The English Cottage Garden – Spring 2021

It happened. My 4 year old English Cottage Garden has moved out of its toddler years and is finally growing up.

I’ve had a Snow Goose poppy in my front yard for the past 4 years. Year one it sprouted and died. Year two it resprouted and died. Year three it resprouted and died. Year 4 it resprouted and I tried something new by actually watering it. It lived and even bloomed.

Funny how doing that one little thing made all the difference in the world. It’s SORCERY I tell you. Count on me to ALWAYS bring you the latest trends and revelations in gardening.

I really think I’ve done it. I think I’ve created an English Cottage garden that will look good from spring until fall. At least it’ll show some blooms from spring until fall. Whether they look good or not depends on my ability to remember that whole watering trick.

I have no excuse. I have a fully functioning brain and an underground sprinkler system. Actually I *don’t* have a fully functioning brain on account of my meno pausing. I have a partially functioning brain and a fully functioning internal alarm clock that’s perpetually set to 3:00 a.m.

Plants that self seed.


The other reason my garden has done so well this spring is because of the mild winter we had. Snapdragons which normally self seed here, didn’t die back at all so they’re already over 2 feet high and covered with flowers.


Alyssum that was scatter planted last year has self seeded and in a couple of more weeks should be a carpet of honey scented purple and white blooms.


People always tell me they have trouble growing cilantro. Here’s why that is – Cilantro likes to be ignored. It also likes to grow in a mass. One cilantro plant is a bit sad and lonely. Plant at least 3 or 4 of them in a group. If you can ignore them enough that they live, ignore them some more. If you do that, they’ll go to seed, and drop those seeds everywhere.

You’ll never need to plant cilantro again.


Amaranth will self seed like nothing I’ve ever seen before if you leave it. I mean THOUSANDS of Amaranth seedlings will pop up everywhere in the spring.

These may look like sad little Amaranth seedlings, but what they actually are, are sad little …. O.K., never mind that’s exactly what they are now that I think of it. BUT – look at how big these tiny little things will get by the end of the summer.

This Hot Biscuits Amaranth from Floret, (also sold at William Dam Seeds in Canada) is what stops everyone who walks past my house. Seriously. I’ve been standing there totally naked beside it and seen people trip over themselves trying to get a better look at it and figure out what it is.

5. COCKSCOMB (I really hate saying that word)

In the picture above you can see the tall red cockscomb at the front of the fence. It, along with everything else in my front wall self seeds like crazy.

I split a peony bush 2 years ago and planted 2 more new ones but last year I got almost nothing from them. This year? They’re busting out.

So even though peonies don’t self seed, you CAN split them and double your stock.

This is supposed to be a Shirley Temple peony, but it doesn’t really look like it to me. But that could just be the menopause talking.

Frankly my kale looks more like Shirley Temple than the peony does. Slide the bar to compare this to what my kale looked like in the fall last year.

Yes, this is indeed kale! Black lacinato kale to be exact. It’s hard to recognize under all those seed pods.

I’ve let it go to seed and earlier in the spring it was covered in yellow flowers, kind of like forsythia. Now it’s COVERED in seed pods which I’ll be sending to my Art of FUN Stuff members this year.

The seed pods aren’t quite ready to pull off. I’d like them to start drying a bit naturally on the plant before I cut all the stems off and hang them to dry.

At that point I can finally chop down (yes chop down) the kale and plant new baby kales.


In fact I grab a few and eat them whenever I walk past. Even though I don’t like kale. But the pods taste like kale only better for some reason. They’re perfect for throwing on top of a salad like a crouton. Only less delicious and buttery and good than a crouton. Otherwise exactly the same.

The apple trees are also enormous with whippy branches that extend past the entrance to my porch so every time I walk onto my porch they brush past me so I pretend I’m going through a car wash (made of apple branches.)

June 20th (the summer solstice) is the day the espalier branches get cut back. You can read this post on how to prune your espalier apple trees properly if you missed it.

Normally I’d pinch back the apples to only 1 or 2 per cluster, but apple trees can have a tendency to be prolific one year and then go on more of a work to rule schedule the next year. You get some apples, but not nearly as many. So I figure with only a few clusters of apples, I should be O.K. to let them all develop.

And then get eaten by my nemesis – “Scruffy Black Squirrel with a hint of mange”.

