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Organic cottage garden in Spring

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

As the garden comes to life it is time to prepare for the height of summer. Our garden is 100% organic and so there is lots to get ready. To us being organic means prevention rather than cure and so it's time to save tea bags, add tongs and paint brushes to the tool shed and put out bug deterrents.

Wallflowers and tulips

This time of year it is so busy in the garden not only as it is a major time to plant out the greenhouse, but it is also the start of my annual colour studies. After the flowerless winter I am always over-excited about photographing my new plant combinations. The garden is my main reference for the colours of my Stuff and so I add new plants or move them about each year, trying to create various colour combinations. In Spring I get to find out if my green fingers have created beauty or something not worth watering! On the left are my new tulips and wallflowers, a soft combination of peach, cream, apricot and copper which all blend together with a variety of intermittent leaf shapes. This whole bed is stunning and I cannot wait to see what comes up in Summer, still within the orange colour palette. I'm hoping for the ultimate cottage garden this year, though with gardening having such a slow visual yield, it may take me another year to perfect it.

Black tulips, orange wallflowers and bluebells

In order to create a cottage garden you have to utilize every part of your plot. Flowers, herbs and edibles are grown together in an informal fashion with dense planting. The style should be charismatic with an elegance reached by growing classic flowers and choosing a selective colour palette. There are no rules to achieve a cottage garden, that's the whole point, but little secrets and hidden treasures give the chaos a sense of purpose.

The English cottage gardens originated from Victorian times as farm workers started growing their own fruit and veg. The whole plot would be used so their small gardens were completely utilized. Flowers were introduced as cottagers began to keep bees for their honey.

It is believed that the flowers came from the head gardener of the main house, surplus to his planting of formal beds, and instead of wasting them they were divided between the workers. Today's cottage garden has an abundance of flowers as the reliance on growing your own is not so prevalent. Most of the choice plants are easy to propagate either by self seeding or dividing, increasing your stock each season for free. The best self seeders in summer would be sweet peas, cornflowers, sunflowers, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium and flax, and the dividers would be herbs, lupins and delphiniums, with the odd traditional rose rambling over walls. I treated myself to a traditional climbing rose of the softest pink to grow across the front of our cottage and I cannot wait for it to bloom.

Tulips and bluebells

It is due to be warm FINALLY this weekend so I will be out photographing flowers as they open. Everything is about to bloom into early summer colour so I will be collating colour palettes for my next batch of drafties and making notes of any amendments I need to make in the garden next Spring. I wonder if Monet felt the same excitement at this time of year, waiting for his colours to bloom, paintbrush in hand?. My last blog was about Monet and his garden where I made obvious comparisons on how he grew and painted and that I grow and study the colour, with the benefits of the digital age.

As I looked into the history of cottage

gardens for this blog I suddenly realised I have surrounded myself by very creative Victorian men. With Monet in the garden, William Morris in the house and my Arts and Crafts Movement work ethic, everything seems to be leading to the simpler times of rural Lincolnshire in Victorian times. I love the fact our little Victorian cottage is almost locked in a time capsule, having a renaissance back to the time it was first built. Cottage life is simple, busy and rewarding especially as the garden is about to bloom and the house is nearly decorated.

As the weather warms up there is nothing better than going out first thing in the morning and wandering around checking ties, dead-heading and picking some flowers for the house. Being an organic garden means we are out everyday, using paint brushes to brush bugs off buds or tongs to pick off caterpillars from vulnerable plants. I use tea bags both in the soil for nutrients or sprinkled on the soil surface to deter bugs and am currently painting old CDs with bright yellow sunflowers, in the hope they will attract bugs leaving the veg to do it's thing. After it rains, or once a week, I spray everything with an organic insecticide made from bicarbonate soda with a drop of liquid soap in water. It works brilliantly so long as it is applied very regularly and it won't hurt the helpful bugs. If we stick to all these precautions the garden becomes a balanced ecosystem where wildlife is waited on 'wing and beak'. We feed the visiting pheasant by hand, put natural fibres out for birds to use in their nests and keep little water sources for bees and birds constantly topped up.

It would be great to think that in a few years once the garden is established and doing its thing I will have time to draw and paint in little secret corners surrounded by pretty things. Maybe I should invest in a traditional linen artist's smock and a big straw hat to really get into the feel of things. I'm off now to sow some wallflowers for next Spring. Mrs Blackbird will be waiting for her mealworms and she lets us know if we forget. Wildlife can be so demanding!

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