Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cottage Gardens

The wonderful weather that we had a week or two ago tempted me out into my garden and, in spite of all my good resolutions, I ended up with an ache-y back and some tired muscles because I'd overdone it rather. I'd been working in the wild part pruning back elder and hawthorn and raking up all the thousands of beechnut shells that fell last autumn - and probably several other autumns too as it's a job I rarely get round to, there's too much else to do once the garden gets started. I'm about halfway across that bottom area now and my next job is to cut back the yew which has got decidely out of hand. The general idea is to try to create a piece of topiary out of it but how succesful this will be remains to be seen. Topiary was, in spite of its formal look, very much a tradition in old cottage gardens and that is the style of garden that I love and try to achieve here. Not that I plan anything very exciting, if I can manage something reasonably round I shall be happy, peacocks, boars and other exotic images are way beyond anything I can manage. I've always loved cottage style gardens, they are full of plants that have been grown for centuries. They vary from the wild plants that the old cottager would dig up from a nearby wood or hedgebank and tuck into a corner of his garden to plants with more exotic backgrounds that came to England with the Romans when they extended their empire to include Britannia, or with the Crusaders when they returned from the Middle East and so on.

Daffodils and snakeshead fritillarys - last year's photo, the daffodils are out but the fritillarys will be another week or two yet.

Of course, the original cottage gardens wouldn't have been the romantic places that we visualize now, they were extremely practical places which were vital in providing families with both food and medicine and would often include a pigsty for the pig which was being fattened and would have hens scratching around too. There would have been little room for pretty flowers grown for their own sake apart from maybe a few primroses tucked into a hedge bottom. Happily though, many herbs are attractive as well as useful and the pot marigolds that everyone grew would also provide large patches of colour - but they were there for their usefulness as pot herbs and as an ingredient in homemade healing ointments.

The small border by the side of the steps leading up to the terrace.

The garden at the front of the house.

I have an old book published in 1939 which contains a passage of prose and a poem which describe precisely the kind of garden I am trying to achieve, though I'm afraid I shall never have the lovely old stonebuilt house on the South Downs to which the garden belongs:

' The door, I remember,stood open when I arrived that quiet spring afternoon; opened wide, as if in welcome, letting in all the sweet airs and breaths of May and giving me a glimpse,as I waited there,of a stone-flagged hall and a dusky staircase; of a long passage between panelled walls leading to another open door,with a garden beyond, sweet and sunlit, where lilies stood like queens,all white and gold,among the wallflowers and the lupins and the great red peonies, like a garden in a fairytale.'

The poem is short but gives a vision of a perfect English summer garden:

Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet William with his homely cottage smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow.
Roses that down the alleys shine afar;
And open jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening star.

Doesn't it make you long for summer? The book by the way is called 'Greensleeves' by a lady called Beryl Netherclift, it is one of my personal favourites full of lovely descriptions of an England and way of life that is sadly long gone.


Remiman said...

The achy stiffness of a day out weeding, clearing and neating is almost welcome come spring, I think. It seems to go part and parcel with spring rejuvenation.

The beautiful cottage gardens require much dilegent and hard toil to look the way we'd like them to. But on the days when we can sit and gaze upon our labors and breath in the beauty, it's worth the time.

It's starting to feel a little like spring here. You seem to be a few weeks ahead of us though. Our crocus haven't popped out yet.

Ragged Roses said...

Thank you Rowan for such a beautiful post. I've not heard of the book you quoted from, but I'll have a look out for it. I must admit that cottage gardens are my favourite too, something very English and romantic about them. although as you say, the reality was slightly different. Your garden is looking beautiful already, you must be working hard. Our gardens can offer us so much can't they? Have a good weekend.
Kim x

Lynda (Granny K) said...

A lovely post Rowan. I see you like blue flowers too!
The passage from the book gave me goosebumps - I could just see it all!

Kelli said...

Oh, everything is just lovely!! Such beautiful flowers, Rowan!! A cottage garden is my favorite style too.
I loved the poem!

peppylady said...

I didn't do much today in the yard except prune back some dead ole mums.

I don't have anything like those pictures that you have.

Val said...

"Jasmine muffled lattices" - the kitchen windows of the Old School get jammed up with winter flowering jasmine, but I would never have put it that eloquently.

Here in Dorset the fritillaries are out, I must go and photograph my first one, now that it is open in the sunshine.

Ive enjoyed reading your posts, and will be a regular visitor. Thank you.

FrenchGardenHouse said...

oh, Rowan! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and your lovely comments. I am now in love with your blog.

I visited the UK last year, stayed in Winchester a week (antiqued at Shepton Mallet!) and it was just so gorgeous. Just like the poetry. I will be back to visit your blog all the time, to get my "English Fix"~ thanks for sharing.:)


PAT said...

Hello Rowan...

I've just discovered your wonderful blog, this afternoon. I love beautiful English gardens.

I plan to visit your blog often.

Please visit me at Back Porch Musings.

I need orange said...

Your garden is beautiful!

I feel guilty -- so much needs to be done in our yard..... Raking, to begin with.......

Tea & Margaritas in My Garden said...

Your garden is beautiful Rowan! I also love cottage gardens. That book sounds really nice :)


tash said...

What a lovely post, and it evokes such beautiful images of a serene garden. Hopefully ours is heading in the same direction as yours - definitely in the cottage-style. Thanks for a peep into your garden :)

Jane said...

What a lovely garden and I too long for the summer! I love the photos of the moon on your site something that resonates with me also... Thanks for popping by and saying hello, it's lovely when someone leaves a comment....


Forgetmenot said...

Glad you are getting some good time in the garden. I like your first quote very much - it seems to evoke such a sense of peace, and is a beautiful illustration of the contast between the home and garden - one of the loveliest things in the warmer and brighter months. Amazon sellers have a few out of print Beryl Nethercliffs, but not Greensleeves. I need to remember the name for my infruent visits to second hand bookshops!

MrsA said...

The photos of the garden are beautiful. It looks very peaceful in the garden.

Kate said...

What beautiful pictures and wonderful writing. It was a perfect post to read as I sit awaiting 10 cm of snow!!