Tag Archive: cottage garden

WP_20160619_15_40_15_ProBack in June, we took the opportunity of a visit to this garden as it was open under the National Gardens Scheme. Located near to Fakenham, in north Norfolk it is a large garden (10 acres) with a lake, mature yew hedging and a sunken garden originally laid out by Gertrude Jeykll.

There’s also a swimming pool garden, shrub borders, a lovely kitchen garden with herbaceous borders, fruit cage, cutting garden and bog garden. A relative of one of the former staff at the Hall lives in an adjoining country cottage which has a delightful old-fashioned cottage garden packed full of wonderful plants and very productive on the food front too.

I loved the display of Candelabra Primroses by the Lake- something I hope to emulate as I have a lot of seedlings growing on at Old School Garden.I hope that you enjoy the gallery of pictures.  

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Old School Gardener

delphiniumsDelphinium is a genus of around 300 species of flowering perennial, biennial and annual plants that are native throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also on the high mountains of tropical Africa.

The name “delphinium” derives from the Latin for “dolphin”, referring to the shape of the nectary, though there is also a story that in ancient Rome men were pursuing a dolphin for commercial exploitation so Neptune turned it into the Delphinium!

The common name “larkspur” (referring to the bird’s claw shape of the flower), is shared between perennial Delphinium species and annual species of the genus Consolida. The famous 16th century herbalist, John Gerard gives ‘delphinium’ as an alternative name for Consolida, says that there is little written about any medicinal uses other than as an antidote to scorpion stings. He mentions the idea of laying delphiniums in the path of a scorpion tol render it totally incapable of movement until the plant is removed but says this is just one of many ‘trifling toyes’ that are not worth reading! The town of Larkspur in Colorado was given its name by Elizabeth Hunt, wife of the governor, in 1871 because of the abundance of delphiniums growing in the area

Delphinium nuttallianum

Delphinium nuttallianum

Species names of Delphinium include:

D. ajacis = possibly based on the marks at the base of the united petals which were compared to the letters AIAI

D. cardinale = scarlet

D. consolida = joined in one

D. elatum = tall

D.formosum = beautiful

D. grandiflorum = large flowered

D. nudicaule = naked stemmed

D. sulphureum = sulphur – yellow

D. tatsiense = of Tatsien, China

D. triste = sad, the dull blue of the flowers

D. zalil = native Afghanistan name.

D. 'Blue Nile'

D. ‘Blue Nile’


The delphinium is much admired, particularly in the cottage garden setting. Delphiniums are tall, majestic plants with showy open flowers on branching spikes. Each flower has 5 petal-like sepals with 2 or 4 true petals in the centre called a bee. Delphinium species include all three primary colours, blue, red, and yellow. Hybridisation of delphiniums has resulted in many new colours and attractive flower forms and growing heights. Most garden Delphiniums are of the hybirds raised from species such as elatum, formosum, grandiflorum and sulphureum. Flower colours range in shades of blue from palest sky, through to gentian and indigo; rich purple, lavender, pink to purest white.  In England Blackmore and Langdon, nurserymen and leading breeders of Delphiniums, were producing hybrids from early in the 20th century, producing named varieties of large well-formed delphiniums. Others have also added their skills and developed the most dramatic and eye-catching plants to grace our gardens.

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Sources and further information:

The Delphinium Society

RHS- Delphiniums

How to grow Delphiniums- Sarah Raven

Gallery of Delphiniums

The Poison Garden – Delphiniums

Quizzicals: answers to the two clues given in Plantax 13…

  • Bovine stumble – cowslip
  • Simpler tombola – rafflesia

..and 2 more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • Cold yearning
  • How Jack Charlton refers to brother Bobby

Special thanks to Les Palmer, whose new book ‘How to Win your Pub Quiz’ was published recently. A great celebration of the British Pub Quiz!

Old School Gardener

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This is the first of a series trying to capture the essence of different garden styles. ‘Style Counsel’ will be a series of snippets – just a few words and images. I’d love to hear your comments on these and please add your own thoughts on what makes up these different styles – and if you have some pictures to add that’s even better. So, what is a Cottage Garden?

Cottage gardens have layouts that are simple and often geometric, though many have a more sinuous layout with twists and turns, especially as the garden moves further away from the cottage /house, where more natural, wilder planting can prevail.

Key characteristics include:

  • Profuse planting featuring many herbaceous perennials such as Delphinium, Stocks, Hollyhock, Lupin, ‘signature’ annuals such as Sweet Peas and Marigolds and a few evergreen shrubs for winter interest and structure
  • Rustic furniture made out of rough timber
  • ‘Roses round the door’, and on arbours or other structures
  • Weathered paths often made from old bricks or rammed earth with simple, if any, edging tiles or boards
  • Vegetables, fruit and herbs often mixed in with the flowers

cottage garden 1 cottage garden 2 cottage garden 3

Old School Gardener

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herry Tree Cottage flower borderAn old Workhouse Yard has been turned into a showcase cottage garden of the 1930’s at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Norfolk.

