Cottage gardens are filled with old-fashioned favorite flowers, like shrub roses, hollyhocks, lilies and honeysuckle, with garden structures for them to climb on.
Their paintings depict rambling gardens framed by vine-covered wooden arbors and overflowing with roses, colorful perennials and flowering shrubs. A cobblestone path typically winds its way through the garden to the door of a thatched cottage.
Gardens like these are more than just another pretty place. In England during the Victorian era, cottage dwellers planted simple gardens that were as beautiful as they were functional. These tightly-packed gardens were planted out of the need to grow food and herbal remedies on small plots of land. They included vegetables, herbs, hardy flowers, fruit trees and small shrubs.
Even if you don’t live in a cozy cottage, it’s easy to cultivate the look of a cottage garden whether it’s a small bed in the corner of the yard or a long sweeping border. Just select a generous amount of plants and place them close together for beautiful gardening.
Because a cottage garden is meant to look like a natural landscape, there are no set design rules. However, there are a few guidelines that can help you create that quaint old-fashioned look.
Before selecting plants for the garden, consider what will be the focal point or the area of design that will draw the eye, such as a stunning specimen planting, a birdbath or unusual garden ornament.
Some of the traditional elements of an informal garden are those that form the garden’s structure such as arches, arbors, trellises and pergolas. These architectural accents add vertical interest to the garden and should be made of materials that complement your “cottage.”
A gated picket fence can be used for the garden’s backdrop or as a boundary to protect plants from foraging animals, as was originally intended. A path made of stepping stones, weathered brick or cobles invites visitors to step inside for a closer view.
When it comes to selecting plants for your garden all of the experts agree: plant what you like and include plants in a variety of colors and foliage. To get the look of a traditional cottage garden place taller plants, like shrub roses and hollyhocks, in the back of the garden and shorter plants, like lavender, along the front border.
Just like in the cottager’s garden, make the most of every inch of space to give the garden its untamed look. For the most visual impact, group plants in 3s, 5s or 7s and plant in flowing waves throughout the garden. Use a sequence of colors to tie the plantings together.
Here are some of the flowers found in a traditional cottage garden:
• Old-garden roses
• Black-eyed Susan
Gardeners can also add annuals to the mix such as asters, zinnia, cosmos, pansies, sunflowers and snapdragons or herbs like thyme, chives, rosemary, and sage. Vegetables with interesting foliage like squash, rhubarb chard, ornamental cabbage and fennel are also clever additions to a cottage garden.
Choosing plants that self-sow their seeds is one way to fill in garden gaps; another is to trade cuttings with family and friends—just as cottage gardeners have done for generations.