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March 25, 2014

The Home of the English Cottage Garden

In preparation for leading a small group around the great gardens of the Cotswold area I'm reading many books on our specific destinations. This week it's East Lambrook Manor House. Although I think it technically is not in the Cotswolds area, it is a must see for us, this is the Home of a the English Cottage Garden.

What is a Cottage Garden? Merely a small residence with some food and flowers planted around the yard? After reading 'The Cottage Garden - Margery Fish at East Lambrook Manor' by Susan Chivers & Suzanne Woloszynska, I would like to share some of my findings, thoughts and feelings about cottage gardening.

Cottagers started out very poor working the land and builder their homes. Naturally they started with useful plants that produced food, herbs and extending into flowering shrubs for their color and scent among other reasons. As their lives improved the cottagers began to collect those rare oddities they found in nature around them. "plants like double primroses and unusual violets. In this way, his garden became a sanctuary for mutants that would have otherwise disappeared. " For Mrs Fish, the preservation of the cottage varieties and selections was utmost important.

The cottagers in the 16th century became the main repository of plants as the monastic gardens began to fade. Well into the 18th century, the cottager were collecting and protecting selections of flowering plants. In the 18th century when the Landscape Gardening became all the rage, the cottagers took the lead in conserving many plants otherwise lost when the large formal estates were transformed into Landscapes. Finally I think the apogee of the Cottage Garden happen in the Edwardian era in the form of an Arts & Crafts Garden. This is when the Cottage Garden took center stage, allowed into the formal part of the garden. The great herbaceous borders created by Gertrude Jekyll and encouraged by William Robinson's writing, the Arts & Crafts Garden owed much to the conservation of the cottager.

Map of East Lambook

World War I, or the Great War, was the end of the large country garden estates. With the lack of cheap labor, the decline of these great estates was well underway. The response was to form the National Trust to help look after and maintain the essence of the grand spaces for future generations to visit. Between the World Wars the middle class flourished and spent a good deal of it on their homes and gardens. Although I get the impression that Mrs Fish was the primary gardener at East Lambrook, she did and could afford help. She employed people to help in the nursery and in the house. She apparently had difficulty letting anyone help her with weeding as she took great pride in allowing the self-sowers have their way. Like Mrs Fish, I don't use a hoe. I weed by hand carefully examining each seedling for value and placement. Some get moved around to fill voids as the season unfolds.

Some of Margery Fish's influences: E.A.Bowles, Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson's books 'The Wild Garden' and 'The English Flower Garden' , Mrs Phyllis Reiss at Tintinhull, Vita Sackville-West, Colonel Eric Savill's garden in Windsor Great Park. Margery Fish also wrote a few books and performed a weekly radio show for the BBC. With great anticipation I wait for her book 'Gardening in the Shade' I ordered from

In July 2014, in addition to East Lambrook, we will also visit Hestercombe (Jekyll), Tintinhull and Hidcote. See full tour itinerary here.

Some photos from our visit to East Lambrook Manor in 2012:

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