Hollyhocks and cabbages, roses and runner beans: the English cottage garden combines beauty and utility, pride and productivity. Immortalized in images of thatched cottages with flower-filled borders and ducks on the path, what was the reality of the cottage garden? For many the garden was essential to keep food on the table. For those more fortunate, the garden was a blaze of color and a status symbol. Gardens did not just appeal to the senses, however; they played a philosophical and moral role in British society, and thus in British social history. Visions of the rural cottager were never far from the mind of the Victorian middle classes, whether as a shining example to the indigent urban poor, or as an aesthetic and social ideal of a utopian 'merrie England'.