One of the last things that would come to mind when thinking about my favorite cottage gardens would be Texas. A cottage garden usually brings gardeners thoughts to England and the Texas climate hardly resembles England by any stretch of the imagination. Texas does have multiples of gardening zones, the state is huge and the climate varies drastically from region to region. Still, cottage garden and Cedar Creek Texas don’t go together. The heat in the summer turns the water in the hose to what feels like boiling water, cook your veggies right on the spot! And the winds can howl for days decimating any growing thing that hasn’t adapted it’s self to our environment.
Gardeners are tenacious, we try, fail and try again, burned or baked plants, soil so hot a root couldn’t survive no matter how much you water we don’t give up. The upside for me is I don’t live where the soil is solid rock and blasting caps might be my best option! The high hills in Texas look like mountains and they are rock, we live in rolling hill country on the edge of the piney forests, which is relatively close to black land soil. We do not miss out on the heat and the winds, they come with the territory, and we live on top of a hill, howling wind is often my companion, it’s howling as I write. The rocks found in our neighborhood are typical Texas rocks, very large, a tractor bucket is usually needed to move them, the rocks found on our property have all been put to good use in our gardens or other places in our landscape.
Let me explain what a cottage garden was and is today. Manor houses in England employed gardeners and the gardener’s family usually lived with him in a cottage on the property. Very often the wife and the children worked at the manor also. In the process of maintaining the gardens of these gigantic homes and the structures themselves much of the debris, be it plant material or hard scape material was given to the cottagers to use in any way they wanted. Old roses being replaced by newer varieties, seeds from the cutting back of flower heads, vegetable seeds, pieces of brick, wood, chimney pots, just about anything not being used was taken home and used for another purpose or in the case of plants, its original purpose. Desirable seeds were often saved in these gardens over the years, they come back into fashion again. As in most things garden ideas come and go in fashion, what’s new once was old changed a bit and once again is desirable. Most gardeners do like heirloom vegetable seeds and roses.
Vegetable plants among the flowers, planting closely, allowing herbs to grow in paths, paths built from the cast away bricks, millstones and other solid materials, even a thick piece of wood could find it’s way into the path. Chimney pots made great containers. After many years these gardens were given a ‘name’ and became a garden design and not a need to feed a cottage family. They are beautiful, utilitarian and they are a great deal of work. From what looks to some like chaos is actually rather well thought out, and right outside your door for easy access; herbs, vegetables for cooking and flowers for a quick bouquet.
I am able to use two of my gardens to make my version of a Cottage Garden. Both of my gardens are close to the house, one fenced, and has a small amount of grass, it’s a bit more formal, but not much seeing I’m not exactly a formal person or gardener! I lean toward overgrown, it’s a matter of choice, what looks good to the gardener; in the case of roses I wouldn’t want visitors attacked by over zealous bushes!
I use many roses, they are the backbone of my gardens, all Texas tough roses from a supplier that specializes in roses that it reclaims from old homesteads, and various other places where nothing seems to survive but the rose-bush. It is surprising how many old varieties, many with beautiful scents, colors and multiples of petals . There are some newer roses that are grown at the Rose Emporium to see if they will take our weather. The only rose that won’t be found is a long-stemmed tea rose. Tea roses are often a great deal of work as they are almost always dependent on chemicals for bugs, needs for food and many diseases that attack the leaves. So I don’t miss them, the roses I grow I do pick, they look as lovely as long-stemmed teas. One ‘new’ rose that does grow well is Knockout in all its varieties; I allow it to grow large to suit my cottage garden look. The most daunting challenge I face with my roses is keeping them pruned; they grow like Jack’s bean stock! Like most things I undertake I overdo my cottage look but there is order, my order 🙂
In my cottage garden you will find roses, lavender, laurel, sunflowers, sweet potato vines, native hibiscus, native mist flowers, cosmos, tomatoes, eggplant, chard, Thai and ‘regular’ basil, thyme, rosemary (grows as a shrub here) all go into my gardens, one garden by our kitchen the other the front door and courtyard. Vegetable plants need planting early in the season to escape the heat of summer; once summer is upon us it becomes my ‘winter’ and the gardens become somewhat dormant. Our other gardens are Texas Tough gardens, native plants that are tolerant of drought, wind and heat. They have their own kind of beauty, I still get carried away and try to turn them into cottage gardens and Mother Nature takes care of that for me, plants die! Slowly I am giving up my ambitious plans and remember where I live!
Today if I sit in the courtyard I can pretend I’m in a beautiful English garden having tea (in Texas, sweet tea) and a scone with clotted cream. We must remember to blend all the good things life, a bit of England in a Texas courtyard; sounds like a plan to me.