like to grow perennials from seed and propagate plants thru cuttings.

I've done many 'master plans' to scale but no longer do that as I always deviate from the plan. I do a lot of gazing at the garden trying to visualize how it will look “if” I move this plant or that plant. Mostly I just dig up plants that need a better place, walk around with them, and plunk them in what looks like a better place! Cottage style suits me as it it's a casual style.

I've worked with existing gardens (often seriously over-run with weeds); completely renovated old beds by digging up all the plants, amending the soil, and placing the plants where I thought was best; and started my current garden from raw land and a few plants from my last garden. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

My garden has always been, still is, and probably will always be a work in progress. I can't see it ever being completely 'finished'. I want to have well-mulched spaces between plants and more order than previously. I do still want the cottage look but want an easier care garden. I'm not sure I should even post pics because the 'before' garden had become overrun with self-seeders and the after still looks so unfinished.

Anyhow here's my 'work-in-progress': "Lucky's garden"

I've posted pics of my garden many times here but for those who don't like to click on links here are a few:

This is from spring 2010 and we were enjoying looking at the garden at the end of the day with a pre-dinner glass of wine...

This pic taken from similar location last year shows the enlarged center bed and was before the weeding was finished...

This pic taken last fall shows the weeding and mulching finished. There are still many spaces which I will fill in this year.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 10:56PM
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I've always wanted a cottage garden. It's been my dream since my teens and I read the book Tasha Tudor's garden. We now finally own our own home and I've been working on it a few years now. We have a full acre but it's narrow and hilly. Our front yard is one big hill. I've actually combined some of what I learned from permaculture gardening. I've been creating swales/hugelkultur beds on the hill.

Before that that front yard was mostly bare dirt where even weeds were loathe to grow. The swales and hugelkultur trap water in the soil instead of it just washing away immediately. I've also had probably 6 tons of composted manure brought in that we've been adding to beds.

I wish I had a better plan. But I know my personality. If I have to plan it perfectly before starting then I'd never start. So I just plan as I go and change things if I need to. I have 6 children and my youngest will be 3 this summer so I finally have a little more free time for gardening. And my kids are older and helping more. Thankfully most of my children really love gardening. I love that my kids can go outside most of the year and just eat out of yard. Right now my 2yo's favorite thing to do is pull up baby carrots. LOL

So I've got an acre and a vision but no real plan. And my dream is that it'll be my cottage garden paradise one day. And thankfully I've got a dh who loves my dream and loves to garden with me. :)

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 9:40AM
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koszta_kid(Iowazone 5)

My gardening is getting divided.Given many plants to new people.But Use to Trade a lot here.And not Reading about how things spread. Became My Jungle.I have looked at many books. And learner now to space. And Mulch and Mulch some more.Mine is Country Style. Out house,Metal wash tubs.Chicken wind mill,pitcher pumps.Getting new picket fence .Learned to not to make my Garden a 2nd job.Have to work at it. Sit in Arbor and relax.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 9:19AM
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thinman(Z5 MI)

I just came across this two part program on starting a cottage garden and I thought it was very well done with a fine sense of humor. A lot of it may apply to what you are doing. I was especially interested in the section on arranging the plants. I'm going to watch that part at least one more time, as I'm putting in a new flower bed here, if the snow ever leaves.

