Cottage gardens originated in medieval times and are known for having an informal design. They generally use traditional materials and are very low maintenance.
Despite their informal nature, these gardens are filled to the brim with character and charm, making them extremely popular with garden designers. In this post we provide some tips and inspiration to help you recreate that classic cottage garden style. Let’s dive into it!
Kitchen Garden Area
A kitchen garden is an area of a garden people use to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are commonly used in cooking.
These areas are popular in cottage gardens because they are practical, allowing gardeners to grow edible plants that serve a purpose, as well as being visually appealing. It’s a rewarding way to grow your own fresh fruit and vegetables and have a convenient food source right there in your back garden, for you and your family. A cottage garden classic.
Greenhouses are great additions to any cottage garden. They extend the growing season for plants, meaning we can grow a wider variety of plants that may not normally be able to survive in the local climate.
They are also useful for saving plants from difficult weather conditions, if that’s an issue in your area. Greenhouses look great and can really give a cottage garden extra character.
Create A Hidden Area
Adding a secluded area to your cottage garden helps give it a sense of mystery and gives you a quiet space to go and relax when you need to escape from it all.
To create one in your cottage garden design, all you need to do is block the view in someway and manufacture an enclosed area. Restrict access via a winding path or similar to reinforce the mystery, and have the area blocked off using planting or garden structural elements. Some examples of features you can use to create the enclosure are; large rocks, mature trees, gazebos, pergolas, walls.
Show off your blooms. The cottage garden style is relaxed, you can mix many types of plant including annuals, perennials and bulbs, which can provide different colors and textures.
Blooms are beautiful, so show them off in your cottage garden.
Minimise Lawn Space and Use it for Growing
A lawn can be great in a garden, but keep in mind that they are high maintenance and require regular care (mowing, watering, and fertilizing).
In a cottage garden ground cover plants are much more suitable and practical. Maximise growing space and create a carpet of greenery as opposed to a traditional lawn. This fits with the cottage garden’s more relaxed style.
One of the primary reasons many want a traditional cottage garden is the sense of nostalgia they bring. Traditional outdoor furniture is a key contributor to that, giving your garden that old fashioned feel.
Try adding an arbor, wooden or iron tables, benches or chairs. Any of these will help give you that romantic feel associated with traditional cottage gardens.
A beautiful pathway can take you on a journey through a cottage garden, whilst maintaining the informal nature of the design.
Sometimes the planting scheme can be a bit all over the place in cottage gardening, so having a path gives gardeners access to different areas without needing to step over and potentially damage plants. Winding pathways also look great in their own right.
Some options for pathways include:
- Using wooden stepping stones
- A gravel path
- Repurpose some old weathered bricks to use as rustic pathing
Zoning means to split up the garden into different areas and define space for distinct purposes. This fits well in a cottage style garden due to the informality of the planting scheme. Create separate areas for your flowers, vegetables, and herbs, to bring some organization and balance to your design.
Try and avoid straight lines when zoning areas to avoid making it look artificial.
Annuals and Perennials
Annuals are plants that last one growing season, and need to be replanted each year. They are great for introducing a bit of change to your garden, to keep it fresh. We’ve given some suggestions below for longer lasting annuals that will bloom from early spring until fall time.
Perennials are plants that live for more than two years and so they come back each year. These are perfect to introduce some continuity to your cottage garden.
We recommend you choose a mixture of the two when selecting your cottage plants. Mixing the two together gives your garden some structure and consistency whilst introducing an element of change each year to keep year round interest.
Here are our recommendations for cottage garden plants.
Long Lasting Annuals
- Snapdragon – Minimal maintenance needed and stunning blooms. Great cut flowers.
- Zinnias – Long blooms with bright flowers
- Dahlias – Stunning blooms
- Begonia – Low maintenance with wonderful flowers and attractive foliage
- Verbena – Creates a cascading trail of flowers, great for hanging baskets
- Bee Balm – Sweet smelling flowers, perfect for attracting wildlife
- Clematis – Flowers great for vertical planting
- Clary Sage – Beautiful purple and pink blooms
- Foxgloves – Tubular shaped flowers in a range of colors
- Lily of the Valley – White blooms and large leaves
- Peonies – Tall plants with rose like blooms
- Wallflowers – Smaller flowers that are perfect for the foreground
This is one of our favorite cottage garden ideas. A wildflower meadow is an area of garden with dense planting containing mixtures of native wildflowers and grasses. They’re designed to give the natural appearance of a meadow, which is the perfect look for an informal cottage garden design.
They attract beneficial insects, need minimal maintenance and most importantly provide some natural looking beauty with an explosion of color.
Vertical gardening is a solid option for larger and smaller gardens alike. The idea with vertical gardening is to grow climbing plants in vertical space, using fences, walls, trellises etc. Essentially, anything that your plants can climb can leverage this technique. Use it to add interest, save space or create some shade in certain areas to help the soil.
Picture some bright climbing roses sprawling across a wall, framing the front door of a quaint traditional cottage. It doesn’t use up any additional space and adds some traditional beauty to the garden.
Growing plants this way can make them easier to maintain depending on the height you’re going for; they are easier to reach!
Use a raised bed if you have heavy soil (they’ll improve drainage in your garden), or if you are worried about soil compaction which can hinder plant growth. Raised beds are practical for keeping good soil and also give off that cottage style garden feeling we’re looking for.
Containers are great for when space is limited and are especially useful for a garden designer because of the flexibility they bring. Using containers we can grow plants on patios or window sills. A container the same utility as a raised bed with regards to soil drainage, mentioned above.
A picket fence is one of the quintessential charming components of a cottage garden. Use one to frame your borders whilst providing that traditional feel. They can be used for zoning out different spaces and for supporting different plants such as climbing roses.
Fences can have an obvious privacy and security benefit (when high enough) and can protect your plants from certain animals.
Cottage gardens are rural; they have character and charm. Part of this is due to the use of traditional materials, which contribute to that sense of history. For your typical cottage garden, avoid artificial looking synthetic materials that might suit more contemporary gardens, as these can look out of place in the cottage style.
Stick to wood and natural stone, trying to avoid plastics where ever possible. There are plenty of natural options that fit the aesthetic without looking old fashioned.
Scents and Smelly Flowers
When designing a garden it’s easy to forget about the subtle differences that can make the best stand out. One thing to keep in mind is what your garden smells like, as a pleasant smell really adds that extra dimension to elevate your cottage garden from good to great.
Here are some ideas for scented flowers you can choose for your perfect cottage garden:
- Rose bushes
- Sweet peas
For more fragrant flowers, check out this list from country living.
This is one of our top picks for a cottage garden because who doesn’t enjoy a nice space to relax and appreciate your garden!? You can also use it for entertaining guests or for some convenient extra storage space away from the elements (a substitute garden shed).
Summer houses can look great in their own right and including one in your garden can even increase the value of your home. If you have the space, definitely consider adding a well designed and desirable summer house.
A great way to add some character to any cottage garden is the use of ornaments. Ornaments come in many shapes, sizes and styles; so you have plenty of freedom when selecting the perfect item for your garden. They can be used to fill some space, for something functional (like attracting birds), or as design focal points.
Here are some suggestions:
- Bird Bath
- Garden gnomes
- Natural ornaments like rocks or driftwood
It’s down to personal preference how traditional or quirky you want to be. There’s plenty of options available at any garden center to fit the cottage garden style.