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Sunday, January 28, 2018

The hum of bees is the voice of the garden. ~Elizabeth Lawrence

(English Cottage Garden)

In midwinter my thoughts turn to gardening, of course. Ever wonder about the history behind these cherished plots of earth? Cottage gardens stretch back hundreds of years to the time when people used herbs for everything and grew most of their own food. These homey plots acquired their name from the country cottage around which they grew. I love cottage gardens and strive to have my own. However, I live in a boxy white farm house, not a cottage, and our yard and gardens are rather sprawling for that overflowing, filled to the brim, in a compact sort of way look. Like mine, these small gardens are (and were) a mix of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. I strongly associate cottage gardens with the British Isles, because of our shared history and the influence of the Mother Country on the New World. But other countries have them too.

(Bee on catnip flower with our farm house in the background)
(Heirloom poppies)

(Bees on poppies)

"No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden." ~Hugh Johnson
People acquired the plants for their cottage gardens from friends and family in the form of ‘starts’ (root divisions) cuttings, and seeds. Very much as I do today, only I have the added benefit of seed catalogs. They are called passalong plants. Sometimes these gifts of plant starts to others have come back to me when my own died out.  Thank heavens, I'm generous. If I gave any of you lupines, I would like some back now. :) I'm also a big fan of wildflowers.
(The front flower border in our garden)
Daughter Elise (my right arm in the garden) and I encourage beneficial insects to make their home among our plants. We are discovering which herbs and flowers, etc, are best for attracting pollinators, and we continually experiment with companion planting. It's as much a happy accident as intentional, but we grow a wide variety of flowers so that pollen sources are available throughout the growing season. We've learned that heirloom, non hybrid flowers and vegetables are best for attracting butterflies, beneficial insects, and bees... As it turns out, these are the kind that make up traditional cottage gardens. Those new and improved varieties may look more attractive to us, but not to the pollinators. Butterflies give them a pass. Elise and I noted this with the 'Wave' petunias we got from a garden center. Not a single butterfly or bee paid any attention to those prolific blooms. 
 A few pics from our garden this past summer and some of our visitors.

(Painted Lady butterfly on Agastache flowers)

(Hairstreak butterfly on asters)

(Bee on Tithonia)

(Butterfly On Forget-Me-Nots)

(Monarch visiting Bright Lights Cosmos)

Also, watch out for plants from garden centers that have been treated with systemic insecticides called neonicotinyl insecticides. You will unintentionally kill nectar seeking visitors with those flowers. For more on avoiding these killer flowers visit:

"It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season." ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

If you are in an herb growing mood and want to learn more of their lore and historic uses, I am pushing my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles: 

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.

Available in kindle and print at Amazon: 

You can't go wrong with herbs.

For more on me, follow my Amazon Author Page:


  1. Great photos. I do not have a green thumb whatsoever! I love your butterflies!

    1. Thanks Carolyn. I love them, too, and miss my flowers and the butterflies, but they will return.

  2. I treasure my copy of your PLANTS FOR A MEDEIVAL HERB GARDEN IN THE BRITISH AISLES. As well as helpful, I love looking through it for pleasure. Thanks for sharing your great photos, too.

  3. Thanks so much, Caroline. That means a lot.

  4. Enjoyable post, Beth. I'm a gardener,too. Our house is surrounded with flowers, plants, and shrubs, and I even have a herb and vegetable garden. It's so much fun to watch all the plants unfurl in the springtime.

  5. As usual, informative post, Beth. Love the thatched cottage photo. Have you seen the Netflix series ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY? The country meaning the beautiful, pastoral countryside of England. Wonderful series.


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