By Holly Reaney
Everything in nature exists in a cycle: the new life of spring follows the desolation of winter; the abundance of the autumnal harvest follows the blooming summer. Seeds are sown and tended, they grow, are harvested and produce their own seeds, so that the process can restart with the next generation the following spring. It is this simple, natural order that inspires Beth Tarling’s own traditional gardening style.
See: Cottage garden ideas – wonderful ways to create the look
When you step into the quaint cottage garden, the first thing that strikes you is the abundance of life that fills the small plot: the neatly ordered raised beds are bursting with color and variety, with everything from trailing sweetpeas and vibrant dahlias, to luscious kale leaves and the pink stems of rhubarb. It is a mixture of order and apparent chaos, much like nature itself, but one in which everything is thriving.
See: How to grow dahlias – a step by step guide to growing dahlias from tubers
Through the beds runs a neat path, guiding visitors past the explosion of blooms and foliage, to the garden’s powerhouse, Beth’s affectionately named ‘flower shed’. Their 18th-century cottage in Gunwalloe has been passed down through generations of her husband Dan’s family, and the shed has stood in the garden, overlooking the Cornish coast in the UK, for as long as anyone can remember.
It took Beth and Dan just three weeks, in 2018, to transform the building, reconfiguring its layout to turn an unused space into a functional kitchen, repurposing cabinetry bought on Ebay from an old farmhouse, to store fruit and veg from the harvest as well as bulbs for next year’s planting.
This house is taken from H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine
Period Living is the UK's best-selling period homes magazine. A subscription provides you with all you need to know about caring for and improving a traditional house and garden.
‘Cottage gardening is all about viewing everything as a precious resource,’ says Beth. ‘You’re constantly saving for the next year: growing your own food, harvesting your own seeds and bulbs – it’s how people have gardened for hundreds of years, simply because that was how they survived.
Something as simple as an onion was a valuable object, whether as food or a bulb, as it had the potential to help you through the harsh winter. Back then nothing went to waste; I think we can learn a lot from that today.’
Standing at the entrance to the shed, under the cover of the hanging trees that protect it from the coastal winds, and with the sun passing through the stained-glass windows, it is as though you’ve been transported to a secret world.
The stained-glass windows were rescued from a skip by Beth’s mother and spent most of their life as garden décor before becoming the crown jewels of the room. Dan created a wooden frame from a dismantled shed to support the glazing and then installed it onto the front of Beth’s shed to create an atmospheric façade.
The dreamy building is flanked on the left by terracotta pots, patiently waiting for spring, and to the right, by an unassuming large black box. ‘This is one of my favorite things in the garden. The wormery is a bit of an obsession really,’ says Beth.
‘We’ve got a normal compost heap for grass clippings and the like and then the wormery is where we put all of our kitchen scraps and waste paper. The soil the worms leave behind is brilliant for potting up seedlings because it’s really fine and nutrient dense. I think everyone should have one.’
While for many a potting shed is a practical space, for Beth it is also a place to spark the imagination, filled with endless possibilities and potential. ‘It may sound strange, but I view the shed as an extension of my home, rather than something outside it,’ she says. ‘I wanted it to be somewhere I enjoy spending time.’
From the ceiling hang a symphony of flowers filling the air with their fragrant notes. Deep red and mustard yellow grasses paired with heady lavender and helichrysum are suspended next to the architectural stems of poppy pods interspersed with newly harvested celery flowers, drying out so their seeds can be replanted next year.
On the two rows of shelving, neatly organised pots brim with life, from newly emerging seedlings to freshly picked flowers, waiting to adorn the bedrooms in Beth’s holiday cottages next door to her home.
See: How to grow lavender – with expert growing tips
‘I have a routine,’ says Beth, ‘where I try to sow something new every week. That way there is always something to plant and always something to pick – whether it’s a bouquet of flowers, or just a sprig of rosemary to season the potatoes: there is always something growing in the garden.’
See: How to grow potatoes – a step-by-step guide
Most years, Beth opens her garden as part of the National Garden Scheme. Visitors can come by prior arrangement and explore her abundant garden, flower shed and meadow, raising money for a host of charities.
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