Another new addition to the front garden from the same time as the peonies are these purple flowering catmint plants which need to be hacked back every so often to keep them behaving.

And scattered everywhere, are bamboo stakes. Each one of them marks the spot where a dahlia is. Half of my dahlias died last year (see above note about lack of brain and water.) I’ve optimized my sprinkler system, set the timer and did my dahlia dance so I should be good to go for this year.

This year I tagged my dahlias at the top of a bamboo stick instead of low to the ground because those same people who are so enamoured with the amaranth also like to know what type of dahlias I’m hiding behind.

If you need a bit of a reminder, this was the sadness of my English Cottage Garden just 2 years ago.

And this shot was from mid summer. Things were clearly pathetic. But it’s like when you want to grow your hair – you just have to grin and bear it through the awkward troll phase.

From the side of my house it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot going on, but in a couple of weeks when the poppies are done and the peonies have lost every petal, the perennial sweet peas will take over the fence, thick with flowers and the phlox will shoot up, bloom like crazy then die a dramatic death due to powdery mildew.

That’s a cabbage moth you see on my poppy. He’s part of the same brothership as the mangey squirrel. They do a lot of frolicking and phony glad-handing to distract you from the fact that they’re actually part of a worldwide gang of garden pirates.

Your next English Cottage Garden update will take place in the fall when we’ll all find out whether my pausing brain really absorbed the concept of watering.

Eyes crossed.

That’s not the saying is it? It seems wrong. Don’t tell me. I’ll figure it out.

At 3:00 a.m.

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The English Cottage Garden - Spring 2021


  1. A. B. says:

    Can you do a post or quick explanation about your plant I.D. tags? I’ve had no luck with my tags keeping their info. I’ve tried copper and plastic and all bleach or get washed off in the sun. Very Frustrating!!!!

  2. LINDA says:

    What an inspiration is your English cotton garden. It seems that all of my life that’s been my dream idea of gardening. We’ve just moved from hot humid Houston, TX area to the 4 seasons in far western North Carolina. I’m hoping to create my own version of an English garden here—there was virtually no landscaping here when we arrived 6 yrs ago. Even though your climate and ours are probably quite different, I will take inspiration from you and yours, carefully researching the plants and arrangement thereof that you use while adding some that will flourish in my climate zone, including some of the beautiful native plants here. Thank you for your blog!

  3. Nanette Fitzgerald says:

    Soooooo glad I found you.
    You’re a breathe of fresh cow manure infused air (I live on a dairy farm) in a sea of stagnant, try to make myself look perfect, worried about who’s toes I’m going to step on bloggers. Hats off to you.

    … and I’m going to have to look into this watering witchery if you’re saying it helps. Hmmmm

  4. Thea Miller says:

    Looking so good! Well done. These are pretty high maintenance gardens so hats-off to you.
    I’m wondering, don’t you take your dahlia tubers out of the ground before winter?

  5. jacqueline says:

    One can harvest some of those cilantro seeds for coriander. Yum.

  6. Vikki says:

    Ah, peonies–flowers of my heart! (Although that poppy is lovely.)

  7. Petra says:

    Sooo enjoyed this post and the comments. And about the self-seeding plants, ya gotta love them. However, if you want continuous bloom ya gotta deadhead some of them to keep the plant striving for more bloom. That’s my experience anyway.
    For our American friends, a suggestion…if you want a spectacular Fourth of July display try this: Scarlet Sonata snapdragons, Victoria blue salvia, and Snow Crystal alyssum. Knocks you right outta your flipflops. I did this one year and got stinkeye from neighbours who suggested a rainbow palette was much more acceptable…
    But I love me lots and lots of snapdragons. And peonies.
    That brohood of international garden pirates is there to remind us we don’t own it all.

  8. Jody says:

    Your garden is spectacular. Looking forward to the kale seed pods coming to the Art of Fun members as I am, indeed, a key ring carrying member.
    I had a swiss chard over winter then bolted with the heat. I’ll let it go to seed then have swiss chard seed for all of Ontario if needed/wanted.

  9. Lookin’ GOOD !!!

    You’ve done an amazing job. I especially like the concept of plants that re-seed themselves.

    My challenge, here in Connecticut, is staying ahead of the deer and racoons. Daylily buds, tulips, and (gasp ! ) rose buds are prime targets. Those must be planted behind fencing.

