June 21, 2014


Self-seeded biennials like Foxgloves (digitalis) continue to emerge in random locations around my garden - all tracking back to an original planting of seed-raised plants that I planted while in high school 30 years ago.

The very idea of a 'cottage garden' conjures up images of hollyhock framed borders, cockle shells and pretty maids-in-a-row, but the reality is often less-than pretty, edging on weedy, self-seeding messy beds of sturdy,  yet uninteresting perennials, often in colors that could trigger epileptic shock to an artist or designer who shrieks at the site of scolding orange poppies and inky violet lupins, along with the poison yellow of daylillies. Sturdy and long-lived is indeed how many North American gardeners define the perfect garden, but truth-be-told, there is little agreement as to what actually defines a true 'cottage garden', a term which disturbed the late Christopher Lloyd, even though he wrote 'the definitive book on the subject', as any Brit will tell us - cottage gardens can mostly be described as casually planted idealistic plantings often found in tourist calendars, cheap paintings on greeting cards and in fairy tales. 

Click below for more cottage garden inspiration:

Clarikia elegans, this time not mail-order plants, but raised from seed that I purchased from Baker Creek Seeds, sparkle in the front garden. These often hard-to-grow old fashioned annuals typically only grow well in cooler climates, so they are rarely seen in New England where summers can be hot and humid. It's always good to take a chance.

Annual Clarkia, carefully raised from seed sown in large pots in the cool greenhouse with the hopes that a cool spring will bring them along gently until the reach blooming size before temperatures bound into the hot and humid 90's.

Every one loves the idea of 'cottage gardens', but few have ever seen (nor grown) a decent one. Yet the dream of owning a romantic, charming cottage garden worthy of a British gardening magazine, lives on - and if there is anytime of the year when my garden comes close to looking like the idealistic 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary - how-does-your-garden-grow type of garden, it would be right now - in mid-June, when, in the very best of growing years when the temperatures have remained cool enough, those precious of all cottage-garden annuals, the Shirley Poppies, Clarkia species, Wall Flowers, Diascia along with treasured, self-seeding biennials like Foxgloves which have self seeded in just the perfect places, all bloom, magic happens. Guess what? This year, magic happened.

Clarkia elegans are blooming around the garden. I have discovered that the plants carefully placed to avoid any root disturbance in the perennial border near the greenhouse where they can get more moisture, are doing far better than the ones planted in my dry-land garden in the front of the house, but those are in full bloom now, whilst the wetter growing plants are taller and bushier, not not in bloom yet.

Somewhat new to the scene, the yellow peonies have never looked so good. Many of my varieties are Itoh hybrids, a cross between an herbaceous peony, and a tree peony. As my plantings mature, I am beginning to see why these plants are so costly, and so treasured by gardeners. Even when not in bloom, the plants look great, but with up to 50 flowers per plant now, the display in June is absolutely incredible.

A tall Asiatic lily has yet to bloom in the yellow and blue border, as it's season is early July. June, remains the month for the Peony, which this year, are blooming better than ever before.

Asiatic and Oriental lilies have yet to flower, but the first lily to bloom are the martagon's. These classic 'turks-cap' lilies are cherished by experienced gardeners in cooler climates, but they are very challenging to grow well in New England, especially southern New England. 

Martagon lilies are often called the queens of the lily world - with whorled leaves and waxy, pendant blossoms, they provide a distinctive gesture to any bed - here I am having some success with these difficult bulbs, with a few planted in a raised alpine bed. They enjoy moisture, but well drained solid, cool, mountain air, and high elevation. Aside from lily beetle damage, I still have a 6 foot tall plant that looks like it might bloom well.

A David Austin rose blooms in the perennial border. Trained to a tuteur, this fragrant rose has lost its label, but who cares when it smells this great?
Can you believe that these self-seeded foxgloves are growing from a crop of seedlings that I first planted 35 years ago when I was in high school? They still come up every year, in different parts of the garden.

Another view of the Clarkia elegans that I planted in the front garden, along with other unusual annuals to create a loose, wild motif with cleome species, Clarkia species, Cuphea and Gaura. We'll see how this fares one our summer hear arrives, but this garden which was once a lawn, is planted so densely with plants, that I have little fear that something will take off, as the meadow-look is intentional. Texture, texture, texture. This is right on the road, too.

Young Gaura plants bloom for the first time in the front border.


  1. i'm so jealous of your peonies!

  2. Matt, I believe your David Austin rose is R. 'heritage'- is it lemon scented? shatters when cut? then that's it! Happy Solstice!

  3. Thes pictures are wonderful, Martagon lilies and Paeonies look beautiful but most pretty are the self sown bienniels and annuals everywhere spread over the garden, that the real cottage garden effect.


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