Friday, June 22, 2018

Will Large Cottage Gardens like this one Disappear One Day?

"The truth is that all gardens are transitory– more like our lives, less like architecture: we build them to give the illusion of permanence. In this way too they resemble our lives."
from Transitory Gardens. Uprooted Lives by Diane Balmori and Margaret Morton

Elderberry, Black Lace Sambucus

In a brief email, Jane Dykstra told me she was embarking on a whole new chapter in her life and wasn't looking back. Her garden, which had been open to the public for almost twenty years, was closing and the sale of their farm property was about to be finalized.

I struggled a little with this news. How could anyone leave behind a garden they had laboured so long to create, I wondered?

Malva sylvestris 'Zebrina'

This is not the only example where the gardener is retiring from a large, high-maintenance, cottage-style garden. I have already shown one such property this spring, and have yet another which I hope to post in the coming weeks. Baby boomers are getting older and it is unclear if there is a generation of younger gardeners to replace them. All this has me wondering if large, cottage-style gardens might become a thing of the past.

In Jane's case, she wants less work and more time to lavish on her twelve garden children. She hasn't given up gardening, she's just planning to do so on a much smaller scale. The garden Jane named "Carpe Diem" will go to a new owner, who may or may not be a gardener with enough time, energy and enthusiasm to maintain the extensive flowerbeds. Chances are a large part of Carpe Diem may be grassed over.

I love the mosaic that makes use of pieces of broken china and decorative tiles.

The cutting garden.

Annual poppies.

Carpe Diem translates as the "the pleasures of the moment without concerns for the future." The phrase "Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero" advises us to "Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future."

How prophetic that choice of name seems given the garden's uncertain future!

Gardens are indeed transitory which always seems to be at odds with our love of permanence and stability. We like to build things that last and create things that out live us. Without a caretaker, a garden will fill with weeds as Mother Nature reassumes command.

Is devoting yourself to making a garden a waste of time then?

Some might think so, but I doubt very much that Jane would agree with them.

Centranthus ruber 'Albus' 

An old tub filled with hosta.

Hidden just behind the stone patio is a little pond.

There are a number of these piles of stones known as "cairns" in Jane's garden. In ancient times, a cairn was a landmark or trail marker. 

Campanula and pink peonies.

Gardening is not a whole lot different from other creative pursuits.

When a writer finishes a novel, he or she sends it to a publisher with fingers crossed and then moves on to write new stories. Same thing with artists. They create a painting and move on to the next challenge. 

That is exactly what I think Jane has done. She's acted on her ideas and given Carpe Diem her heart and soul for almost twenty years. Her work is finished. The garden has given her all it can give and now she's ready to move on.

The rose and iris garden at the front of the house.

Do you see the bird nest? It is tucked discreetly in among the stonecrop sedum.

Rosa glauca has marvellous grey foliage.

Believe it or not, Rosa glauca is a rose you grow for the foliage. (To see the full shrub scroll back two pictures.)

Rosa glauca is a species shrub rose that has glaucous, grey-green foliage. The roses are single five petaled flowers that are slightly fragrant. The tall plum rose canes have few thorns. This rose likes rich, well-drained soil. Full sun. Height: 6-8 ft Spread: 5-7 ft. USDA zones 2-8.

There is a generous deck that runs from the back door around to the side of the house.

The shaded patio at the back of the farmhouse.

A hanging basket–literately!

I am sure you will join me in wishing Jane all the best in her new endeavours. Gardening is a transferable skill, so I am sure her new smaller garden will be terrific in its own right.

For the rest of us, her garden is a good reminder that nothing is forever. So make the most of your time in the garden this summer and enjoy every moment!


  1. We just bought a second home in Quebec where the gardeners had put their heart and soul into the house and garden for 16 years. We’re boomers, too, but fortunately my hubbie is still a hardy, foot in the ground gardener. I’m fit, but hand issues aren’t good fit for the pruning and weeding that initial maintenance has needed (the garden had been neglected for ~ 3 years). But we’re both plant people and planning to tweak the garden towards a much more lower-maintenance, native-centric, and naturalistic landscape (it’s currently highly ornamental, with WAY too much pruning needed).

    But more to your question, I think yes, there are younger gardeners who are interested in large cottage gardens, if they can afford to buy the properties where they exist. In my previous life as a garden educator, I ran into so many folks who became engaged with gardening in the late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond, as they had time to garden.

    1. Hi Lisa, I am at the young end of the boomer generation and I hope to keep gardening for many more years. I do see a time coming however when I will want a garden that is less physical work.
      I am glad to hear that you and your husband are gardening as well. I do hope you are able to figure out ways to lessen the workload (this might be a great subject matter for a future post).
      I really hope your right that there is a younger generation of gardeners out there that will continue the tradition of cottage gardens. Gardening does seem a passion you find sometime after thirty. All the best!

