Cottage Gardens, by Philip Edinger and the Editors of Sunset Books
During the Middle Ages cottage gardens developed for very practical reasons. Peasants had some land near the pathways to their hovels and needed to grow some edibles and medicinal plants that could be the difference between starving and merely a difficult life and so over time certain assemblages of plants came to be associated with cottages and the space around them. Over time, of course, changing fashions and the addition of new hybrids and more exotic plants as well as the gentrification of the cottage garden when rural living became popular in the 19th century for elites seeking to escape the city turned what was originally a very practical matter into something that was done for aesthetic reasons. Despite my black thumb, I am no stranger to reading excellent gardening books , and this book is certainly a worthwhile one whether or not one is fond of the tangled and complicated history of the cottage garden and how what was once a lowly but necessary type of garden became something associated with class and prestige, once all of the peasants had been kicked off of the land and forced into grimy cities or exiled abroad and the countryside became a place of pastoral fantasies for the well-heeled.
This reasonably short book of a bit more than 100 full-sized pages, many of them with glorious full-color photographs of cottage garden plants in bloom, is divided into several sections. The first chapter discusses the history of the cottage garden and its essence and variety. After that the author talks about the adaptability of the cottage garden based on climate and then how one plans a cottage garden either from scratch or using effective designs with the author helpfully provides. After this the author gives a series of annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees that work in a cottage garden with descriptions and photos. After this the author provides some discussion about herbs, ornamental grasses, fruits and vegetables, and roses that complete a cottage garden. The author then closes with a discussion of the details and accessories that add charm to a cottage garden (like pathways, fences, gates, arbors, trellises, seats, bird feeders, and so on) as well as provides a look at the climate map of the United States when the book was published as well as an index.
What is it that makes a cottage garden so intriguing? For one, there is the blend between plants that have clear practical uses as edibles and other plants that are ornamentals, and still other plants that are fragrant and useful for birds and bees. For another, cottage gardens are appealing because they are meant to be low maintenance assemblages of plant life that show a certain apparent natural quality and that provide the feeling of a rustic life. These elements combine to make a cottage garden an appealing idea for those who wish to enjoy as well as share the beauty of that life with other people and the occasional worthwhile animal. The author certainly has some interesting ideas about what makes for beautiful cottage gardens and includes a large variety of plants and accessories for the reader to plan based on the area of the country they live in as well as their own ideal garden. Unsurprisingly, the author also includes some references to other books from the publisher that deal with related subjects like bird feeders to help encourage cross-pollenization when it comes to reading audiences for the publisher’s books. All in all, though, this is an enjoyable and beautiful book.
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