For centuries, villagers were very proud of their cottage garden, which formed such a charming feature of their rural life. The old cottages and their bright little cottage gardens were the home of many old-fashioned flowers and the source of the cottager's supply of fruit and vegetables. The "English cottage garden" combined utility with beauty. Flowers encircled the cabbage plants and the potato crop. Cottage garden flowers found a zealous friend in the busy housewife who tended them and watered them, sometimes with the contents of her teapot (hydrangeas seemed to love cold tea), and watched over them as flowers love to be watched. She found time to care for these other plants which made her home garden design cheerful and bright. A gift of some roots and cuttings from a flower garden was valued more than a present of money.
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Cottage gardens preserved the tradition of the outdoor culture of the vine which in old days flourished throughout England. In the past, vines were trained around the porch of the cottage home, which gave it a very picturesque appearance. The walls of the cottage were usually covered with creepers. The vine about the porch could soar as high as the topmost gable and chimney-stack. Climbing roses were not forgotten, and many a cottage garden boasted of its fine Gloire de Dijon or Maréchal Niel, or strong growing crimson rambler, which filled the air with fragrance. Clematis plants of various hues were seen on many a cottage wall, and ivy, too. Honeysuckle was a favorite plant for climbing purposes. It covered the porch and round-about sheds its rich perfume.
A cottage garden was typically only a square patch, but the beauty of it was far more enchanting than that of "English landscape gardens" and it was often still pretty when bare. Charles Dickens, in one of his finest passages, wrote: "In the culture of flowers there cannot, by their nature, be anything solitary or exclusive. The wind that blows over the cottage porch sweeps over the grounds of the nobleman, and as the rain descends on the just and on the unjust, so it communicates to all gardens, both rich and poor, an interchange of pleasure and enjoyment." The garden wallkways paving was made of gravel or large flat slabs of stone. These walkways can easily be reproduced today with designs made with pavers. Many a flower garden had edgings made of large loose stones arranged in formal shapes with little paths between the beds although Box edgings were not uncommon.
In some cottage gardens no attempt was made to grow vegetables. The whole space was dedicated to flowers. This showed the devotion of the true gardener to his flowers. The window garden, too, was a sight to behold. You would scarcely find flower gardens that did not have in the window some plants which were tended with the greatest care, and were watered and washed so religiously that they flourished famously. Plants are like pets, and respond gratefully to the affectionate regard and care of their masters. The favorite flowers for window gardens were geraniums, hydrangeas, fuchsias, an occasional cactus or begonia, musk and balsam and many others which obscured the light of day and made the cottage dark, but the gardener cared not because he could always see his flowers.
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In a cottage garden, some plants and herbs were cultivated for more than ornament. The rural cottage gardener was learned in the lore of the herbalist and would collect sundry herbs to cure ills and relieve pain. Moreover, housewives grew lavender not only for nosegays and posies, but for linen and apparel. In winter, when the herbs refused to grow, an old gardening book said, "Floures of Lavender do cure the beating of the harte." The old-fashioned cottage herb garden supplied many quaint remedies, relics of gypsy lore, but not without their effectiveness if received and served with faith. Trees and flowers also had their folk and fairy lore and worked wonders for those who believed in their powers. It was rumored that the ash and the maple gave long life to children who passed through their branches while maidens could scatter hempseed to discover their future husbands by repeating the words, "Hempseed I sow, hempseed I sow, And he that is my true love come after me and mow."