The rose-covered cottage is not a far-fetched image of the old English flower garden. English gardeners, though challenged by the weather, try to produce as many flowers and vegetables as possible whether the garden is large or small. Famous country mansions had extensive greenhouses that could produce orchids in the dead of winter and tiny yards could be a tangle of bloom. Many flowers used in traditional English gardens are common in the United States. It can be easy to recreate such a garden anywhere.
Englishman John Josselyn published a book in 1672, "New England Rarities," that told of Colonial gardens in early Plymouth, Massachusetts. He described how the settlers tried to recreate old English gardens in their new homes across the Atlantic. The extensive list of flowers in those gardens shows what the English planted in the 1600s. High on the list are hollyhocks and roses. He also names English, eglantine and sweetbriar roses, lavender cotton and gillyflowers and honesty.
Old English gardens were designed, they did not just spring up. A gardening book from 1900, "The English Flower Garden and Home Grounds;" William Robinson describes English gardens around the country. In Ashford at Kent, he finds a garden that impresses him in summer with its lilies, peonies and delphiniums and in autumn with agapanthus, torch lilies and gladioli.
Gardeners planted flowers they intended to cut and bring indoors. These were grown in beds without thought to the overall design of the bed, but more like a vegetable garden rows of flowers instead of vegetables. Good old English cutting flowers were pinks, gladioli, carnations and tulips, hyacinth and of course roses.
Turn-of-the-20th-century garden author Alice Morse Earle tells of how flowers are planted together in her own garden. Foxglove, sweet william and Canterbury bells grow side by side. She has larkspur and white phlox together. Earle grows crimson-purple phlox with tiger lilies. She describes the personalities of flowers, mentioning which flowers are friends of other flowers, making a romantic telling of her garden. William Robinson says what makes the English garden beautiful is the absence of pretentious plans so the flowers can "tell the stories of their hearts."
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