Even if you don’t have a cottage, you can blend your home and lawn into a cottage-style landscape. By learning the basics of this carefree style and using plants that thrive in your area, cottage gardens can be easy to design and to maintain. Here are 3 basic steps to get you started.
1. Start with design
The key to cottage garden design is to not make it look designed or formal. Try to avoid tight shapes, rigid patterns and straight lines. Curving or winding walkways are nice ways to break up big areas and they can be lined with cobblestones, stepping stones, mulch or even left as grass. Planting creeping thyme between pathway stones softens the look and adds a bit of fragrance with each step taken!
Go wild mixing colors. Cottage gardens should look exuberant and unrestrained. Let plants wander where they will, letting them intermingle with each other. And don’t be afraid to let Mother Nature play a role; let flowers that self-seed grow back in unexpected places.
2. Go informal with accessories
A cottage garden style is one that conjures up a flower-filled landscape bursting with color. But there are also other elements that add to the overall effect. White picket fences, pieces of curved wrought iron, old containers, old wooden barn boards and garden art strategically placed throughout the garden can add to the overall cottage feel. Repurpose well-worn items and materials for a cozy, homey look that’s full of character. For instance, pieces like old wheelbarrows, a worn wicker chair, a rusted wire egg basket or old metal bucket lend an aged, authentic, whimsical look, as well as a sense of stability and permanence.
Small seating areas with a birdbath, small fountain and a bench with outdoor pillows in a Victorian-style print can help to create a focal point, even in a small garden.
Regardless of whether your space is small or large, containers are a convenient, inexpensive way to add cottage garden style any garden. Old washtubs or whiskey barrel containers can be filled with easy care plants like Flower Carpet roses, which are full-figured and romantic, yet drought-tolerant and compact.
Containers make it easy to add a splash of color here and there, plus you can move them around the garden to change things up!
3. Choose easy-care plants
Cottage or “English” gardens got their start as far back as the late 1400’s in England and France. They were essentially edible and ornamental plots around small, humble cottage and featured plants that grew well in England’s cool, wet climate.
These plants included old-fashioned favorites like foxglove, hollyhocks, irises, daisies, hydrangeas, roses, peonies, hostas, lupines, violas, pansies, phlox, Johnny-jump-ups, primrose, delphinium, wisteria, snapdragons, bachelor’s buttons, columbine and bleeding hearts.
However, if these plants don’t grow well in your area, you can still find and select low-maintenance plants that thrive where you live. For instance, in hot, dry climates there are a number of heat-tolerant and water-wise plants that can be combined to create a “cottage garden” feel. These include Jerusalem sage, guara, Flower Carpet groundcover roses, lambs ear, cosmos, agapanthus (the Storm series, the only one used at the Dallas Arboretum, is especially drought-tolerant), coreopsis, penstemon, Festival cordyline, Salvia ‘May Night’ and Russian sage.
In areas that get more heat and humidity, classic cottage garden plants like dianthus, alliums and rosemary work nicely. You can also do the “tropical cottage garden” look by adding colorful Tropicanna cannas, Elephant Ears, caladiums, lantana, brugmansia and hibiscus moscheutus.
Even with gardens that don’t enjoy much sun, ferns, variegated hostas, bleeding hearts, Lady’s Mantle (achillia), astilbe, wax begonias, hardy geraniums and lush, dense groundcovers can all work together to create a cottage garden effect.
Herbs are always a nice addition to cottage gardens, especially fragrant ones like lavender, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
And don’t forget roses! The newer varieties like easy-care Flower Carpet roses tolerate a wide range of conditions and are hardy USDA Zones 4-11, depending on variety. The ‘Next Generation’ varieties (Amber, Pink Supreme and Scarlet) were bred for even strong heat and humidity tolerance. Although they perform best in full sun, they can also tolerate partial shade.
So remember, the key to creating a cottage garden is to simply ignore the rules, pick easy-care plants, play around and have fun!