Elements of a Cottage Garden

Ideas and suggestions for planning your own cottage garden. Tips for plants, as well as non-plant items that add interest and color.

garden along fence with rock border

One of the things I like best about gardening is being able to watch something grow. To start out with very small plants, or even seeds, and just a few years later, end up with beautiful blooming beauties is indeed satisfying. One of the easiest types of gardens to grow is a cottage garden. Although informal and colorful, a traditional cottage garden does have certain style elements. This type of garden got its name because it was almost always attached to a small house (or cottage.) This made it convenient for the cottager to gather herbs or vegetables for cooking. Today’s cottage garden can be planted next to a garden shed or along a fence. Another idea is to plant a garden surrounding a deck or patio. If you are blessed to be a cottage owner, definitely plant a garden next to your home. 

annabelle hydrangea bush beside garden shed

My cottage garden is, and most likely always will be, a work in progress. It’s not attached to our house, but it’s attached to our shed, and a fence that runs along our property line. Over the years, plants have, for one reason or another, been moved or removed. It’s not completely balanced right now…one end is denser than the other. At the beginning of each growing season, I have hope that any changes I made the year before will add beauty and color. Some growing seasons I have more luck with that than others!

garden along fence with storage shed and bird house

Elements of a Cottage Garden

A border marked with field stone, rocks, or a low fence

Like I said above, an English cottage garden got its name because it was usually hooked to a small house or garden shed. To designate and contain the garden area, a border of some sort was installed. Today that border can be anything from flagstone to rocks collected from a field. Any sort of low fence works as well.

dianthus and peonies in garden with rock border

Low plants in the front, taller plants in the back

Years ago, cottage gardens were planted with herbs, vegetables and traditional flowers, like primrose and violets. In addition to herbs and vegetables, today’s cottage gardens can include hardy perennials and self-sowing annuals. To create a hedgerow effect, taller plants are planted in the back of the garden, and low growing plants are planted in the front. To achieve an old fashioned and layered garden, plant loose rows in graduated heights. Throw the rules out the window, incorporate some curves, and have fun!

Cottage Garden Plant Suggestions

  • Rudbeckia – Black Eyed Susan – ‘Goldsturm’ or ‘Indian Summer’
  • Echinacea purpurea – Purple coneflower
  • Shasta Daisy (‘Becky’ is a good one)
  • Peonies
  • Sedum – ‘Autumn Joy’
  • Phlox –  ‘David’ (tall and fragrant)
  • Phlox – ‘Cloudburst’ (low growing)
  • Coreopsis
  • Dianthus
  • Hardy Geranium
  • Lavender
  • Clematis
  • Morning Glories
  • Climbing roses

cottage garden rock border bird house

Blooms with different colors, sizes, and textures

Today, the sky is the limit when it comes to plants. Some perennials that work in a cottage garden are daisies, black eyed susans, daylilies, or lavender. Try to include plants that have different blooming seasons, so there is some color in your garden all the time. Mix up the size of the blooms too. Tiny blooms like dianthus look great next to larger blooms like peonies.

purple clematis and bird house in garden

Climbing Vines

One thing a cottage garden must have is a climbing vine or two. Morning glories or clematis are two that work in almost any growing zone. If there is no fence, a trellis or pole of some sort works just as well for support. 

st. francis statue in garden

Garden Art for a Cottage Garden

Add personality and interest to your cottage garden by installing some sort of garden art, or a non-plant item. Some examples are:

  • a statue (St. Francis is always a good choice)
  • a bird house
  • a bird bath
  • a trellis
  • a weather vane
  • stepping stones
  • galvanized metal
  • large baskets or buckets
  • garden markers

Choose something that reflects your personality, and your interests or hobbies. Use these non-plant items to fill in empty spaces, or to add interest where there is none. 

garden with dianthus herbs peonies shed

No matter what kind of garden you have, and no matter what the size or shape, the most important thing is that it brings you joy. The feeling you get when you walk out your door into a garden that you planted is, perhaps, one of the best feelings in the world. As Audrey Hepburn said, “To plant a garden, is to believe in tomorrow.” Because you know…there is always a new growing season around the corner. 

backyard cottage garden and shed

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