Part 1

Part 2


    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 1:33PM
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Great links thinman,..and a great series as well.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 5:59PM
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I really enjoyed the links, thinman. thanks you.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 8:27PM
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I have always been attracted to the jumbly, lush, pastel colors and forms of a traditional English Cottage garden, so even before I had a home to garden at, I knew my style at heart. Our first house was a brand new duplex with a rectangular fenced in yard. I made a border around 2 edges of the fence (on the inside) and purchased 15 different types of roses - climbing, David Austin, antiques, etc. Once they were planted all the way around the fence, i added 2 trees, a bench, and then proceeded to fill the beds with sun loving cottage type plants. I got so many compliments from the neighbors on that yard! Then we sold the house and the subsequent 2-3 owners destroyed the yard, etc. I get depressed thinking about that. Anyway, we moved to a house that was now mostly shaded/woodsy and deer became my #1 enemy. I had to forget about all the sun loving plants I had and teach myself about shade perennials. That is where my love of hostas ws born. We eventually sold that house too, but I took divisions of my absolute favorite hostas this time. I have not been back to that house to see if they kept up with the shade gardens or if they left them to the deer. On to the present - we have now been in this house going on 7 yrs. There were some pre-dug beds edged with rocks that were bare except for 2 trees and a few shrubs. There was also nice hardscaping in the form of a gazebo/deck, stepping down to a patio and a front walkway as well. I kept what was there and began adding both sun and shade perennials, and I planted all my hostas from the previous house in a nook next to the house and patio. They have thrived there and I continue to divide them and spread them all around the yard. I usually find something new to try each year - a few years ago I became obsessed with lilies so I have a treat each June when the fragrance of many gorgeous lilies fills the air. I tried my hand at a small veggie plot last year but it didn't get enough sun. So, this year, that plot will be filled with more cottage perennials - no tears lost on that one! When putting together the garden, I did pay attention to plant form, texture, color of blooms and leaves, and bloom time. I tried to create interesting plant combinations. Some were successful, and others not so much. However, the gardens are always evolving, so I don't stress too much about it. I have a birdbath area that will get overhauled this spring because I need to finally admit it is shadier than I wanted it to be, so the sedums need to go out to the front yard and more astilbes, hostas, ferns need to come to this area. Whatever you do, have fun, try to plant deliberately from the beginning so you have to move less around later, and take lots of pictures so you can see how rewarding your hard work is year after year.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 10:46AM
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I was so thrilled with our new little house in 1973, just knew I had to have a lawn and garden. Forty years later here we are, and I am still thrilled to be here after raising our family, raising German Shepherds and Border Collies, and NOW I have a cottage garden, although admittedly most of it is antique roses. It's such an ongoing process, will never be done and that's okay...

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:01PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

I've sadly had to start over several times before too. Leaving behind shrubs and trees is like leaving behind friends and loved ones...but to be able to bring along some plants is nice. It's also nice to able to start with a few "lessons-learnt" under your belt. The home I'm in now is alot larger property wise than my previous homes had been, and just starting out is so cost prohibitive. It's hard to show restraint. So I started out with large packages of wildflower seeds. Not the mixes, but of the specific flowers that I knew I wanted. I planted them in swaths where I imagined I wanted flowerbeds to be or circular beds or borders. It was my template. And as the seasons ticked by, I would tackle one swath at a time and turn it into my vision. The only thing I wish I would have done first was to be waaaayyyyy more diligent at removing grass before sowing the seed. Simply rounding-up just didn't cut it. Even if the grass looks dead....the roots underneith are still very much alive. Grass ain't dead until the spot becomes a mudpuddle. at least in my yard.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:15PM
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Just wanted to share the sweetest piece of advice I ever got, when I was complaining about not having time for gardening and my flowers looking sad because I had velcro babies. My mother in law told me what *her* mother in law told her, when she was at the same stage in life: Your children ARE your flowers!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 8:58PM
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@luckygal: Thank you so much for sharing photos... your gardens are beautiful. I really enjoyed browsing through all your photos!

@saponaria: Sounds like you have a full fledged garden crew! :) Last year my 2yo was daily astonished to find tomatoes in the garden. He keeps reminding me to plant more tomatoes this year.

@koszta_kid: I like that...learn to not make your garden your second job! :)

@thinman: Thank you for the links! I think I have a pretty good idea what the next chunk of my evening is going to consist to check them out.

@ravensfan52: Confession time-we still live close enough to our previous homes that sometimes I drive past just to see what is blooming in the gardens! LOL. (or as the case may be, if there are any of the gardens left). Good luck on your birdbath area overhaul.

@ogrose: Wow! Lots of memories I am sure in your home and garden. :)

@runwithscissors: I am glad to hear that I'm not the only one who feels that leaving behind some of my plants is like leaving behind friends. :) That's a great idea of trying out your vision with the wildflower seeds packets too.

@lydiasmomma: I love that quote! I'm writing it in my garden journal. :) For sure, they are my most treasured flowers. And velcro babies...I have never heard that term before, but it's a perfect description!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 9:52PM
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eclecticcottage(6b wny)

In 2011, I had an overgrown mess. I did find some good stuff as I worked through the jungle and have decided that at one time our home had a great garden, I have old fashioned plants like hydrangea and japanese quince.

This was what we had when we bought the house

I bought some plants like Queen O The Lakes rose, lavender, butterfly bushes and salvia. I direct sowed seeds like cosmos, zinnia and cornflower. I got freebies from people thinning out like daylilies, echinacea and daisies. I edged it with (free) lake stones.

in 2012 this was my garden

This year I have more seeds (more cosmos, love in a mist, salvia, candytuft, snapdragons and more) to direct sow, a Peace rose, species Rugosa already for that garden and another bed I started with more freebies last year.

