The Cottage Approach To Gardening

In the traditional cottage garden, flowers, fruit and vegetables grew together in glorious, organised jumble. Borders were planted to be productive as well as pretty. Every bit of ground was put to good use, and fertility was maintained with natural manure from the chicken run and pig pen.

Many of the flowers were those gathered from the hedgerow: primrose, cowslip, honeysuckle, daffodil and snowdrop to name a few. Fruit bushes like blackcurrant and gooseberry fulfilled the role of shrubs, and wild strawberries, were often found in the gaps at the front of the border, alongside alchemilla (lady’s mantle) and nepeta (catmint). Perennials such as pyrethrum and Shasta daisy were popular; they looked after themselves, came back every year, and provided flowers for cutting.

Vegetables were planted among the flowers for both summer and winter use. Seed would have been sown in patches of prepared soil, or young plants transplanted from a seedbed.

For present-day gardeners who do not have the space or desire for a vegetable garden, this approach is a good way of producing a few vegetables and making your planting more easy. Think of it as ‘fusion planting’ and consider the vegetables just as you would any other plants in the garden; use their attributes to enhance and create some really exciting planting combinations.

Adding Height with Beans and Peas

Climbing vegetables such as peas and beans can be used to add height that is so essential in any border.

Gardening tip: You could use a wigwam of canes or a decorative, purpose made obelisk for support. Or try spiral metal plant supports, available from garden centres to add height to your flower beds.

Consider combining French beans with sweet peas, or perhaps an exciting annual climber such as Rhodochiton astrosanguineus. This marvellous plant has purple, bell shaped calyces surrounding aubergine-black, tubular flowers and small dark green leaves carried on fine, twining stems.

The asparagus pea is an unusual vegetable worth looking out for. It forms a bushy plant up to 45cm high, and has small red flowers with black eyes and curious winged pods that are both decorative and tasty. Pick the pods when young, and steam or sauté them in butter. They taste distinctly like asparagus, if you use your imagination a bit – or at least they do if you tell your guests that they do.

You can also grow sugar snaps, or mange-touts, up spiral supports. They grow vigorously and are at their best in early to midsummer. Just a few plants will produce a worthwhile crop, and the great thing is that you only need a handful to add to a salad or stir fry or to eat raw with a savoury dip.

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