What is a cottage garden?

The words ‘cottage garden’ conjure up an idyllic image involving roses round the door of a picturesque thatch cottage with towering hollyhocks and delphiniums (or something similar) either side of a brick path that leads to a picket gate. It’s all very romantic, always spring or summer – and always sunny.’ (The Enduring Gardener)

Historically, cottage gardens date from medieval times and were where labourers living in tied cottages grew a lot of their own food to bolster their poor wages. Vegetables were grown – not only to feed the family but also to perhaps to feed a household pig and a few chickens. Fruit was grown – apples and pears for example – with wild strawberries being gathered from the hedgerows. Flowering plants would have been collected from the wild and it is possible that flowers like violets, primroses, cowslips, dog rose and wild honey suckle featured in some cottage gardens.

Monasteries grew herbs for medicinal purposes and vegetables for the monks’ food. Their knowledge was much sought after and this filtered through to the poorer classes.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought many changes – the Enclosure Acts meant that wealthy landowners could remove the peasants’ right to graze animals on common land. This forced many to grow food in their gardens to feed themselves. Gradually living conditions for the poor improved – they were able to use their gardens not just to grow vegetables for food but flowers too. Gardeners exchanged ideas and plants and soon flowers and shrubs that were only ever seen in ‘the big house’ appeared in cottage gardens. The Victorian period also saw many new varieties of bright colourful annuals used as bedding plants.In the late 19th and early 20th centuries  Gertrude Jekyll developed the cottage garden style on a grand scale.

The First and Second World Wars brought food shortages and so vegetables and fruit took priority over ornamental planting in every available garden space. Once food rationing finished after the 2nd WW, people could look to their gardens to provide visual interest and not just food, so flowers and shrubs were planted once more.

Today the cottage garden retains its popularity. One approach is the traditional, smaller scale artisan style – creating the garden as you go along, often dividing, collecting seed and gratefully receiving gifts of cuttings or plants from neighbours or friends. Others prefer the more designed approach, with carefully planned borders and precisely laid paths, perhaps in a larger scale setting.

Cherry Tree Cottage Garden

The Museum’s records show that Cherry Tree Cottage and its adjacent open space were created in the 1850’s, probably to house elderly couples (‘no longer of child-bearing age’) from the main Workhouse. It seems that it may have actually housed three couples with a shared kitchen/dining room. The open space was probably just a yard used for sitting or exercise and there is no evidence of it being planted with flowers or vegetables.  In 1932, the cottage housed Workhouse staff and it is during this period that possibly a garden was introduced.

The current garden was created in the 1980’s by a team of volunteer gardeners, some of whom are still volunteering today!  Mary Manning created the original design to demonstrate a typical cottage garden of the 1900’s, and this was based on extensive research, including the local Women’s Institute. Their members’ memories were used in the garden to reflect  the Cottage, which had been set out to resemble a 1912 interior. Later changes in the cottage were also reflected in the garden and today it aims to show how a typical 1930’s rural cottage garden would have looked and been gardened. It includes:

Flower borders – traditional cottage garden plants such as lupins, asters, rambling roses and Buddleja. The snowdrops (Galanthus plicatus) derive from bulbs brought back from the Crimean War in the 1850’s by a Captain Aldington who was from near Swaffham. His mother gave some to a friend in Warham where it is said the local rector, Charles Digby, grew them in the Church yard – they became known as the Warham Snowdrop. This variety is still available today. More recently some heritage daffodils from the 1800’s have been planted in the garden.

Cherry Tree Cottage and some of the vegetable growing area (left)

Vegetable Crops – the  early vegetable plots grew a wide range of crops and some old seed varieties of pea (‘Simpsons Special’) and broad beans (‘Big Penny’) ‘were acquired from celebrity gardener Percy Thrower and a local retired gardener respectively. The museum ha some old seed catalogues from two local seed merchants – Daniels and Taylors –  and these have been used to research the varieties that might have been grown in the 1930’s. Many of the varieties of fruit and vegetables that were grown in the 1930’s can be seen in the garden today. Garden Organic and The Heritage Seed Library have donated many of the seeds.

Herbs – a range of well known herbs are grown in the garden today. Herbs were used both for flavouring food and medicinal uses – for example a paste made from Comfrey leaves would be used to aid the healing of broken bones hence its common name of ‘Country Knit Joint’!

The garden also houses a chicken run, as it was common for many cottagers to keep chickens , which gave them a good supply of eggs. The chicken manure was also used as a fertiliser on the vegetable plot.

