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A garden about artfully designed irregularity

These are sweet peas from Lorraine Kiefer’s Triple Oaks Nursery in Franklinville. Lorraine, a lifelong gardener, is a big fan of these old-fashioned, fragrant favorites that once were plentiful in our gardens. Now, not so much, but there are lots of colors out there – and Lorraine, in a recent email to customers, advised that this is the perfect time to sow the seeds.

Sweet peas came up in conversation yesterday at a workshop on English-style cottage gardens in Pennsylvania – in the Gardener’s Studio at the show. “Artfully designed irregularity,” is how they were described by Gloria Day, president of Pretty Dirty Ladies Inc., a garden design and maintenance firm in Leesport, Pa. This traditional style continues to enchant us, even as the host country becomes better known for modern design.

The typical cottage garden was planted around simple cottages, of course, in a small space with some kind of enclosure (a hedge or fence, maybe), as a kitchen garden. It usually had gates, trellises, arches mixed in with flowers, vegetables and herbs. Actually, this style of gardening probably never went out of fashion – and it’s big today.

“A cottage garden is out of control and has control at the same time,” Gloria says. “Although a lot of English gardens are very formal, a cottage garden is very free-flowing.”

If you have a small property, borrow the neighbor’s view. If your neighbor has a fence, grow something upright on it. If you have a fantastic vista, grow low. Use every square inch. Scatter wildflower seeds. “Cottage gardens are so much fun to play in. See what happens. Anything old looks good in them,” Gloria says.

Old-fashioned flowers she favors include sweet peas; alliums, which have the added benefit of being deer-resistant; roses; nasturtiums; primroses, hollyhocks, campanula, violets, calendula, anemone, lupine, phlox, penstemon, lilacs, hydrangea and on and on.

She suggests using containers and towers, rather than topiaries – although how many home gardeners are doing topiaries these days?? – and adding bulbs, self-sowing annuals, and if possible, a bee skep and chickens. “Don’t forget a seat in the garden,” she says.

After all that, maybe a (Gloria) day bed is in order, too! 

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