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The Reluctant English Cottage Gardener

The Reluctant English Cottage Gardener

NOTE: For an update on my gardening efforts, read my post Another Take on the English Cottage Garden.

It was gloomy when I woke up this morning.  I hoped we were in for some rain so I wouldn’t have to go out and water the flowers.  I was quite pleased, or chuffed as the British say, when the first fat raindrops finally splattered against the window.

It’s not that I dislike gardening.  I actually enjoy the quiet contemplation that comes while pulling weeds and deadheading flowers.  I love the idea of being an English cottage gardener.  It's easy to picture myself in a gloriously abundant cottage-style garden like the ones you see in British television shows.  I’ve even made several attempts at creating my own cottage garden over the years.  Unfortunately, I'm just not very good at it.

I always start out well enough.  First, I leaf through gardening books for ideas.  Next I mark out a space in the yard and check at different times of the day to determine if it’s “sunny” or only “partly sunny.”  Only then do I dig up the sod and invest a small fortune in appropriately winsome perennials.  Despite my best efforts, the flowers end up going from winsome to bedraggled.  Eventually they die out altogether, except for the odd straggler here and there.  For example, there's a daylily that stubbornly continues to bloom in a part of the yard that has long since returned to its natural, grassy state.

Lamp Eating Clematis Before a Haircut
Lamp-eating Clematis Before a Trim

The only thing I've managed to cultivate with any success is the rather horrid clematis clinging to our lamppost.  No matter how often I trim its grasping tentacles, it insists on making an unrelenting assault on the lamp at the top of the post.

Lamp Eating Clematis After a Haircut
Lamp-eating Clematis After a Trim - It Will Soon Grow Back!

I finally decided to confine my efforts to the small area by our front door.  It’s full of scraggly perennials that have managed to hang on despite the lack of tender loving care.  Each spring I fill in the bare spots with petunias and marigolds.  Neither are traditionally associated with cottage gardens, but they’re just about the only flowers I have a hard time killing.  That is until this year.  I filled two pots with a mix of petunias and marigolds, and they had an unexpected battle to the death.  The petunias won out in one pot and the marigolds won out in the other.

These days I satisfy most of my cottage garden yearnings by reading gardening magazines.  I particularly enjoy articles with titles such as “Low Maintenance Cottage Gardens” and “Ten Cottage Garden Perennials Anyone Can Grow.”  I don’t have to worry about sun or shade, and I can enjoy my fantasies in climate-controlled comfort year-round.

My favorite fix is the British edition of Country Living, which can be found at Barnes & Noble.  Each issue is crammed with beautiful photos of British farms and gardens, articles about the British countryside (sometimes with pictures of hedgehogs), and recipes for seasonal produce.  There are also tantalizing gardening tips such as “If mice are thieving your freshly sown seeds, try planting a row in a guttering pipe instead,” which I found in the July issue.  It’s pure bliss for the armchair Anglophile gardener.

Now when I pass the little patch of flowers by the front door, I squint and think of all the beautiful pictures in Country Living.  I can almost see a proper cottage garden.

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