Thursday, February 14, 2013

Around Town: What makes a cottage garden?

Around Town: What makes a cottage garden?

It's not on the map. Not on the website. You won't find it on the handouts. It's not even on Patina's list of Descanso Garden's magical wedding venues.

Over at Descanso Gardens, there's a secret place, an unlisted spot, called the Cottage Garden, tucked into the edge of the Rose Garden. Follow the gravel path down to the stone path. Look for the replica of an English cottage. Look for the weather-worn fence.

The sign says: “Cottage gardens were born of utility and need. They included medicinal herbs, flowers dug from the woods for ornament, and vegetables and fruit to feed working-class families. William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll, rebelling against the strict formality of the Victorian age, extolled the virtues of these simple, honest gardens and created the Cottage Garden style, still popular today.”

What makes a cottage garden?

In the case of Descanso, for starters, there is a wooden bench dedicated to Elinor Remick Warren. Warren was an American neo-romantic composer who broke the gender gap. She died in 1991 at the age of 91. How the bench came to Descanso, who dedicated the bench, and when and why, is a mystery to me.

Perhaps the answer lies in the names of Warren's choral compositions — names like “Frolic of the Elves,” “The Lake at Evening “ and “The Touch of Spring.”

Perhaps the clue comes from Warren's life story. Warren was born in Los Angeles. Did Descanso's founder, Manchester Boddy, know her? Maybe.

Beyond the Warren bench, the path continues. It is made of stones set in the ground. The path turns left at the cottage and leads up to the front door. The door is unpainted, made of worn wood. It has a metal latch.

Nearby are the plantings. There is a small pomegranate tree, dormant at the moment, and a rose bush called “Ghislaine de FĂ©ligonde.” This is a rambling rose. It is unpruned and also dormant. There is another rose called “Scarborough Fair” and a third called “Cliffs of Dover.”

Next to the roses stands a statue of two children, set near violets and green ground cover. The stone fountain is next. There are herbs, daffodils and an unpainted wooden fence.

The flowers, bulbs, trees and herbs are densely planted. There are one or two if each type, as if they grew naturally. I keep looking for a wooded forest. Instead, there's a quaint row of espalier pear trees, called the Pear Cordon.

What makes a cottage garden? Charm. Grace. Simplicity.

Today, the Rose Garden rambles and evolves. It includes “companion planting,” which mixes roses with other plants for year-round bloom. The Cottage Garden continues that informal theme.

Next to the Cottage Garden is the Butterfly Garden and the Children's Maze, with traditional hedges, 2 feet high.

The garden is quite different from the original design. In the late 1940s, Boddy had his horticulturist install the Rose Garden as an orderly arrangement. It had row after meticulous row of rose bushes, both ancient and modern. He called it the History of the Rose.

This time of year, the roses were already pruned and dormant.

What would Manchester Boddy think of the gardens today?

To be continued...

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