    In the large crescent garden (on the lawn and exposed to the depredations of the deer)
    daffodils, coneflowers, peonies and iris will survive. I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for deer-resistant plants. Any suggestions from readers will be appreciated!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Theresa! I’m not even sure there is such a thing as deer resistant plants, lol. There are a LOT of deer around my town because we’re surrounded by conservation area but I’m a few streets away so I don’t have any problem with deer. So I don’t have any tips for that other than the standard 8′ fencing. :/ ~ karen!

    • Kelsey says:

      I have honeywort, peony, hydrangea, foxglove, irises, Jerusalem sage, salvia, lavender, sedums, sweet william, calendula, bleeding heart, primula, heather, snapdragons, poppy, some type of lily, and evening primrose in my front yard which the local deer have left alone so far. Also a monster Camellia and a weeping Japanese maple.

      I put in some echinacea and brown eyed Susans last week but it looks like I need to move them to the fenced, dog-occupied back yard since the tops have been sampled.

      I pulled out a ton of Michaelmas daisies this spring that the deer didn’t let grow higher than 3″ last year. I like perennials and self seeders that are happy with a watering from a soaker hose on a timer and very little other care, but if the deer like them too they obviously weren’t meant for my garden.

      • May says:

        Deer love sedums in my neck of the woods. Also, one year they’ll leave something alone the next, they mow it down. Never used to eat our daylilies, so we have big beds, and now mow rather consistently. Very sad!

      • Hi Kelsey,

        Thank you for all those good choices to try.

        I envy you – I’d love to have a large Camellia. When I lived in coastal North Carolina, I saw some really beautiful specimens.

        Would you believe that the Connecticut deer actually mowed down some azaleas and rhodadendrons (sp?) I put in ?!!!


  10. Lynn says:

    I share your 3am wakeup call! Older age is not for the faint of heart!!! AND–jealous–in a ‘friendly’ kind of way–of your gorgeous garden! It gives me hope that ours will shape up soon!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Lynn! After over 20 years of this front yard I honestly thought I was *never* going to be able to create the kind of English garden I wanted. ~ karen!

  11. Linda in Illinois says:

    Karen, you are still my cottage garden inspiration. Love love love.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Linda! Someone driving past yesterday stopped and called out the window to say how good my garden looked. She asked me how long it took to get like that, lol. I made it simple and said 4 years instead of the actual 22 years it took 😆 ~ karen!

  12. Wendy says:

    Is that poppy an annual or perennial? My orientals have finished blooming the annuals are a good month away. I’m on a well, so rarely water, but it’s been necessary this year…what a pain.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Wendy. That’s a perennial poppy. :) As of today it’s done flowering (I took the photos last week) and my annuals are *just* starting to bloom. ~ karen!

  13. Christine Hilton says:

    Doh! I am a weeder.As l was ripping them out this year l kept thinking in my post menopausal brain that they looked like annuals but that doesn’t happen in Ontario.I wish my seeds under the grow lights,in the fawncy seed starting soil,in the new trays with the heat mat under had done as well.Only my datura sprouted and they are cropping up everywhere in the garden as well.Next year will be the best garden ever!

  14. Kat - the other 1 says:


    The watering thing’s so annoying, ain’t it?
    I remembered to plant it, that should be enough!
    Ungrateful basters!

  15. Sarah says:

    Last year I bought a small catmint plant because I liked the sweet little purple flowers. This year, it has grown to the size, of what yours looks like! An unexpected surprise, but has completely taken over and crowded out that spot in the garden, like an uninvited weekend guest. I assume, I just need to keep it trimmed?

    • Christine Hilton says:

      Right! It is called CatMINT.Watch it because it spreads.l keep cutting mine back in the spring to prevent an early bloom and to prevent it from getting too big and falling over in a big mess.Recut when the first bloom is over and watch for it spreading more than you is a beauty but a little pushy.

      • Juni says:

        And divide it and put it in spots that could use some oomph. I have it all along the front of my house where nothing else seems to grow. I trim it back after the first flowers and seem to always get more. And on a hot day when it’s in bloom it smells amazing

      • Karen says:

        Yes! Excellent point. You need to cut it back after the first bloom. ~ karen!