The garden paths were originally grass edged with flint. These were gradually replaced with bricks, local tiles (‘pamments’) and cinder;  traditional methods used in cottage gardens. Todays paths are a mix of brick, pamments and gravel – the latter is easier to maintain and is more accessible for wheelchair users.

The Potato Clamp and Scarecrow at Cherry Tree Cottage Garden

The Potato Clamp and Scarecrow at Cherry Tree Cottage Garden

Whilst the gardening volunteers are trying to follow gardening practices typical of the 1930’s, sometimes these have to be avoided (e.g avoiding the use of dangerous pesticides).  But some interesting examples of old techniques have been demonstrated – for example the creation of a ‘Potato clamp’ which was a method for storing potatoes during the winter months before indoor storage space became more readily available.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Kay Davis, Heritage Gardening Trainee 2011-12, for permission to use her article on Cherry Tree Cottage for most of the material used in this post.

Sources and further information:

Plantax 3: Sweet Peas- cottage garden favourite

Unique heritage gardens at Norfolk museum

Old Workhouse Garden a wildlife oasis at Norfolk Museum

The Cottage Garden Society


answers to the two in previous post  Transfer Window- 7 tips for successful seedlings

  • Set fire to Ms Allen – Torch lily
  • Mythical creature that enjoys a game of cards – Snapdragon

Here are a couple of gardening ditties….

Snowdrops keep falling on my head

Theme tune from The Lone Hydrangea

(with thanks to Les Palmer)

Old School Gardener

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sweet-pea-flowerThe ‘Queen of Annuals’ is being billed as the cottage garden favourite for 2013′.

It’s botanical name- Lathyrus odoratus- comes from an ancient greek word (Lathyrus) meaning  pea or vetchling and odoratus meaning ‘fragrant’. The genus Lathyrus contains about 160 species and of the many cultivars of the Sweet Pea, some 52 varieties have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.  The many varieties of Sweet pea available today come in a wide range of colours, but not yellow!



“The Sweet Pea has a keel that was meant to seek all shores; it has wings that were meant to fly across all continents; it has a standard which is friendly to all nations; and it has a fragrance like the universal gospel, yea, a sweet prophecy of welcome everywhere that has been abundantly fulfilled” – Rev. W. T. Hutchins 1900

Sweet pea cultivation is thought to have begun in the 17th century. The originator of the modern plant naming system, the swedish botanist Linnaeus, carried on using the genus name Lathyrus, which was in common use in the 18th century, but gave the Sweet pea it’s species name odoratus to codify the various names used for it at the time.

sweet-pea-flowers-7Victorian times saw a craze for the plant and a host of new cultivars were created as a result, many beginning their lives as mutations or ‘sports’ of known varieties. The original dwarf sweet pea was found growing in a row of a popular grandiflora variety in California  in the late 19th century. It had similar flowers to its parent but was much shorter and with a spreading habit. Given the name ‘Cupid’, this later became the general name used for dwarf sweet peas. Later crossings of these and other grandifloras produced a wide range of ‘cupids’ and later still these were crossed with the newer ‘Spencer’ sweet peas which resulted in a range of ‘cupids’ with larger flowers.

The large-flowered Spencer sweet pea appears to have arisen in two or three places at around the same time, but perhaps the most famous source was the home of the Spencer family (of Lady Diana fame) in Northamptonshire. The head gardener of Althorp HouseSilas Cole – named this ‘Countess Spencer’, though he seems at the time to have claimed it arose from deliberate cross breeding rather than as an accident of nature!

Sweet peas can be grown in different ways, but perhaps the most common technique is the cordon, introduced in 1911 by Tom Jones of Ruabon. This is used to produce flowers of the highest quality and in effect is a form of pruning and training which channels the plant’s energies into a smaller number of larger blooms. This process involves:

  • The top of a young seedling being pinched out once it has produced several true leaves, which encourages branching
  • One of the resulting side shoots (a strong one emerging near the base of the plant) is retained, and the others removed before they develop
  • The remaining stem is allowed to grow and is tied in, but all of its side shoots are removed as they form, as are any tendrils to prevent them fastening onto the flower stems
  • The fewer flower stems produce larger blooms and once finished these flowers are removed to encourage new ones to form.

Several plants can be grown in this way along a row to produce a sweet pea screen.

Fresh sweet pea flowers in the house have been shown to improve general wellbeing, boost both male and female libido, and lessen the effects of a hangover! However, the seeds of some species of Lathyrus contain a toxic amino acid which if eaten in large quantities can cause the serious disease Lathyrism.


Sources and further information:



Sweet Pea Flower pictures

Quizzicals: two more cryptic clues to plants, fruit or veg:

  • Has had too much already
  • A country full of automobiles

Old School Gardener

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