The Cottage Garden

Part 2

Barb Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

(6/19) In my first article on cottage gardens (Google master gardeners), I talked about the origin of cottage gardens, necessary components of the cottage garden, and how to get started. Now letís take a look at the kinds of plants often found in cottage gardens.

Many common cottage garden plants are annuals that live for only one year. Many, however, come back anew every year because they scatter their own seed. Often, just exactly where they appear is a little surprising which only adds to the happy nature of this type of garden. However, please be careful. Don't plant a mixture of seeds. You must be able to recognize your seedlings to tell them from the weeds, or you will end up with a big mess. Plant one type of seed in one location and mark it carefully. As the seeds sprout, pay close attention to what they look like. Then eliminate the competing weeds.

Always remember that fertile soil with lots of organic matter is a must for good germination.

Here are some suggestions, along with care tips, for some easy, bloomers that love to scatter their own seed. To get started, you can either get a seedling or two from a friend or buy some seed packs.

1. JOHNNIE JUMP-UPS (Viola tricolor) - Looking like miniature pansies, they will bloom with the daffodils and look great until sometime in June. When they start to get leggy and crowd their neighbors, just pull them out. Don't worry. They've already dropped their seeds; they'll be back.

2. FORGET-ME-NOTS (Myosotis scorpioides) Ė Doing best in a little shade, they have tiny blue or pink flowers in early spring. By June, they will go to seed. After the seed pods burst open and the plant turns brown, pull it out. Soon you will see a carpet of green seedlings which will just sit there until next spring when they will billow forth and flower once again.

3. ROSE CAMPION - (Lychnis coronaria) - A short-lived perennial, the flower stalks will shoot to 18 inches tall and produce small, but striking magenta flowers that last a long time. Once the flowers are gone, you can let the stalks stand or cut them off at ground level just above the rosette of grey-green basal leaves

4. COLUMBINE - (Aquilegia) - Attracts hummingbirds because of its very early bloom. The hummers especially like the red native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) which is also a host plant for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly. Columbine is a perennial plant that also disperses its seed readily.

5. POT MARIGOLD (Calendula officinalis) - An herb with bright yellow, edible flowers which are at their best in the cooler spring and fall weather. By July, the entire plant will decline in the heat. Pull it out, but don't disturb its soil. Soon new, fresh plants will begin to sprout. By late August, you should have a nice new crop to enjoy throughout the fall.

6. LARKSPUR - Larkspur, an annual cousin of the perennial Delphinium, will scatter its tall spikes throughout the area becoming the punctuation marks to your spring garden. Larkspur seeds are best planted in the garden soil in the fall because they need a period of cold temperatures before they can germinate.

7. MOSS VERBENA (Verbena tenuisecta) - This dainty plant has little blue, ball-shaped flowers. Add it to a container or grow it as a ground cover. It will bloom non-stop from June to heavy frost. Mix it with larkspur and pot marigold for a great combination.

8. SWEET ALYSSUM (Lobularia maritima) - Another cool weather plant with tiny low-growing white flowers all season. They will hang around all summer, but in the fall the plants will suddenly grow much larger. Many six packs have sterile seeds. If you want them to keep coming back, buy the seeds. Try 'Tiny Tim' or 'Carpet of Snow'

Perennials are easier to manage than the self-sowing annuals because they stay in the same spot and generally leave a small rosette of basal leaves telling you where they were last year. Most will also self-seed to give you more plants next year but not as prolifically as the annuals. Easy, popular perennials for a summer cottage garden include Coneflowers, Rudbeckias, Salvias, and Shasta Daisies. Other favorites include the Penstemons, perennial Sunflowers, and Agastaches (Hyssop). Don't forget some beautiful native Asters for a late fall bloom. With so many varieties of all these plants, you just have to shop for what appeals to you. These plants all attract pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you want butterflies, be sure to include some host plants. Asclepias is the botanical name for milkweeds and butterfly weeds. They are the only plants Monarch caterpillars can eat, but many other butterfly species enjoy them also. Plant some Dill and Parsley for the Black Swallowtails, and a Spice Bush for the Spicebush Swallowtails. Willows will support our resident Viceroys which are Monarch look-alikes.

For easy self-seeding summer and fall bloomers, try Amaranthus, Celosia, Cosmos, Nicotiana, and Cleome. These plants will fill in after most of the spring flowers are finished and bloom from late summer to frost. They will all grow readily from seeds planted directly in the soil. They can prove a little tricky for some people because, in most cases, they don't germinate until mid-May. You need to remember where you expect the seeds to germinate, and not mulch over the spot or pull them out thinking they are weeds.

A cottage garden provides a place for a profusion of flowers growing all season long in a diversity of colors, forms and textures unrivaled in more formal gardens. Everything, it seems, is welcome in a cottage garden.

Read other articles on ecological gardening & native plants

Read other articles by Barbara Mrgich