You've probably heard the term "cottage garden" and unless you are an
avid gardener you might not know what cottage gardening is all about.
You might be surprised to learn that you or someone you know just might
be a cottage gardener.
If your lawn keeps getting smaller and smaller because your flowerbeds
are getting bigger in number, width and girth, then you just might be a
cottage gardener. If your flowerbeds are exploding with a multitude of
colorful flowers, vegetables and herbs, of all shapes, textures and
sizes, you are a cottage gardener. If you've left plants in places where
the birds have "dropped" them, you're a cottage gardener. If you love
old-fashioned flowers like hollyhocks, foxgloves, delphiniums and
hydrangeas, and you haven't met a flower that you don't love, then you
are definitely a cottage gardener.
Vickie Kite Milburn, our feature gardener, started her cottage garden
five years ago hoping to give her newly purchased contemporary home more
of a cottage feel. Milburn said she has always loved the look of cottage
gardens - flowerbeds chockablock with colorful flowers, herbs and
"It's the combination of the abundance of colors, shapes and textures,
along with the absence of formality, that makes cottage gardening so
appealing to me," said Milburn, publisher of Southern Maryland-This is
Living. "One of my favorite artists, Paul Landry, has a painting called
Seaside Cottages, which depicts a cottage overlooking this blue water
with a white arbor and white picket fence surrounded with an abundance
of different colored, shaped and textured flowers against the most
beautiful blue sky. I just love it. It's very inspirational for me. It's
peaceful and serene, yet colorful and full of life. That is what cottage
gardening means to me as well; it's uplifting and full of fun."
Milburn said she and her husband, Scott, searched for a home and she
envisioned an older bungalow house by the water that embodied the Landry
painting with "bountiful gardens that attracted plenty of birds and
butterflies." But the house they chose was a "contemporary house on the
water, with more of a formal garden."
"So little by little we added flowerbeds, stone walkways, outdoor
seating, and an abundance of trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, roses and
annuals," she said. "We also added a wonderful pergola, some birdhouses,
bird feeders and a birdbath. I also started collecting garden
sculptures, mostly angels - which all add to the delight of the garden.
We're five years into our garden and I still have much space to fill. I
can't wait to see what it will look like in 15 years! I like to let
Mother Nature do her thing in my garden; I have many plants that the Bay
winds have moved and the birds have dropped in. One gift is a line-up of
hollyhocks that grew up in the crack between two walkways. I would never
(have) chosen to put them where they are now, but they look great. A
more formal gardener would have pulled them up because they were out of
place, but as a cottage gardener I chose to let them live and I love
The idea behind cottage gardening is a free-flowing, informal abundance
of flowers, vegetables and herbs grown with no constraints. While there
are really no rules when trying to establish a cottage garden, there are
some general guidelines to follow starting with the flowers: Old-time
flowers like hollyhocks, foxgloves and delphiniums will give your garden
a nice backdrop for a layered effect. Flowering shrubs, such as roses,
hydrangeas, lilacs and butterfly bushes make great foundations and
provide fragrance and beauty. Add flowers of all sizes and shapes and
varied blooming periods, keeping in mind your sun and soil conditions.
Remember to plant for impact, so make sure you plant at least three of
the same specimen and try to plant in odd numbers (3-5-7). Fill the gaps
between your perennials with annuals, ground covers and lots of
containers. No cottage garden would be complete without those wonderful
flowers climbing to the sky - don't leave out those fantastic vines.
Make sure you grow your favorite herbs and vegetables to give your
garden not only beauty, but also function. Birdhouses and birdbaths,
statues, works of art, benches and walkways or paths will add another
dimension of delight. Let your heart be your guide and don't forget … no
rules, just fun.
Vickie's Valuable Lessons Learned
A garden is a work of art that is always in progress. It's ever
changing, always exciting.
It's a reflection of who you are and never right or wrong. It's about
what you love.
Before You Plant
o Prepare your soil. Be sure to condition the soil before you plant and
apply an organic dressing. Wentworth's Nursery and Greenstreet Gardens
both carry organic soil conditioners. I really like "Bumpercrop," which
I use when planting and as a soil dressing.
o Use root stimulant. When planting make sure you use a root stimulant
such as bone meal. But watch out because the dogs really like it, so
keep your bags in your garden shed when you aren't using it.
o Location, Location, Location. Some plants love sun, some don't...make
sure you keep that in mind. I've tried to retrain plants in hopes that
they might grow in other conditions, but you can't fight Mother Nature.
Pay attention to the sun requirements, your plants will be happy and you
During the Season
o Learn to prune. I do most of my pruning in early spring, especially my
roses. Don't be afraid to prune and shape, it keeps your garden healthy.
o Weed Preventative. You will save a lot of time and frustration if you
put down a weed preventer early in the spring and reapply early in
o Make sure to mulch. There is nothing I hate worse than mulching. (I
just don't enjoy it!) We do around 125 bags so it takes a few days to
put it all down. But it is very necessary to keep your garden healthy.
Mulch keeps downs weeds and helps keep the ground moist.
o Fertilize. Using the right fertilizer will make a big difference in
your garden. Start in early spring and reapply as the directions
indicate. I like the Bayer family of fertilizers. I also apply Miracle
Grow every few weeks as well.
o Water container Plants. Water your containers at least once a day,
sometimes twice. The containers do not hold the water; even with lots of
rain containers dry out.
o Invest in a watering system. I know it's expensive, but well worth the
investment. (Automatic Rain put in our system.) Most people cannot
physically water enough to keep a good size lawn and garden healthy. At
a minimum, put a timer on a soaker hose and some sprinklers and water
that way. Sometimes life gets in the way of good intentions!
o Deadhead. Deadhead. Deadhead. To keep new flowers forming, you need to
pinch off or clip the faded blooms. That way the new buds get the
nutrition, instead of the old faded blooms.
After the Season
o Divide and share. Once your perennials are established and are strong
growers, it may be time to divide them. (I usually divide in the fall).
Gently dig them up and divide them in half, replant one half in the same
spot and take the other either to another spot in your garden, or to
your neighbor! It is also a good time to prune those shrubs and trees
that prefer fall haircuts.
Spending time taking care of the garden is not only good for your
it's good for your body and soul.
Don't forget your sunscreen, sunglasses & a hat!