Oh my goodness! Who could have imagined a foot of heavy snow on December 1st? I hope your horticultural damage was not too bad. The trunk of the crabapple in front of our dining room split and will have to be removed. The magnolias in back did have some large broken branches but will be fine. I also had to prune many of the shrubs along the driveway because the snow pulled them down into the driveway.
Meanwhile, the holidays are quickly approaching. If you still have time to add books to your wish list or need another suggestion for a gardening relative or friend, I have one more for you.
The Modern Cottage Garden: A Fresh Approach to a Classic Style by Greg Loades
What is a modern cottage garden? Greg Loades defines it as a mix of the best of the traditional cottage garden and the best of the new perennial garden. I love his secondary definition: a gardener’s garden, one for the person who can’t resist plants (isn’t that most of us?). The traditional cottage garden speaks of romance and nostalgia while the new perennial garden (epitomized by Oudolf and Gerritsen) incorporates ornamental grasses and perennials that offer interest long after their petals have fallen.
The Loades garden is both classic and contemporary and celebrates diversity through love of plants rather than through deliberate design. I am reminded by that comment of a visit in the early 1990’s to England. I was conversing with a nursery owner’s wife. Their house was on the nursery property and she was talking about the garden that, to my eye, was quite wild. She characterized it as a typical English cottage garden that was not the American romanticized version– no design, merely the result of happenstance. A friend would give her a plant and she would stick it in wherever she could find space.
Loades speaks of the traditional cottage garden as a pastel, organized chaos where plants are allowed to seed willy-nilly and the peak season being the intersection of spring and summer. It is also a wildlife and pollinator friendly garden so full that herbicides are not needed to control weeds. This is not a garden for those who need an ordered garden; rather, it is low maintenance because plants are allowed to mingle. It is not, however, a no maintenance garden because the seeders need to be edited and vigorous perennials need to be divided. Without this early maintenance, charming becomes messy and aggressive plants will dominate to the point where diversity will be eliminated. Keep in mind that this garden includes bulbs, roses and shrubs, not just perennials.
In contrast, the new perennial garden doesn’t come into its own until mid-summer and fall. It undulates and offers the contrast of wispy foliage, tough perennial seedheads and structure, and more striking color. Although it looks naturalistic, it is actually painstakingly designed, at least at the beginning, to emphasize structure, form, shape, and texture. It also stays intact through most of the winter. Elements of the chaotic cottage garden do assert themselves eventually, thus fostering the notion of naturalism.
The author regards the new cottage garden as an evolving garden. To me, that is what a garden should be. Gardens are not meant to be static although many people pay a lot of money for sterile landscapes that involve a great deal of maintenance. Heaven forbid that they get the least bit messy! (This is my opinion, not the author’s.) Loades suggests that the underlying principles of creating the new cottage garden are designing for spontaneity, curiosity, embracing change in the garden, planting in small groupings if the space if small, and planning for all seasons.
I was surprised that Loach questioned the need for lawn but Doug Tallamy would probably hug him. If it isn’t needed for athletic endeavors, he suggests reducing it to a network of paths among planted areas, particularly curvilinear paths that add a natural flow and make the garden look larger.
There is a whole chapter on using and planting containers as a way of augmenting a garden or of having a garden above ground instead of in ground. Loach sees container gardening as a great way to experiment with combinations and as a way to combine plants that don’t have the same cultural needs.
The second half of the book consists of “A Year in the Modern Cottage Garden” in which Loach delineates the beauty of each season and the chores entailed to keep it looking good. That is followed by his list of fifty essential plants for this type of garden. My only caveat is that Loach is English and some of the plants he mentions are not hardy for those of us in northern Ohio. I think you will enjoy this well-illustrated book.
Lots of food for thought in this book. So, fix yourself a delicious drink, find a comfortable chair, and settle in for a good read.