We all know what a cottage garden looks like don’t we? We might even be able to describe its main features, although a short definitive account is quite elusive. So where does the phrase come from? When is it first used? You’d think the answer was obvious but actually it isn’t. In fact there are few descriptions or images of the gardens of ordinary people before the mid- 19thc and when they do first appear, they show the poverty of rural life. Yet, within a few decades the cottage garden has become something to aspire to. Paintings show neat gardens full of billowing masses of bright flowers in a heavily romanticised take on reality. So what were cottage gardens actually like?