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Creation of the Cottage Garden

Learn about Ellen Willmott's transformation of the iconic romantic cottage gardens

The gardens at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage have become part of the iconic pastoral beauty associated with the cottage. The 12-acres of grounds that visitors walk through contain a plethora of plants that have been grown in England since the seventeenth century. Along with the heritage plants, flowers named for Shakespearian characters are also on display. Among them there is also a salmon-pink bloom, named for another important character, but this time associated with the history of Anne Hathaway’s gardens. The small pink ‘Miss Willmotts’ are a tribute to Ellen Willmott, a well-known horticulturist at the turn of the nineteenth century, who had a love of the popular style of romantic planting. In the 1920s the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust commissioned her to help design much of Anne Hathaway’s cottage garden.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage: Watercolour showing the thatched cottage with miscellaneous flowers in the foreground.

The reason for the Trust’s redesign of the gardens at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was far from glamorous. In 1923 a new sewer for Shottery was laid across the cottage’s garden. Once the sewer was complete (leaving the garden a muddy mess), the Trust was forced to replant and re-landscape some of the grounds. Ellen (an established and well liked garden designer) was recruited to advise on how a new flower garden could be incorporated to compliment the much older cottage, and on how the Trust should display the orchard. Ellen’s changes to the garden were so successful that much of her design and choice of plants are still incorporated in the garden today.

The uneven stone-paved paths, raised terrace and three herbaceous flower beds form the cottage garden at Anne Hathaway’s. As there are no plans for Ellen’s original planting scheme, the garden has lost some of its original style. One element of Ellen’s design that visitors can still see today are the three flower beds opposite the entrance to the cottage, in the aptly named Miss Willmott’s garden. The flowerbeds contain the variety of flora for which she provided planting plans in 1924 and 1925. She favoured pastel shades of flowers and many of the plants she chose were also mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. These included roses (Twelfth Night), irises (Troilus and Cressida), daffodils (The Winter’s Tale) and thistles (Macbeth), as well as lungwort, delphiniums, geraniums, gentian, daisies, oriental poppies and primula. Such a mix of plants was a deliberate choice by Ellen, as it created a border that would remain colourful all year around.

A low wall divides the garden from the road, with a random series of stakes behind it. A lawn is divided from the next lawn by a ragged hedge leading towards the cottage in the background..
BEFORE, c. 1870

To the west of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage visitors can still walk through an orchard, enclosed by hawthorn and blackthorn hedges. In the mid-1920s the Trust took Ellen’s recommendations on how best to improve the orchard and the hedges surrounding Anne Hathaway’s. Although there had been an orchard on that site since at least the nineteenth century, Ellen developed it into an ornamental feature. She advised on the hedges and added in the under-planting of the apple trees with spring bulbs.

A postcard of the cottage, showing clearly the higher building to the left and the lower roof-line of the rest, and the clear difference of the brick-built final section, compared to the beams of the first two parts. It is built on a slope, which can be seen in the path amid the flowers of the garden.
AFTER c. 1930

The overall design that Ellen contributed to at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was traditional, and in keeping with the age and surroundings of the property. Her design heavily incorporated herbaceous plants, roses, flowering shrubs and simple topiary. When the Trust’s architect, Guy Pemberton, came to add in the stone steps to Hewlands Cottage and the stone paths a year later, he worked hard to ensure they remained in keeping with Ellen’s vision.

Sadly, much of Ellen’s flower beds have been taken over by Bind Weed. Over one hundred years later, the Trust's garden team are working hard to restore the original style of planting by clearing the plant beds, killing the weeds and replanting the beds. This means that Ellen’s contribution to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is maintained, so the cottage remains an enduring image of English gardens.

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