    2. I see so many of the younger generations posting photos of cottage gardens and flowers on Instagram and Facebook, that I'm positive there is still an interest. I think we may see a time where those who have the desire but not the funds, and those who have the gardens but no longer the ability to maintain, collaborate together to keep the beauty alive.

    3. I hope you're right Melanie!

  2. I think a non-gardener would be terrified to take all that on and a gardener might be thrilled or hesitant, knowing how much work it requires to maintain. But I was worried my garden would prevent my house from selling and that wasn't the case at all. Her garden is amazing!

    1. Yes, it is a nice garden isn't it. To be honest, even I would worry about the amount of work such a garden would entail. It would be a full time job for sure!
      It's nice to hear that your garden didn't discourage buyers when you sold your house. One of my big fears is my garden may make buyers run for the hills when we come to sell the house.

  3. Although Jane’s garden must take much work it has the look of a sensible structural planting with terrrific bones. The spaces she created won’t have the same meaning for the new owners but I hope they will enjoy them just the same. I worry about selling our house too for this reason. It will have a limited market. Moving on is close in our future too.

  4. To me, one of the selling points of a property is the garden and I would hope that anyone interested in purchasing it would take that into consideration. I know my 24 year old niece is keen to have a property so she can garden and grow veggies but it's a matter of being able to afford it.

    All the best to Jane in her new home and garden.

    1. My son is in a similar position and would love to have his own house (although in this case gardening is not one of his ambitions). I don't know about the buyer for Jane's property, but the buyer for another garden I will show soon has no experience gardening and has three young children. I predict a good part of that garden will be grassed over unless the new owner suddenly discovers a passion for gardening.

  5. Late to view this post, but I am struggling with this very question. There aren't many more seasons I will be able to maintain what has taken me 30 years to create. Hopefully someone will appreciate what is here and care for it, even on a smaller scale, but it's certainly been enjoyable building it up!

    1. I can relate and my garden is much younger. I'd be quite sad to leave it behind.

  6. Jennifer these are such fundamental questions now for older gardeners .. sometimes it isn't even our age that is the difficulty .. illnesses we just never thought of, that restrict our capabilities after lovingly creating gardens we thought we could enjoy for so much longer than practical.
    This is such a beautiful place .. I hope the new owners will try and keep most of the beauty going .. but who knows what the future holds for any of us.
    I worry with what I have created even on such a smaller scale .. who but another gardener would want to carry on with the upkeep ? .. a young family would want a grassy backyard for their kids, compared to intense plant borders to fuss over.
    I was so caught up in "creating" I never thought of the consequences of my actions mixed in with health problems .. but then in the midst of "plant love" , which one of us gardeners would ?
    I want to remember how much I have loved this journey and not focus on the worry of what next ? .. I know .. I am burying my head in the sand for now ;-)
    Loved the pictures ... such a gorgeous place ... I'm sure her next garden will be as spectacular albeit on a smaller scale.

    1. I don't think any of us can plan for every eventuality, but I think you're wise to focus on how much you enjoyed the journey Joy.

  7. I have had the same thoughts many times as I get older. "How much longer will I be able o maintain this garden?" "After I am gone, will there be someone who will continue to maintain all the years of love and care that have gone into the property, or will it all be transformed to grass?" This was such a moving story. I'd
    like to think that the new owner will maintain the gardens and that all the years of Jane's contributions to the community will be remembered. I am sure she has impacted so many lives in some way. All the best to Jane.

    1. I am sure she'd be touched by your good wishes Lee. As the garden has been open to the public, I think many people have been inspired by Jane's garden. I hope the new owners will maintain at least some of the flowerbeds.

  8. This is just what we did. I've gardened my entire life though it was always a LOT of work and difficult while working full time. When we moved from the farm to the island, we bought a property much larger than I wanted. I was already at a time I wished to reduce my time in the garden, though not eliminate it altogether. Well we lasted 6 years in that lovely 1/2 acre yard. We completely redid the yard when we moved in and it was a showpiece. Fortunately the people who bought it are avid gardeners so it will live on for now. Our move was very specific: downsize the home and the yard. And I now have a comfortable home with a tiny postage stamp yard. Again, we redid the yard as it was drastically over planted with multiple trees not at all suitable for the size of yard nor, in some cases, for the climate. I love how it is now and it's just enough yard that I can still get my gardening fix yet it doesn't keep me on my knees or bent over for hours on end every day. I do worry, like you, that lovely cottage gardens may one day be a mere memory.


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