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The Charm of a Cottage Garden

The North Fork Is The Perfect Location For Creating These Cherished Gardens.

Cottage gardens possess an undeniable charm, exuding a lively and colorful blend of old-fashioned plants that epitomize informality. These gardens flourish in a joyful, unrestrained manner, spilling onto pathways, leaning on fences, and creating an exuberant atmosphere. Their relaxed spirit perfectly complements the easygoing vibe of summer by the sea on the North Fork. Even within a formal landscape, there is room for a cottage garden, enclosed and gated as a small, self-contained world.

Photo: Jake Rajs

The origins of cottage gardens trace back to England and Europe, where the “cottagers” who worked on grand estates grew their own food and medicinal herbs in small plots. When settlers brought this tradition to America, they cultivated vegetables, herbs, and flowers used for dyes and medicines in dooryard plots enclosed by picket fences.

Today’s cottage gardens have evolved but remain rooted in regional and old-fashioned plants. These gardens typically include a diverse array of plants — perennials, annuals, bulbs, herbs, vines, and even shrubs — all growing together harmoniously. Fragrant plants are particularly cherished in a cottage garden.

When selecting plants for your North Fork cottage garden, consider including those that hold special meanings or associations for you. A cottage garden is also an ideal place for plants given as gifts for birthdays, holidays, or other special occasions. Plants that self-sow, such as forget-me-nots and Johnny jump-ups, add a delightful touch of serendipity, sprouting up wherever they please. Choose plants based on their individual qualities rather than their contribution to an overall design, aiming for a pleasing mix of colors without being constrained by a strict color scheme. Include tall and large plants to avoid a collection of only small ones. Grouping plants in small clumps of three or five can prevent the garden from looking entirely random. 

Antique and heritage roses, such as damasks and cabbage roses, are perfect for a cottage garden. Alternatively, David Austin roses, available in many garden centers and nurseries on the North Fork, combine the fragrance and color range of heritage roses with the hardiness and disease resistance of modern varieties.

In selecting plants for your cottage garden, prioritize heirloom and old-fashioned varieties over modern hybrids. Older varieties, such as heliotrope and sweet peas, often offer more fragrance than newer cultivars bred for large size or unusual color. On the North Fork, a cottage garden could feature regional specialties like Montauk daisy and plants adapted to seashore conditions, such as bayberry, sea pink, sea lavender, fragrant rugosa roses, New England aster, butterfly bush, Russian sage, black-eyed Susan, perennial salvias, and even prickly pear cactus.

Don’t hesitate to experiment in your garden; if you are unsatisfied with the results, you can always make changes the following year. This season, embrace the joy and spontaneity of creating your cottage garden, and above all, have a little fun with it.