    • Robin Ladowski says:

      some varieties grow taller, some stay shorter. After it blooms you can cut it to the ground and it will rebloom in about 2 weeks.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sarah. YES you definitely need to hack catmint back or it will take over. This particular variety doesn’t seem to be as bad as some others but don’t be afraid to hack it in the spring and cut it back. ~ karen!

  16. Esther says:

    Hello! Would you say more about your underground sprinkler system? And what zone are you gardening in?

  17. Esther Y Liu says:

    Hello! Would you say more about your underground sprinkler system? And what zone are you gardening in?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Esther! The underground sprinkler system is just a DIY solution. A trench was dug, conduit installed and underground sprinkler heads (from the local hardware store) attached at a few intervals. A homemade system like this will only work on a very small yard like mine because of water pressure. ~ karen!

      • Nancy says:

        I use Mister Landscaper. I have tried other brands in other yards but this one is the best. I can’t see why because they all look alike. Throwing mulch on the conduit (black plastic tubing) hides it.
        Your garden is beautiful! I pinned everything so I can start this fall at my new house.
        But why grow cilantro? Herb that taste like soapy stinkbugs?!!??

  18. Cara says:

    Love. IT!

    I started Amaranth this year too and glad ours look alike. I have flower/grain shoots starting now. But I forgot about one in the corner of my greenhouse and that water starved lil’ bastard was transplanted at 3 freaking feet tall! I wasn’t sure if self seeding would happen in my zone so now I have something else to look forward to :D

    • Karen says:

      Excellent! The only trick to self seeding is leaving the flowers/plants in place in the fall and remembering to let the seeds drop. :) ~ karen!

  19. Sanjoy Das says:

    Dear Karen,
    I started reading your blog for information ( I wanted to grow loofah ) and quite early on you used a term “half assed gardener” in which I instantly recognised myself. It seemed like you judged yourself and others by some yardstick of success which is based on there being one perfect procedure to follow, the solution to the puzzle. As time progressed you have adapted to failure and now you seem able to accept less than fully arsed performance, with equanimity and humour. Let’s face it we all want to be loved for who we are. Many of your readers do love you, not only for your tips, but your humour, and your ability to make us feel better about ourselves. You are a success.

  20. Vivien Park says:

    Karen I love you. No, I don’t know you.. but I love your writing! Thanks for all the inspo, most of which I’ll never follow through on, but inspired nonetheless.

  21. Lynn says:

    Beautiful just plain beautiful

  22. TucsonPatty says:

    Oh, Karen – the wonder that is you, is just that! – wonderful!! My pause began so early, (tried for three years to get pregnant and delivered her at almost 39) they were pretty sure that was why I couldn’t get pregnant, and then came breast cancer , and the estrogen blockers. What hot flash hell that was! I have sort of forgotten most of it, but the “chemo brain” that I kept blaming everything for: the oncologist finally told me I had to quit using that excuse. So now what do I do? I now blame it on little old lady syndrome, and I don’t care that I’m only 68 – the brain forgets things. And now the stinking. COVID brain! That is a true thing! And now, time has gone and done a tesseract to – a wrinkle in time! I don’t know if it is today, or tomorrow, or last week, or sometimes even last year! I don’t know the day, but hopefully I will definitely get better at it when I get to go back to work. All this to say – the meno pause hits hard sometimes. I have many electrical fans around the house and at work, and even have a little stick and card stock paper fan to wave back and forth like I’m some genteel young lady on the front porch with lemonade and iced tea for the gentleman callers!
    I’m not sure where this story is going, so I quit. Love you, love your garden, Karen! ❤️

    • Sherry says:

      I am 68 also and still, in the quickest flash get so hot that at the point of being completely melted, I am also on the verge of boiling over. It happens year round but the humidity of summer in MI about does me in. I have a lot of matching clothing (especially bottoms) so I can…get hot, sweat through and change into matching slacks numerous times a day and no one ☝️ knows the difference. It helps a great deal to keep the air moving (whirling out of a fan) whilst I try to keep myself as still as possible. Sadly, I’ve come to dread summer.

    • Karen says:

      LOL, thanks Patty! ~ karen

  23. Lin says:

    Well it is 12:30 am, but your post was worth staying up for. You garden is just lovely. 3 years really is the magical year…..and if a plant hasn’t made it – pull it out! A question dear, What is that window….. thingy on the side of your home under the pretty window box?

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