This post was edited by eclecticcottage on Mon, Apr 15, 13 at 10:17

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 8:38PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

I'm not sure why eclectic, but I'm unable to view your pictures.

Ya sometimes never know what treasures a previous gardener leaves behind!!!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 1:30AM
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eclecticcottage(6b wny)

I don't know why, it keeps adding " in the url where they don't belong. I am not putting them there...they are showing up after I post. The pics work for a little while, then the " appear! I've edited it again, let's see how long they last now :)

Looks like I'm adding a BUNCH of Rugosa species now...I bought 10 from the county, but DH thought he'd be nice and get the extras-now I have 40!! Good thing we have a deep lot, and we might be sharing or selling some extras.

One other thought for those on a budget-you can only get them once a year in spring, but check with your county (and surrounding counties) soil and water conservation district. A lot of them have bare root sales of trees, seeds and shrubs, some even have perennial plugs. I got my rugosa sticks (we jokingly call them that, but they really just look like sticks with roots) 10 plants for $10. Can't beat it!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 10:22AM
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Moved here last year to a nearly flat rural acre - 4 oaks trees, a pecan tree and a pine & 66,000 ant hills. As a designer, I have to study the way the sun moves - where it's too hot- etc.: that determines priorities. The front is west facing - so up went the chaste tree... No path from the drive to the door- there was an opportunity. It's divide and conquer- And of course, the beauty factor starts its' demands. I had a sense of urgency the first spring to get those plants going due to having to wait a few seasons for a mature look. They don't plant themselves !

Having parties does wonders for kick starting a design plan. Your guests would be mortified if your garden wasn't at least underway !

I love beautiful color combos that repeat - So I start there: Silver, chartreuse, black, and deep green, purple/ blue; with pops of yellow & red. Front borders go from shade to hell hot. So- the fun part is finding balance in those colors in plants that will work on the shaded side and their corresponding counterparts for the dry hot side that also bloom or show out the same time- For instance - Plumbago - Endless summer hydrangea. Anise hyssop- June Fever hosta - I'm several years from my shaggy garden look that I'm so fond of- but it really helps to be compulsive, impatient & that there's a marvelous growers outlet nearby. :)

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 2:49AM
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Hi everyone! I'm very new to gardening and this new hobby that started last year for me. I decided after living in our home for 6 years that I wanted landscaping; holy crap I had NO idea what I was getting myself into. Not knowing a darn thing I went to lowes and bought what I thought was sooooo pretty!! Hydrangeas, azaleas and hostas. Well I had NO clue what kind of stress hydrangeas were going to cause me!!!! FF and all died here in my Dallas alkaline soil.( I'm slowly learning!!) I refused to give up and have researched my little heart out on every plant I like before purchasing. I have 3 gardens right now. The one I just posted that I consider my little cottage garden which I hope someone doesn't yell at me and say it's not. I have a HT, floribunda, dianthus, Shasta daisy, Asiatic Lilly, peach drift, 2 miniature roses, Texas sage and some scotch moss patches I just bought. I have on my shadier right hand side a row of gardenias, azaleas in front of it and a limelight hydrangea with some oxalis shamrocks as front border plants. I also have an all shade garden with hostas and huecheras. I'm still working on all 3 but I'm slowly getting the hang of it and my 2 year old loves to help. Pic is of my cottage.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 7:15PM
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I try to imagine the beds as they will fit in with the land...then I start with roses. Mainly own root, old fashioned roses, but any neglected bag roses that look tough enough might end up in there, too :)

Then I add all kinds of deer-resistant flowers and herbs, alone with butterfly bushes, lilacs and other shrubs in the back. And yes, all of my gardens have evolved over time, but the roses are what tie everything together.

That being said, if it's not June...many people don't even realize there are so many roses. Only about 1/3 bloom all summer and with all the other blooms, it truly looks like a cottage garden. Even a few weeds are left in the back, to bring in ladybugs and other helpful visitors.

Best of luck with your new garden! Have fun planning the overall design, but be flexible with the actual beds. They will evolve, no matter how carefully you plan. That's part of the fun! Oh, and one thing I do is plant the roses and many of the other plants in mirror reverse, with an invisible line down the middle. No one ever notices (even my left-brain brother) until I point it out. It just gives a sense of order to an otherwise seemingly random layout :)

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 2:00PM
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