Leslie Linsley shares her secrets for creating the cottage garden of your dreams.
Nantucket residents are passionate about their gardens. Some are small, in-town, pocket gardens, others are border gardens seen along picket fences. Some are formal, others more uninhibited, depending on the site and the gardener. But the most charming gardens all over the island are those resembling a typical cottage garden that looks as though it just grew up on its own, a little jaunty and carefree.
A cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, often dense plantings and traditional materials. It is never grand or formal, but rather casual, with a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. When we think of a cottage garden, we might imagine a little structure in the countryside of England, and, in fact, this is its origin.
On Nantucket, roses were planted as a cottage garden staple giving off their rich scents at the beginning and mid-summer growing seasons. Modern day cottage gardens include regional perennials with lush foliage and fragrance, along with annuals and free-climbing plants associated with cottage gardens of the past. The best examples of cottage gardens on Nantucket are on small areas around in-town houses and in the little village of Siasconset where the roses grow up the sides and over the rooftops of the little whale cottages.
Hydrangeas grow all over the island and visitors always “ooh and aah” over their beauty. They are the biggest and bluest, although they bloom in white and pink as well. We think our soil makes them the best in the country. you be the judge.
Today cottage style gardens are created around houses of all sizes with the simple formula: an informal look and a seemingly casual mix of flowers, herbs and vegetables. They often have useful paths or hedges designed to look artless, as if everything in it has just grown there by accident, rather than contrived. Plantings are usually dense to avoid the need for excessive watering and weeding. Stone pathways imperfectly laid out with curves and irregularities might be included.
If you want to plan a cottage garden for your home, in a Nantucket style, here are some tips:
1. Choose plantings for their old-fashioned appeal.
2. Arbors give a casual appearance.
3. Something old can lend an air of charm.
4. Use native plants and those adapted to local climate.
5. Plant roses, climbing roses in particular.
6. Cottage garden flowers include: lavender, hollylocks, carnations, sweet William, marigolds, lilies, peonies, evening primrose, daisies, lily-of-the-valley and cowslips.
7. Herbs with household uses: lavender, sweet woodruff, thyme, sage, basil, parsley, catnip and soapwort.
8. Typical fruits might be raspberries, apple for cider and a pear tree. A modern garden might include a dogwood or crab apple tree.
All over town you’ll see window boxes brimming with native flowering plants. Not only do we find them on small cottages, but under windows on grand sea captain’s houses lining Orange Street and the historic houses on Union as well as upper Main. Storefronts seem to vie for the best window boxes all over town which add to the charm and quaintness that contributes to our downtown ambience. Window boxes can be created anywhere. Choose a combination of tall and low or trailing plants. Be sure the flowers don’t grow too tall in front of windows. Consult your nursery about appropriate flowers for your area. Some do better in full sun, others in shade. Consider having your Nantucket style flower box created by expert designer David Holland-Leggieri at Bartlett’s Oceanview Farm or ask your nursery for advice for planting in your area.
Leslie Linsley is the author of “Nantucket Cottages & Gardens” with photographs by Terry Pommett. The gardens and window boxes are from their recent release from Skyhorse Publishing. This is their third book collaboration and together Linsley and Pommett have created dozens of magazine articles. Leslie is the author of more than 65 books.