Creating an English cottage garden

Creating an English cottage garden

English cottage gardens look fabulous in summer with beds and borders overflowing with colourful plants that are loved by wildlife. The naturalistic plantings seem so spontaneous and carefree with surprises and interest at every turn. The joy, for me, in this higgledy-piggledy approach, is that every plant complements its neighbours, so that whole is much, much more than the sum of its individual parts. A cottage garden is also a plant-addicts paradise, since it is easy to accommodate any new plants that catch your eye – even when the garden design is complete.

Why choose a cottage garden?

  • No set rules, so you can’t go wrong
  • Value for money
  • Easier to look after
  • Ever-changing displays
  • Excellent for wildlife
  • Welcoming and relaxing
  • Fewer pests and diseases

To understand what makes a cottage garden, it is worth looking back at its origins. This style of gardening was born out of necessity, where a wide range of plants were grown for practical rather than aesthetic purposes: fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants and flowers all crammed into a small space. Traditional cottage gardens were very simple in design, with wide borders and narrow paths to maximise the growing area - filling the whole plot, front and back. Neighbouring plants were allowed to grow into each other with climbers covering the ground, clambering through trees and shrubs and over boundary walls and hedges. Every nook and cranny was utilised, with plants filling every layer from tree-top to groundcover.

How to get the look

You don’t need a stone-built, thatched cottage to create an authentic-looking cottage garden… although it does help! Having said that, a cottage garden can look as great on a modern housing estate as it does in a Dorset village – it’s about making the most of the planting opportunities that the site offers. You can turn over the whole garden to this carefree style or just experiment with one border to see how you get on. The key to success is to plan for year-round interest. Late spring and early summer will look after themselves, so concentrate your planning on adding in plants that will provide colour and interest at other times. Grow winter-interest plants in areas where they will be noticed at that time of year, such as next to an entrance or in a border overlooked by the kitchen window.
My second rule of cottage garden design is to keep it simple. No fussy layouts or intricate designs – they will be lost as the plants take over. For example, a straight path dissecting a rectangular plot will soon be engulfed when planted in with cottage-garden plants, and look completely informal. Ideally, boundaries should be natural looking, too. In a modern setting you can turn fences into living structures by covering them with climbers and wall-shrubs.
Next, do some research. Use gardening websites and books to get ideas and make lists of plants, grouping them for sun and shade, as well as by colour and periods of interest. Visit cottage gardens in your area and note down any plant combinations that catch your eye – this is a reliable way of starting the planting ‘jigsaw-puzzle’ in your own borders. Join the Cottage Garden Society to take advantage of their wonderful garden tours. Not only will this fill your head with great ideas, but while you are ambling around the beautiful gardens you can pick the brains of other cottage gardeners on the tour.
If you are on a tight budget, you can keep costs down by propagating a lot of the plants yourself or raising annuals, perennials and herbs from seed. Annual flowers are also useful for filling bare soil in between perennials while they’re getting established. Even in an established plot, annuals are ideal for filling unexpected gaps in borders or for adding an extra colour boost in late summer.

Looking after your cottage garden

The bonus of growing plants in this way is that there is no concentration of any one type in a particular area. This means that pests and diseases find it more difficult to spread from plant to plant. Of course, you will have to still keep an eye on susceptible plants, taking remedial action where necessary, but problems will be reduced. A cottage garden requires slightly less maintenance than a formal herbaceous border because plants won’t need staking, but they will need to be lifted and divided periodically to keep them flowering well. Fruit trees will also need pruning to remain productive.
With plants crammed in a cottage garden, there is less opportunity for weeds to become established and if you cover any bare soil with mulch you can practically eliminate weeding altogether. The key to success is to make sure that all perennial weeds (including their roots) are removed from the soil before you plant up your cottage garden borders.

Cottage garden scheme with grasses


Soft tones blend together and provide a long-lasting display through the summer. This border is quite heavily planted so you will get a billowing effect once the plants have all started to reach maturity. You will need a sunny border measuring 2m by 4m.


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Free Cottage Time in Exchange for Rock Gardening

A very unique enquiry: ………My wife and I are looking for the “right” gardening couple, or person, to help us with two rock gardens at the front and back of our large and uniquely gorgeous "LakeSide” cottage. …in exchange for quality cottage time. Craigslist may just be the perfect place to try our luck at finding such a person(s) on our 2nd ever attempt beyond just-talking-about-it for years now.
We retired to our cottage on Lac de l’Argile, between Val-des-Bois and Notre Dame de la Salette, QC ( 1 hr NE of Ottawa on good roads)

Here's some pics

Of front yard designs, find a pic you like and click on it, could take you to a website with great ideas, that you otherwise may not have found. I got some great inspiration from google images/cottage gardens-as well as from looking at the beautiful pics posted here in the garden forum.

Quality Model Invests $3 Million To Expand Its Orangeburg County, South ..  — Area Development Online
The company specializes in serving the power sports, industrial, automotive and aftermarket, and lawn and garden industries with leading value-added products and services such as design, tool building, manufacturing, secondary assembly and painting.

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